- The Washington Times - Monday, March 31, 2008

The crush of nearly 40,000 baseball fans arriving for Opening Night at Nationals Park occurred with few problems as most followed the advice to arrive early and use mass transit.

“While it’s crowded — and the expectation should be that it is crowded — so far I think people will see we can get them here and home,” Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said shortly before the game ended at 10:43 p.m.

Among the minor problems: One of three escalators at the west exit of the Navy Yard station, the Metro exit nearest the stadium, briefly broke down twice. The longest delay was about 10 minutes.

“It wasn’t too bad,” said Virginia Thackery, 56, of Alexandria, who was joined by her husband and son and was winded from climbing the broken escalator. “We got on at Huntington [station], and it was pretty swift. They’re doing a great job of organizing people down there. Kudos to Metro.”

Metro had encouraged fans for months to arrive early and to use its buses and subways instead of driving to the new stadium and dealing with limited parking and creating gridlock.

By 6 p.m., trains were rolling into the station about every three minutes. Some delayed opening their doors until passengers from the previous train cleared the platform.

Brian Cox, 52, and his son Chris, 13, of Huntington came early to avoid the rush and check out the gleaming new stadium.

“It’s easier than I thought it was going to be,” the father said. “We knew we could get in at 3:30, so we wanted to get in hopefully before the big crowds get in and see what’s here.”

The transit agency expected to transport about 24,000 people to and from the new stadium and ran as many as 15 extra trains on the Green Line, which stops at Navy Yard, and as many as four extra trains on the Red and Orange lines.

Farbstein said preliminary reports, before the game ended, showed the Navy Yard station alone accommodated 22,000 riders.

The cool, 40-degree temperatures — and concerns about a potential postgame crush — sent plenty of fans home before the end of the game.

“We were cold and wanted to get home to our son,” said D.C.-area resident Marisa Lavine, 32. “It was late, and [my husband and I] didn’t want to get stuck on Metro.”

However, so many riders tried to enter Navy Yard station that officials closed the station at about 11:05 p.m. to clear the platform, which caused a line to form outside along Half Street Southeast.

Meanwhile, before the game, some fans stood in line for about two hours to get into the stadium, then were moved by police to shorter lines.

Security was tight, in part because President Bush threw out the first pitch.

Metal detectors and bomb-sniffing dogs screened fans. Armed Metro Transit officers were stationed on train platforms, directing riders. And streets closings around the stadium for the presidential motorcade adding to the gridlock.

Fans took advantage of the Nationals’ offer of free parking at RFK Stadium with free round-trip transportation from there to the games.

Most of the Nats Express buses were filled with about 60 passengers, who had to walk roughly the last five blocks — through a commercial district, then an industrial area — to reach the stadium. Most fans said the trip took about 10 minutes.

They had to wait about 10 to 15 minutes after the game, but no major delays were reported.

The stadium’s permit-only parking lots were almost full, as were several game-day lots around the stadium in Southeast.

City officials issued permits to stadium-area residents to keep fans from taking their parking spots.

Still, traffic was heavy, and police monitored intersections, stopping traffic to let packs of fans cross streets and keeping them on sidewalks.

Leroy McKnight, 56, of Fairfax was among those who chose to drive. He and five friends, who parked in a lot off Third and L streets Southeast, said they wanted to tailgate before the game.

“Nothing’s like RFK,” McKnight said. “When you go to a game, it’s an eight-hour affair.”

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