Friday, July 21, 2006

Washington Nationals fans attending this weekend’s “grand reopening” at RFK Stadium are unlikely to be stunned by any changes at the old park, but they might find a new favorite sandwich or a get a giggle from one of the team’s new promotions.

At the very least, they will get free stuff.

As part of its “Paint the Town Red” promotion, the team will give out free Nationals caps tonight, followed by T-shirts tomorrow and rally towels on Sunday. But it will also increase giveaways to fans in the seats, with entire rows and sections randomly selected to win prizes such as free food, drinks or health club memberships.

Meanwhile, the family of Ted Lerner, who stands poised to take over ownership of the team, will greet fans at the stadium entrances, which have been gussied up with new landscaping and 2,000 square feet of red carpet. Nationals players also will be on hand at entrances before the game.

The Lerners, along with incoming Nationals president Stan Kasten, introduced the “grand reopening” idea as a way to show their commitment to a good fan experience both at RFK and the team’s new ballpark, expected to open in 2008.

Inside the ballpark, the seating bowl is noticeably cleaner after a heavy dose of steam and power washing. The team clubhouses also have been upgraded with new paint, plasma televisions and leather sofas.

During games, fans will see new videos on the stadium’s giant monitor, and the debut of the “racing presidents” — large-headed characters depicting George Washington, Teddy Roosevelt, Abe Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson. The characters will race on the field in a fashion similar to the popular “sausage race” in Milwaukee.

“We want to reach moms, we want to reach kids, we want to everybody including those who aren’t sitting in the seat with a scorecard,” said Nationals spokeswoman Chartese Burnett, as she showed reporters an area set aside for a “kids zone” with virtual batting cages and other activities. “As you know, [RFK is a 45-year-old] building. As much as we can, we’re going to use the existing concourses to improve the fan experience.”

Meanwhile, a new food court has been set up on the 300 level above RFK’s main entrance. Aramark, the stadium’s concessions provider, recruited five local restaurants to open stands, including Hard Times Cafe, Cantina Marina, A.R’s, Cluck-U Chicken and Capital Q. New menu items include barbecue brisket sandwiches, crab cakes, riblets and catfish.

Elsewhere in the stadium, fans can find extra food stands from Kosher Sports, and purchase popcorn and cheesesteaks at stands near the main entrance at the 200 level.

“We’re taking the variety that we’ve offered this year and expanding it so that fans have more options at their convenience,” said Greg Costa, a general manager with Aramark.

Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. To submit a question, go to the>Sports Page

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