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Glitches and Hassles Can't Stifle Exuberance

Inside the park, there were signs that all the kinks hadn't been worked out at a Nats' exhibition game at RFK on April 3. Vendors sold programs, but without pencils to keep score. There were long lines in some places for beer, ballpark food and automated teller machines.

Nobody had it worse than Bob Weidner of Fairfax Station, who had brought his son Kyle, 12, and one of Kyle's friends to the game. They arrived in time for the first pitch, but Weidner then went for hot dogs.

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)

He waited. And waited. After 40 minutes, he got to the front of the line -- and was told there were no more hot dogs.

Undeterred, he moved to the next food stand for sausages and began the wait all over again.

Innings passed. Runs were scored. He could hear the cheering from inside the stadium. Still he waited.

Finally, at 8:55 p.m., as the game edged toward the seventh inning, he placed his order: four sausages and a hot dog.

As other people in line complained, he was ever good-natured, saying, "We're looking forward to the seventh-inning stretch."

The many hassles aside, last night's game marked the first comprehensive glimpse of the real Nats fan base -- the varied group that has come together in a town with a depressing record of losing two baseball teams.

These were the people buying jerseys, hats, pennants and even odder souvenirs such as teddy bears decorated with the Nationals logo.

Chris Westyn, 37, of Fairfax, arrived with one sentiment in mind: "Take my money."

"I drank the Kool-Aid the very first day they offered it," Westyn said, adding that he was jealous that his sons John, 7, and Bobby, 3, who were with him at the game, would grow up with their own local baseball team.

Many fans showed up more than three hours early, crowding along the field as the teams took batting practice and oohing at long blasts. A group of guys from Virginia staked out a tailgating spot in the parking lot at 11:30 a.m. -- more than seven hours before the game.

"I've been waiting for baseball to come back to Washington for so long," said Kelly O'Flinn, 22, of Fairfax, whose setup included a TV and a charcoal grill.

During the game, many of the fans interviewed said they lived in the suburbs, and the crowd in general seemed to be predominantly white. The contrast between the RFK stands and the District's population, which is 57 percent black, struck Arnold Gordon, 66, of Olney as he waited in line for an ATM.

"See any blacks in the crowd, other than the vendors?" he asked.

But there were black fans, including Ramone Bryant, 14, of Northeast. He may have had the worst seat in the house in Section 548, Row 13, behind the right field scoreboard.

From his perch, he could see the catcher but not the umpire. It hardly mattered.

"The crowd is what makes me want to be here," he said, a black baseball cap turned backward on his head. "It was so crowded I could hardly get off the train."

A row behind him was his baseball coach, Gil Green, 52. He leaned forward for a better view, and dismissed the bad seats. "Today it doesn't matter," he said. "It's baseball, and it's back."

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