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An Early Show of Support

Fans Turn Out at RFK As Nationals Open Sale Of Single-Game Tickets

By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 13, 2005; Page C01

Marvin Jones was 14 and part of the crowd Oct. 7, 1961, when the new D.C. Stadium was dedicated.

He slumped in the stands when hope-starved fans tore up the field and prevented the final out from being made against the New York Yankees on Sept. 30, 1971 -- the Washington Senators' last game before they abandoned the renamed Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium and stole out of town.

Rob Larsen screams with joy after winning a drawing for Washington Nationals Opening Day tickets. "This is the biggest thrill," he said. (Photos Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)

Yesterday, Jones, 57, a lifelong D.C. resident and Dunbar Senior High School graduate, was first in line to welcome the Washington Nationals home to RFK.

"I wouldn't miss this for anything. Baseball is back in D.C.," said Jones, his voice as eager as a schoolboy's as he waited to be reunited with the sport he grew up with.

"It's the camaraderie of friends, the sight of the ballpark, the smell of the grass, the look of the food and the wonderful memories," Jones said. "Why did I stay in touch with baseball? I'm a fan of the game."

Single-game tickets for the Nationals went on sale at noon yesterday, fulfilling the long-deferred dreams of 150 people who gathered behind Jones -- first in line at 7:15 a.m. -- on the wind-whipped walkway in front of the stadium box office. Others ordered seats online or by phone for the 81-game home season, except for the April 14 opener against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Those tickets will go on sale at noon March 26, club spokeswoman Chartese Berry said.

Team personnel handed out red, white and blue pompoms and big "Number One" foam hands. There were doughnuts, hot coffee and hot dogs. Above all there were lucky breaks, second chances and carefree reminiscences.

"For 30 years I've been waiting for this, and this is the biggest thrill," gushed Rob Larsen, 58, a Capitol Hill legal assistant who won a drawing for two Opening Day tickets when he happened to stop by to bring a blanket to his wife, Kathy, 57, a journalist. Rob Larsen screamed and ran up like a game-show winner when his name was called, telling the crowd, "To be involved Opening Day with the Nationals -- it doesn't get any better than this!"

Alfred Corbin Jr., 44, of Forestville, who was right behind Jones, attended his last Senators game as a 10-year-old on a field trip with the safety patrol from Abram Simon Elementary School of Southeast Washington. He listened to the final game on the radio.

Ever since, his home town has been robbed, he said.

"You look at the big cities. You're supposed to have all the big sports. We have been one team short," said Corbin, wearing a reproduction 1950s blue Nationals cap with the red block "W," sunglasses and a glossy team jacket. Corbin sought tickets for his father, himself and his 13-year-old son, Andre.

Another capital pastime -- politics -- was also on display. Adam Eidinger, a frequent D.C. Statehood Green candidate who protested taxpayer financing for the Nationals' future ballpark in the city, wore an 18th-century-style frock coat, ruffled shirt, knee breeches and white stockings, modeling what he said should be the team's new mascot, a colonist -- a nod to D.C. residents' status as taxpaying U.S. citizens without a vote in Congress.

Eidinger, a publicist and protest organizer, said he planned to buy 20 tickets for supporters to attend games with flip cards carrying his "Strike-4-Statehood" slogan, hoping to snare television time.

For Jones, the lure of the game is less about grudge or grievance and more about personal history. Wearing a black 1st Marine Division cap and Combat Infantryman's Badge, camouflage jacket, faded blue denim jeans and sneakers, he explained why he waited five hours for tickets to an April 3 game against the New York Mets, an exhibition match that would not count in the standings.

He watched his first Major League Baseball game at 15 with his twin brother, Melvin -- against the New York Yankees -- and remembered the graciousness of the champions, and the autographs he received from Mickey Mantle and Elston Howard.

"They were always nice, always cordial to kids," Jones remembered. He reeled off a series of baseball chestnuts, but from him they sounded fresh as warm peanuts. "We learned about sportsmanship. It's how you play the game. It's the team."

And, Jones said, it wasn't hard standing alone shortly after dawn yesterday, despite the breeze knifing along the polished granite walls of the stadium in 30-degree weather. He said he has spent most of his life working outdoors.

Jones, the grandson of Saluda, S.C., sharecroppers who came to the city for jobs in the 1920s, grew up at Eighth and G streets NE.

He volunteered for the U.S. Army, spending "eight years, 11 months and 30 days" in service, mostly as a pole lineman and rising to sergeant. He then spent four years as a U.S. Marine Corps sergeant, serving as an electronics technician. He retired recently as a canine security officer for the Smithsonian Institution and the National Zoo.

Today's wait was worth it, Jones said. "I always wanted to play the game, but I wasn't good enough. It's not bad this morning. It's a little cold, but it's not all that bad."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company