- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 28, 2007

VIERA, Fla. — Though Opening Day and season ticket sales are lagging behind last season’s levels, Washington Nationals president Stan Kasten said yesterday he is still encouraged by the organization’s prospects for drawing well at RFK Stadium this season.

Kasten said the team has sold more than 15,000 full season equivalents for 2007, down about 1,000 from last year and 7,000 from 2005 but still slightly above the major league average of 14,800.

“Given where we are at this stage in the development process, I’m very proud that we’re still in the top half of mean season tickets,” he said. “I think overall it’s a very strong, reassuring sign of the fan support that’s here I think bodes very well for the future.”

Though season ticket sales haven’t dropped dramatically since 2006, the crowd for Monday’s season opener against the Florida Marlins figures to be well below last year’s total of 40,530. Kasten said less than 30,000 tickets to the opener had been sold as of yesterday, but he believes the team can sell as many as 10,000 more by gameday.

Capacity for baseball at RFK Stadium is 46,000, so there’s little chance of an Opening Day sellout.

“It’s clear we’re going to have a strong crowd, and we’re happy to have them,” Kasten said.

Opening Day details, including the name of the first-pitch participant, will be announced tomorrow, but Kasten previously said President Bush would not be attending.

Kasten wouldn’t reveal any team projections for total attendance this season, the last one at RFK before the Nationals’ new ballpark opens. The team drew 2.73 million fans in 2005 and 2.15 million in 2006.

“There’s nothing more important than attendance,” Kasten said. “We wouldn’t have a business without the support of our fans. So sure, that’s important. But we have strong support in Washington. We’ve had it the first two years. and we’re seeing it again this year. We all understand we’re going to have a spike in ‘08 in attendance … but we don’t take it for granted, and we’re going to have to keep working hard.”

Logan making progress

Center fielder Nook Logan participated in some pregame drills yesterday and might be ready to start the season on the active roster after all.

Logan, who strained his right groin Saturday in what looked like a serious injury at the time, said he is hoping to be in the lineup for one or two of the Nationals’ final exhibition games before Monday’s opener.

“I’m trying to get in there by the weekend, play a couple games before we start,” he said. “I feel like if it was the season right now, I’d play.”

Manager Manny Acta said Logan has healed faster than expected and now describes his status as “day-to-day” after originally believing he would be out at least two weeks.

If Logan doesn’t need to be placed on the disabled list, the Nationals could face a difficult Opening Day roster decision. When Logan went down, Kory Casto became the likely starting left fielder. Now, the team might have no choice but to send Casto down to Class AAA Columbus to start the season.

Roster moves

The Nationals optioned reliever Chris Booker to Class AAA Columbus and reassigned outfielder Abraham Nunez and right-hander Jason Simontacchi to minor league camp last night, trimming the spring roster to 27.

Simontacchi will remain in Florida until his strained groin is healed, at which point he’ll join the Nationals’ rotation. Nunez hit .167 this spring and was the odd man out in a crowded outfield. Booker didn’t allow a run in four outings but blew a save Monday.

The moves leave three remaining players (relievers Saul Rivera and Jesus Colome and Casto) fighting for one last spot on the roster. Club officials must decide whether to keep Casto and an 11-man pitching staff or go with 12 pitchers instead.

The Nationals also purchased the contracts of first baseman Dmitri Young and left-hander Ray King yesterday, putting both veterans on the 40-man roster.

Rotation set

Acta essentially named Jason Bergmann as his No. 4 starter, completing the Opening Day rotation. Bergmann, who allowed two runs in five innings Monday, is scheduled to start April 5 against the Arizona Diamondbacks, with Jerome Williams going the nest night as the team’s fifth starter.

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