- The Washington Times - Monday, September 17, 2007

As five Washington Nationals players toured their new ballpark Saturday, stopping to take batting practice amid a sea of construction equipment, it wasn’t hard to start getting excited for the 2008 season.

In a mere seven months, a Nationals franchise that essentially has lived a nomadic existence the past six years finally will be able to call someplace its permanent home.

And that’s something that should be celebrated. This area has waited a long time to open a new ballpark, so Opening Day next spring on South Capitol Street should be declared a local holiday.

But in the anticipation for a clean, spacious, luxurious, non-rat-infested, baseball-only ballpark, let’s not forget dear old RFK Stadium. This building has been host to its share of momentous events over the last 46 years, including some special ones for the Nationals the last three summers.

Lest anyone forgets, RFK treated the Nationals well in their brief time here. Even with yesterday’s 3-0 loss to the Atlanta Braves, they’re still 119-117 at home since 2005, not bad for a team that admittedly has struggled on the road.

RFK was the site of many of the Nationals’ biggest moments.

Who will forget Opening Night in 2005, when the third-base stands bounced up and down as Vinny Castilla nearly hit for the cycle and Livan Hernandez nearly shut out the Arizona Diamondbacks?

Or Father’s Day weekend in 2006, when the Nationals twice rallied late to beat the New York Yankees, the second time on Ryan Zimmerman’s first career walk-off home run?

Ramon Ortiz almost threw a no-hitter here. Alfonso Soriano joined the 40-40 club here. Frank Robinson said goodbye to baseball here. Manny Acta said hello.

Yes, Jose Vidro and Austin Kearns were robbed of a few home runs by the mismarked outfield fences. T.J. Tucker pulled a groin muscle pitching off the problematic mound. And Marlon Byrd had his Cadillac Escalade stolen from the players’ parking lot.

But RFK also was where the Presidents Race was born. Where the Lerner family introduced itself as the club’s new owners. And where the Nationals won 10 straight games to take over first place in the NL East and leave the entire baseball world gushing about them.

Will the new ballpark play host to even more memorable events? Sure. Perhaps one day it will be the site of an All-Star Game and a World Series.

But will it have RFK’s unique charm? Will it have three white seats sprinkled across the upper deck to note the locations of Frank Howard’s gargantuan home runs? Will it shake and rattle to its core when the Nationals win a game in the ninth?

No, those traits can never be duplicated.

So go ahead and celebrate the opening of the new ballpark. It will, without question, become a seminal moment in D.C. and Nationals history.

But don’t forget where this whole story began and don’t forget that none of this would have been possible without RFK.

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