Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium could be renamed Armed Forces Field at RFK under the terms of a deal being negotiated by District officials and the Department of Defense, sources close to the discussions said yesterday.
Officials hoped to wrap up an agreement by the time the Washington Nationals take the field at 7:05 tonight for their first home game, against the Arizona Diamondbacks. President Bush is scheduled to throw out the first pitch before a crowd of 46,000.
Assistant groundskeeper Matt Rogers administers a last-minute trim before the Nationals' home opener.
(Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)
At the stadium yesterday, workers completed final preparations. Grass was cut, then trimmed again. Nationals and Major League Baseball logos with the slogan "I Live For This" were painted on the field. A Hall of Stars banner was hung on the wall behind right field with the names of legendary D.C. athletes. Advertisements were posted, including a huge Corvette poster on the billboard outside the stadium's main entrance.
But the question remained whether there would be a new name by game time; the wording was still being discussed late yesterday. If a deal is struck and the name changed, the Corvette billboard could be moved to give way to a sign with the new name, the sources said. A sign company was standing by yesterday to make the billboard for the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, which operates RFK.
On Monday, the National Guard had agreed to a deal to pay the commission about $6 million over three years for the sponsorship, but the agreement was halted by Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) and Lt. Gen. Steven Blum. They objected to a branch of the military paying to put its name on a sports building or playing field.
After city leaders met with Warner and Blum on Tuesday, negotiations resumed. Yesterday, the two sides had agreed that the Department of Defense would pay for recruiting and marketing opportunities at the stadium but that the city would not ask for money if the field is renamed Armed Forces Field at RFK. If that name change is agreed upon, the city would make it in honor of the military services, at no cost, according to sources familiar with the negotiations.
They said the Department of Defense wants to pay less than the Guard would have paid for the naming rights. Money from the sponsorship will go to improving youth athletic programs in the city.
Asked whether it was appropriate to have the military's name on the field, D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) said at his weekly news conference yesterday that "this has nothing to do with whether you agree or disagree with the war. I think it's actually a good fit."
In any case, more than 130 D.C. Army and Air National Guardsmen are scheduled to participate in tonight's festivities, unfurling a large U.S. flag during "The Star-Spangled Banner." Four F-16s from the D.C. Guard's 121st Fighter Squadron will perform a flyover in formation.
The gates at RFK will open at 4 p.m., and the Nationals will provide entertainment, including live music, at the D.C. Armory starting at the same time. To begin the game, Joe Grzenda, who threw the final pitch for the Washington Senators in 1971, will hand that ball to Bush for the ceremonial first pitch.
Earlier, the Nationals will attend a luncheon to honor area businesses, which are to pay some of the bill for the new ballpark.
But not everyone is celebrating. A group called D.C. Public Schools Full Funding Campaign, unhappy that the city will put public money into a new stadium, is planning a protest outside the stadium at 5 p.m.
Williams said that several D.C. Council members who intend to boycott the game because they oppose public funding for a stadium -- including Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) -- should attend tonight.
"They ought to just chill and come on out to the game," Williams said. "We're just getting overly wrought like some Shakespeare drama. Just relax, come out to the game and have a good time."
Sports commission representatives urged fans to ride Metro; cars parked illegally in neighborhoods around the stadium could be towed. Yesterday, neighbors lined up for special parking permits. But Betty Griffith and Sherry Johnson said they were not satisfied with the permits because friends cannot visit them during games and park in the neighborhood.
"That's a big problem," Griffith said.
"They told us it's one per household," Johnson added.
Metro announced it will operate on a rush-hour schedule from 3 p.m. until game time and have 14 extra six-car trains available afterward.
Yesterday, the Nationals beat the Atlanta Braves and come home with a winning record: 5-4.
"This is a moment where we all come together and bask in the sun," said D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5). "The stars are lining up for the Nationals."