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Nationals Ticket Distribution a Tough Balancing Act

VIPs, Average Joes Compete for Seats

By Bill Brubaker and David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, March 26, 2005; Page A01

First there's the president, and he never travels alone.

Then there's the Ballou Senior High School marching band.

Nationals tickets
Nationals tickets
Danny Matta, owner of GreatSeats.com in college Park, inventories his event tickets, mostly to concerts and sporting events. (Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)

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And corporate sponsors such as the Miller Brewing Co.?

They'll need tickets, too.

Forget the urgent need for another power hitter: The Washington Nationals' biggest headache this spring might be deciding who gets into Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium on the night Major League Baseball returns to the nation's capital.

With about two-thirds of the stadium's roughly 46,000 seats already claimed for opening night by season-ticket holders, the process of doling out what's left has become a delicate balancing act, with business, political and civic considerations all in play.

Until this week, single-game tickets to the April 14 home opener against the Arizona Diamondbacks had not been available to the general public. On Wednesday, the Nationals served up 1,600 seats in a lottery won by 400 people. Beginning noon today, the team promises to put at least 7,000 more tickets on sale, most in the upper deck.

But that will probably be it for the casual fan: The remaining opening-night seats have been spoken for by an array of groups and individuals who have a stake in the event -- from the city's sports commission to the Nationals' sponsors to opening night entertainers such as the Ballou band.

President Bush has RSVP'd to throw out the first pitch. And, this being Washington, a phalanx of other politicians and VIPs will make the scene.

"One of the things that Washington has is many people who define themselves as being important," team President Tony Tavares said, recalling ticket requests he has received since coming to town last fall. "There are very few people that don't define themselves as being important in Washington."

The Nationals' first game will almost certainly be televised, though the precise arrangements hinge on negotiations between Major League Baseball and Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos.

The tug of war over opening-night seats comes as the Nationals' fan base is already riled about season tickets -- the best of which, some have complained, were snagged by Washington's elite. Their complaints gained steam in January after Tavares disclosed he had to "take care of certain people" when tickets were first allocated.

It is an old story in sports and one that is not unique to Washington. Opening-day seats are always hard to get at high-profile venues such as Yankee Stadium, while opening day for a new club or a new ballpark generates peak interest and pressure on teams to accommodate a wide array of demands.

"If you think the Boston Red Sox or the New York Yankees don't have some form of priority seating, you're crazy," said Tavares, who ran the Montreal Expos before they moved to Washington.

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