- The Washington Times - Monday, March 31, 2008

Last night, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty strolled through the posh Presidents Club inside Nationals Park and was repeatedly greeted by fans congratulating him on helping to usher along the completion of the ballpark.

There was no mention of the fact that Fenty, as a member of the D.C. Council, steadfastly voted against the stadium, built with more than $600 million of city money. Moreover, there was little mention of the political rancor that led many Nationals fans to believe a new ballpark for their team would never get built. Instead, this was a night of celebration.

“I’m not even thinking about that,” said Allen Lew, the former CEO of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission. “A lot of the people who opposed the stadium are here.”

TWT Video:President Bush tosses first pitch

It was 3½ years ago that Major League Baseball announced it would relocate the struggling Montreal Expos to the District. There were bitter fights and heavy doses of skepticism, but it all ended last night.

“This was a saga that seemed to go on forever, particularly to people here,” said MLB commissioner Bud Selig, who was in attendance. “But when you walk in a ballpark like this and see all the emotion and realize that everything that went into it … it is a great story, one that I am proud of. I wish it would have happened sooner, but you can’t change that.”

Photos:Counting down until the first pitch

Nationals Park’s massive video board posted not headlines of political battles but photos of the stadium rising from the ground. There were nods of appreciation for many of the key players. Former D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams. Former D.C. Council chair Linda Cropp. The architect, HOK Sport. And the workers from the Clark/Hunt/Smoot construction team.

“I couldn’t be happier for the workers and everyone who participated in this project,” said Greg O’Dell, CEO of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission. “It’s just a surreal experience to see all the fans here. I’ve walked around it so many times and saw it from a construction perspective, and now to see fans enjoying it … it’s a lot of fun.

“Just to be a part of this project is something I’m never going to forget, and I’m deeply happy for everyone who participated in it.”

For Major League Baseball, it was the completion of a difficult journey that, at times, appeared as if it would not end.

“It is gratifying to see how excited the fans get in communities that decide to build a ballpark,” MLB president and chief operating officer Bob DuPuy said. “Bringing the Expos to D.C. was the start of a great story, and this is the culmination of that story. This is really cool.”

Nationals Park rose from the ground in 22 months on a plot of ground once populated by night clubs, asphalt plants and industrial buildings. And as they looked beyond the ballpark at the construction cranes just blocks away, fans were reminded last night of the promise the ballpark would create economic development in the area along the Anacostia River.

“This is a wonderful ballpark at a wonderful venue,” DuPuy said. “This is going to create the kind of excitement that we’ve seen in Baltimore and that we’ve seen in other cities.”

Team officials were quick to point out the ultimate purpose of the ballpark: to improve the chances the team can compete for, and win, a World Series title.

“As important as this is for everyone involved, we have to remind ourselves this is the first step of a much larger journey,” Nationals president Stan Kasten said.

Said Bob Tanenbaum, a member of the team’s ownership group: “We’ll reflect after tonight.”

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