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The Crowd Cheers. Ah, Welcome Home.

By Peter Carlson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 15, 2005; Page C01

Here's what it felt like to be there when baseball came back to Washington after 34 long years:

You come out of the Metro on a warm spring afternoon. A guy is blowing a trumpet. A couple other guys mumble, "Extra tickets? Extra tickets?" You turn the corner and see RFK Stadium and think, Ah, it's been a long time.


The view from the upper deck behind home plate as a huge American flag fills the outfield during the singing of the national anthem. (Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)


A big sign over the stadium says, "Sorry, we can't accept souls as payment." You figure it's a clever reference to the Senators fan who sold his soul to the Devil so the team would win the pennant in that musical, "Damn Yankees." Then you see it's a Corvette ad. You're disappointed.

At a table near the stadium, a guy is giving away T-shirts that read, "No Taxation Without Representation." It's Mark Plotkin, the tireless radio yakker and D.C. statehood activist. He's telling a bunch of reporters with notepads: "Here's a president who wants democracy in Iraq, but he doesn't want it here." You take a T-shirt.

A handful of cherry trees are blooming pink against the soft blue sky. You get in a line to enter and pass through a metal detector while cops in white shirts and black ties and dark shades look very closely at your cell phone and your keys. Off to the side, a cop's fierce-looking dog is sniffing reporters' computers and TV cameras. You think, such is baseball in the age of terrorism.

You step inside and hear a guy yelling, "Programs! Getcha programs!" You buy one even though it costs $10 because you really have no idea who plays for this new team. The cover says "Limited Stadium Edition" and you wonder if you can sell this historical document for millions on eBay in 20 years. Then you realize that in 20 years, you'll never remember where you put it.

A guy hands you a card labeled "Fan Code of Conduct" that lists eight rules, including, "Guests will refrain from displays of affection not appropriate in a public family setting." You translate: At a baseball game, the fans can't get past second base.

You get a whiff of popcorn, then a whiff of Italian sausage. You buy a regular hot dog for four bucks and a beer for $6. You squeeze some bright yellow mustard on the dog. You take a bite, wash it down with a sip of beer. You think, Ah, this is baseball, even though you haven't seen the field yet.

You head up the ramp toward your seats. Up, up, up. On the upper deck, you step out into the bright sunshine. Below you, the outfield, green as broccoli, green as an ad for Ireland. The shadow of the stands lays across the outfield, and the shadows of the stadium flags flutter on the center field grass.

The Diamondbacks are taking batting practice. Somebody whaps a ball over the left field fence and the fans say, "Oooh!" On the next pitch he whacks one deep into the upper deck and somebody says, "Wow! They've been jumpin' out!"

A guy hands you a camera and asks you to take a picture. He and two buddies pose in front of the field, grinning like kids underneath their red Nats hats.

Batting practice ends and groundskeepers in red shirts start hosing down the infield. As they move from third toward first, the water changes the color of the dirt from a pale tan to a burnt orange.

You wander down to the expensive seats behind home plate. You look around for celebrities but fail to see any. You walk right up to the front row and ask a guy how he got these seats. His name is Joe Gallaher. He says they're not his seats this year, but they were between 1968 and 1971.

"They wouldn't give 'em to me this year," he says. "The ticket guy said they were going to political people and sponsors and congressmen, that kind of thing."


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