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George Solomon

Take Me Out to the (Not Quite Perfect Just Yet) Ballgame

By George Solomon
Sunday, April 10, 2005; Page E02

What a week:

The Nationals live -- 34 years after waiting for Major League Baseball to return to Washington, it happened last week. Overcoming significant obstacles such as Peter "The Great" Angelos, the fact the team is still owned by the other 29 owners and watching it and listening to it requires the patience of Job and technical intuition of Benjamin Franklin, the Nationals played baseball last week.

If you couldn't see the Nationals on the Peter Angelos Regional Sports Network (PARSN), or hear the cool, classy play-by-play work of Charlie Slowes and Dave Shea on the radio, the more hearty and dedicated tracked them down by using trains, planes, automobiles, buses and, in some cases, taxicabs.

Nationals fan Deanna Green, from Waldorf, greets the home team's Brian Schneider before last Sunday's exhibition at RFK Stadium. Dakkota Hill, 9, waits for something more tangible. (Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)

Last Sunday, a cold, raw day, Marlene Koenig rode the Metro from Alexandria to the Stadium/Armory stop to see the Nationals play the Mets at RFK Stadium in an exhibition game that did not count in the standings but mattered plenty to those fans who have waited more than three decades for baseball.

Many fans thought the day historic, considering what it took to make it happen. Others, like Koenig, were less concerned with the past and more focused on the future -- the backroom politics that put the Nats on the diamond less important than how Washington and Baltimore would play once the season began. "I am in baseball heaven," she said. "I love the game. I know what's happened with the move from Montreal and how Angelos opposed it. That doesn't matter to me: I've got a 20-game plan for Nationals tickets and a Sunday plan for the Orioles."

Koenig, a Camden Yards regular, watched the Mets win, 4-3, in a winter jacket. She stayed all nine innings. "I have to learn RFK," she said. "I walked in and said to myself, 'Where do I go, where's my seat, where's everything?' "

Koenig said she liked what she saw, but wished the scoreboard was larger in every way, numbers, words and pictures.

The mayor was cheered, the field looked great, the dugouts ready, the seats okay (a green paint job would have been nice). The food lines were too long and the hot dogs cold, I heard. But the bathrooms worked and I didn't see anyone storm the will call windows.

But Thursday, when the Arizona Diamondbacks, President Bush and Commissioner Bud Selig visit to start the regular season, you'd better get there early because we haven't done this Opening Day/Night business in awhile. "The staff did a remarkable job to get this ready," Manager Frank Robinson said. "But this was off-Broadway -- April 14 will be electric."

Some questions:

Why won't they let you bring your own food into the ballpark? Nothing against the Aramark caterers, but its on-site manager, Robert Sunday, didn't give me much confidence when he told The Post's Weekend writer, Eve Zibart, he expects everything to be "phased-in" by the all-star break in mid-July. Excuse me, Bobby, but there aren't enough Tums in Washington if your cooks and servers can't hit their stride before July.

Memo to the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission: How about letting us bring in a good corned beef sandwich from B.J. Pumpernickel's instead of waiting like a sardine in the food line for untested ballpark stuff?

Second request of D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission decision-makers: Hopefully, you'll see that the Nationals and Metro cut a deal before Thursday night to keep the subway trains running past midnight, in case there's an extra-inning game or rain delay. It costs $18,000 an hour to do so, but walking home that late could prove annoying, so put it on Angelos's RSN tab, if you must.

On the Bus

Hundreds of Washington area fans made the two-hour trip to Philadelphia on Monday to see the first Washington team play a major league game in 34 years. I tagged along with the Washington Baseball Historical Society, one of whose members informed me it had been 12,240 days between Washington baseball games.

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