No sooner had the Washington Nationals begun sending out invoices and seat locations to fans who put deposits on 17,830 season tickets, than scores of phone calls started coming in from people dissatisfied with their locations.
"There were phone calls we had to field from people who had requested diamond box or infield boxes, but had to be pushed back farther from the field because we didn't have enough seats," said Kevin Uhlich, who works in the office of Nationals President Tony Tavares. "It wasn't a mix-up or a misfire. It was purely a case of supply and demand."
But knowledgeable sources said up to 1,000 of the seats closest to the field went to government, corporate and other VIPs throughout the region.
"This is Washington, D.C., and I had to take care of certain people," said Tavares. "Of course VIPs were taken care of, as they are in any other circumstance. But this is as fair a process as you will find anywhere in baseball."
The Nationals are racing to get RFK Stadium -- with an expected capacity of about 41,000 fans -- ready in time for the team's April 14 home opener against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Fans will receive their tickets around the third week of March.
This week's ticket mailing is part of that process, but it took a nasty turn when some fans objected to their assigned seats.
About 5,300 people had requested a total 17,830 season tickets for the upcoming season, and more than 10,000 of those requests were for seats in the infield box section, which cost $40 per ticket, per game. But there are only 5,000 seats for the 10,000 requests. So thousands of fans had to be pushed back to the infield box terrace and infield box baseline sections, both of which are in the lower deck but are farther from the field.
The most prized locations are the 900 diamond box seats behind home plate. Those tickets are $90 per game and were the first to sell out.
The vast majority of the season tickets were assigned randomly by computer in two phases. The first phase consisted of Nationals fans who requested season ticket information from one of three Web sites prior to Nov. 16, 2004. The second phase was anyone who was not part of that original priority group, but who had placed a $300 deposit per seat with the team between Nov. 17, 2004, and the last few days.
A few hundred lower level tickets were set aside for players, MLB, team sponsors and others, but the vast majority were assigned to fans on those lists, said Uhlich. For example, nearly all of the 900 diamond box seats went to customers on the waiting lists.
"There were some tickets we had on 'in-house' lists that we obviously had to take care of," Uhlich said. "But for the most part, they went to the general public."
Fans who received their invoices this week have until Feb. 4 to pay the balance on their accounts or they will lose their seats.
Uhlich said disgruntled fans will be accommodated in the future as new seats open up.
"This is such a hot ticket," Uhlich said. "Obviously, as we go on through the whole process we will try and upgrade people as other people leave."