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Baseball's Back in D.C.

Glitches and Hassles Can't Stifle Exuberance

By David A. Fahrenthold and Paul Schwartzman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, April 15, 2005; Page A01

The sounds of baseball in Washington, 2005: the beep of the metal detector, the sniff of the bomb dog and then -- at long last -- the crack of the bat.

Many of the 45,596 fans in attendance last night at the opening game of the Washington Nationals said they were ecstatic to see the first major league game played in the capital since 1971. For some, even the scene of Nationals players taking batting practice was emotional.

Jeff Wieland, left, and Dan Hendricks, both of Cincinnati, share a high-five after the Nationals' Vinny Castilla hit a sixth-inning triple to bring in the team's first runs at RFK Stadium, ensuring the Nats' 5-3 win over the Diamondbacks. (John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)

"It makes me want to cry, to tell you the truth," said David Carlson, 42, of Fairfax City, who was in his seat three hours before the game started.

But the experience was made a little trying by long security lines -- triggered by the appearance of President Bush to throw out the first pitch -- and small but annoying glitches resulting from the combination of an old park and a brand new team.

Last night's game marked a major test for both the Nationals, who had struggled for years as the Montreal Expos, and Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, which had to be quickly rehabbed after the Expos moved to Washington in mid-winter.

The team did fine. They beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 5-3 and kept their unlikely spot at the top of the National League East division, exciting fans whose camera flashes lit up the first pitch, and whose stomping shook the stands as the last out was recorded.

"It looks like they're going to compete. I thought they'd be in the cellar," said Paul Adams, 39, an Adams Morgan bartender sitting in the center field stands. "I wasn't expecting much, so I'm pleasantly surprised."

The ballpark's reviews were more mixed. Many fans noted the deep-green grass or the new electronic Jumbotron in the outfield. Most agreed that, at the very least, the park didn't look worse than when they last had been there for a Senators or Washington Redskins game.

"It looks pretty good, to be forty-some years old," said Ed Karnes, 58, of Harrisonburg, Va., who said he was pleased to see that his left field seats were relatively close to the field.

But small problems abounded. Long lines built up around the park as fans waited to go through an airport-style security screening run by the U.S. Secret Service. Some impatiently shouted for security workers to hurry up.

Bruce Kogod, 56, and Chris Murray, 57, got in one of the lines at 6:15 p.m. -- and were still outside the park 50 minutes later when the first pitch from Nationals hurler Livan Hernandez sailed in for a strike.

"Nobody told us," Murray said. "It's humiliating."

The level of security was such that even Hernandez was required by Secret Service agents to get out of his car at a checkpoint outside the players' parking lot while officers checked his glove compartment, looked underneath his hood and in the trunk of his blue Ferrari.

A bomb-sniffing dog circled the car while the pitcher stood to the side, sipping from a bottle of water. Just after 5:30 p.m., they allowed him to pass.

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