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Heavy Hitters Swing for the Seats

Pulling Strings Brings Big-Name Fans Better Nationals Tickets

By David A. Fahrenthold and Bill Brubaker
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, April 8, 2005; Page A01

Right field is a ballpark's Siberia, and Robert D. Novak was not about to sit out there.

Like thousands of other baseball-starved fans, the syndicated columnist and television pundit signed up to buy season tickets for the Washington Nationals' inaugural year. And, like many others, he wasn't happy with the four seats he was assigned. Section 201, the right field corner.

Paul Begala went to his wife's friend's friend. (File Photo)

"They were pretty close to Baltimore," he said.

Then Novak made a call. He won't say who was on the receiving end, but he does remember his request: Can you do a little better for us?

Three or four days later, Novak said, "they did." His group was upgraded to the first row of a 200-level section between home and first base.

Major League Baseball is returning to Washington after a 34-year absence, but the game of connections and status never left town. So for months, VIPs from business, politics and the media have been working to get choice tickets to Nationals games, with the best seats at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium taking on the cachet of a prime table at the Palm.

"I hear people actually bragging about where their seats are," said Fred Barnes, executive editor of the Weekly Standard, who shares tickets with Novak. "I hate to admit it, but it is going to be a real status symbol."

Nationals executives said they tried to assign season tickets as fairly as possible, using a computerized lottery for some sections because the demand far exceeded the seats. About 13,000 people wanted an infield box seat, and there were only 5,000 of those tickets.

The team's job was complicated by the fact that RFK, a 45,500-seat publicly financed stadium built in 1961, has a dearth of the luxury suites commonly found in new ballparks. That left corporate ticket buyers to compete with the average fan for tickets.

"We did the best job that we could," Nationals President Tony Tavares said. "We went into this thing with a bent that said, 'We've got to be fair here.' "

Still, Tavares acknowledged that some people got special treatment. "I don't know what you want me to do, lie?" he said. "It's the same as everybody in baseball."

Who are these VIPs? Here the candor stops; Tavares won't say. But a number of Washington's elites have a ticket story to tell, even if they don't know -- or won't divulge -- exactly how they wound up with choice seats.

Michael Nannes owns eight season tickets with a few colleagues at Dickstein Shapiro Morin & Oshinsky LLP, where he is managing partner. All told, lawyers at the Washington firm control about 20 season tickets, he said. Asked how he ended up with eight seats near the Nationals' dugout, Nannes said: "This is Washington, right? Everyone has a friend someplace."

Later, he explained, "One of my colleagues had a contact with the Washington Baseball Club [a potential ownership group], and we got on the list very early. . . . We're very happy with the tickets, thank you very much."

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