Wearing a red and blue Washington Nationals nylon warm-up suit, Mayor Anthony A. Williams stood in front of the pitching mound at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium yesterday, gripped a baseball with his right hand and let one fly.
Then another. And another. The mayor's style was not a thing of beauty as he practiced to throw out the first pitch at the team's exhibition game tomorrow against the New York Mets. He pushed the ball forward awkwardly, failing to get his arm behind his ear. He threw high and low, left and right. He occasionally missed his target altogether.
Mayor Anthony A. Williams, right, gets pitching advice from Eastern Senior High School coach Tillman Frizzell. Eastern pitcher Alvin Mason watches.
(Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)
"He throws like a Little Leaguer," observed Calvin Young, 15, a sophomore on Eastern Senior High School's baseball team who caught about a dozen of the mayor's tosses.
But if Williams's delivery wasn't pretty, the stadium he was pitching in looked remarkably scrubbed and polished -- at least compared with its condition just three months ago.
On the verge of its return to a baseball stadium after 34 years, RFK appeared nearly ready for prime time: The grass was lush and manicured, the hydraulic pitching mound was in place, the teams' lockers were bright red and the foul poles were painted canary yellow. A large Nationals clock with the interlocking D.C. logo was on the wall beyond center field, having replaced a soccer ball clock.
"Doesn't it look great?" Williams asked a crowd of youth players, coaches and other baseball supporters, doffing his cap and waving it toward the playing field.
The exhibition is the team's final tune-up before the season opener Monday in Philadelphia and will be a fundraiser for the Nationals' charity foundation.
Mark H. Tuohey, chairman of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, said yesterday that about 27,000 tickets had been sold for the 45,000-seat stadium. Lockheed Martin has signed on as sponsor for the game, buying several thousand tickets to be given to students.
Even as Williams practiced pitching, workers continued to put up electronic ribbon boards for scores and advertisements, paint white lines marking the field, and unpack furniture and supplies in the renovated locker rooms.
"It really is just a lot of details, details, details," said Murray Cook, a Major League Baseball consultant who took a tour yesterday morning. "Nothing major is out of whack. Things just are not finished."
Thomas Engers, Turner Construction's project executive on the stadium renovation, said he has had up to 400 workers at the site on any given day this week but will reduce that to about 100 today for final cleanup of the building. Yesterday, he was taking no chances, even dispatching crews to flush toilets. Plumbers will work today to address a few problem stalls, he said.
Problems found tomorrow will then be fixed before the regular season home opener April 14 against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Meanwhile, District and police officials said they will be strictly enforcing parking regulations in neighborhoods near RFK. Those who drive to the game should refrain from parking in those neighborhoods if they do not have a standard, city-issued zone parking sticker for that area, officials said.
Ten tow trucks and 20 additional ticket-writers will be patrolling the area, and illegally parked vehicles will be towed to Blue Plains. Police will be stationed on streets and in the RFK parking lot to deter crime and keep traffic moving. About 9,000 parking spots in the stadium's lots will go for $10 each.
Dan Tangherlini, the city's director of transportation, said that hundreds of new parking signs will be posted in neighborhoods in time for Opening Day.
As the mayor continued to work on his pitching, he got pointers from youth league coaches Harry Thomas Jr. and Brendan Sullivan, a St. Albans graduate and former minor leaguer, among others.
"They told me to try to arc it -- not zing it straight in," Williams said. "You've got to get the ball up."
And then the mayor planted his foot and cocked his arm and worked on the form that thousands will see tomorrow just before 12:05 p.m., when baseball finally returns to RFK.