- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 30, 2008

By most accounts, the appearance of President Bush at the opener at Nationals Park was a welcome return to tradition. But it was also an unwelcome headache for fans eager to get into the new ballpark. Security measures put in place by the Secret Service caused massive backups at nearly every entrance, as thousands of fans waited more than an hour to enter the ballpark. We got off the Metro and walked all the way around to the home plate gate, said Nick Manicone, a lawyer from Vienna. It probably took us an hour to get in. We probably got here about 6:45 and didn’t get in until 7:45. It was worse than we expected. I understand it’s the opening game and the president’s here, but that wasn’t good. Several fans complained of too few metal detectors at gates around the ballpark, while suite holders and fans sitting in the Presidential and PNC Diamond Club seats were blocked from entering when Bush arrived. But Nationals president Stan Kasten said there was virtually nothing the team could do to move fans through the gate more quickly. The Secret Service imposes its own security rules for the president, and they can’t be changed. They’re an expert at what they do and they completely adhere to everything they tell us, Kasten said. It’s completely non-negotiable. Kasten said the team tried to mitigate the problem by opening gates at 3:30 p.m. for the game, which started at 8:20 p.m. We opened the park four hours early, Kasten said. We did warn people extensively. And I believe everyone was in the park at the start of the game. Elsewhere in the ballpark, lines at concession stands and rest rooms were as many as 100 people deep in some sections, particularly down the first base line in the lower concourse. There appeared to be a crush of fans flocking to buy food and drink following the first inning, as fans remained seated during the ceremonial first pitch and other pre-game festivities. Everybody’s been hearing about the food, so everybody wants to test it out, said Chas Andrews, an accountant from Arlington, as he waited in a long line for pizza. Ben’s Chili Bowl was, like at Saturday’s exhibition game, the most popular stand. Kasten said the team was working with the staff of Ben’s to ensure the line moved more quickly. He also said he expected the lines to be shorter in future games as fans realize Ben’s menu items are available at other stands. We made some revisions today and we still need to work on stuff, Kasten said. We changed the direction of the lines, we changed some of the prep stuff. But it’s Ben’s. People love Ben’s. I’m very glad Ben’s is here. There were some other hiccups throughout the ballpark; some fans complained of inoperable automated teller machines, and there were several reports of a bottleneck near the entrance facing the PNC Diamond Club restaurant. But most fans said that despite the hassle of getting in and the long lines at concessions, they expected things to improve at future games. I think it’s just tonight, you kind of expect it, Andrews said. It’ll be fine next game.

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