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"I guess we can forget about seeing the fifth inning at this point," said Christiana Cameron, 32, an Arlington financial analyst, as she scanned the hundreds of fans standing between her and the stadium's entrance. She complained that Bush's attendance had created the chaos. "This is supposed to be for the people. This is supposed to be our game. He didn't pay for his ticket."

After about a three-hour commute from Fredericksburg and 30 minutes waiting in line, Brian Cunningham got nervous. He made a bold move behind some media trucks to shorten his wait. Cunningham then sprinted four stadium ramps to Section 546 and success; he made it just as the starting lineups were being announced. "It was important for me to be here for all this," he said about the pregame fanfare. "The first time around, I wasn't even a thought yet."


President Bush throws out the first pitch before the Nationals begin their home opener at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium. Security was tight for the game. (Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)


Among the throngs who came to enjoy the game were a smattering of protesters, many carrying signs that said the time and money spent on bringing the team were a clear example of misplaced priorities. The typical one read, "Millions for the stadium, peanuts for the kids."

The largest of the protests, right in front of RFK's main gate, drew about 400 people between 4 p.m. and the game's start. The group chanted, over a microphone, "Not our Nats, Not our Nats," to the dismay of many who had come to see the team. Some yelled profanities at the group, which included tiny children and teenagers.

One of the speakers at the protest was 16-year-old Michael Watson, an 11th-grader at Eastern Senior High School. He plays baseball there but said he thinks the stadium money could be better spent. "Fix our damn schools," he yelled into the microphone. He said if the region wants baseball, it should help pay for it.

At 6:36 p.m., the fans inside the stadium burst into spontaneous applause and the fans in the lower bowl began stamping their feet.

"Ladies and gentlemen, the moment you've all been waiting for for 34 years, let's meet your 2005 Washington Nationals!" said public address legend Charlie Brotman, wearing a polka-dot tuxedo. The crowd grew louder still, and out came the Nationals, lining up along the third base line, welcomed with smoke and the flare of fireworks while fans packed the walkways and snapped photos.

The stadium microphones malfunctioned as the Navy chorus sang "God Bless America." But soon the sailors were joined by the chorus of the crowd. Kenny Hawkins, 15, had removed his Cardozo Senior High School baseball cap and sang with them. "This is like the biggest event in D.C.," he said.

Staff writers Clarence Williams, Dave Sheinin and Tom Heath contributed to this report.


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