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Chief Complaint at Nationals' Opener: Long Lines

Officials to Wait and See Before Making Changes

By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 16, 2005; Page B01

Metro was mobbed. Stadium entrance lines were too long. Food ran out. The sound system was garbled. Parking lots were dark.

A day after the Washington Nationals' home debut at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, officials for the District, Metro and the team scrambled to address the checklist of problems they heard most from the crowd of 45,596.

Fans crowd the Stadium-Armory Metro station after the home opener of the Washington Nationals on Thursday evening. The crowds for subsequent games are expected to be smaller, officials said. (Kevin Clark -- The Washington Post)

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Although officials said they are exploring some changes, they stressed that they plan to wait several games before making a comprehensive assessment. Thursday's opener -- which included increased security measures such as metal detectors at the stadium entrances -- was unusual because of the large crowd and the presence of President Bush, officials said.

"Yesterday was totally different," said Allen Y. Lew, chief executive of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, which operates RFK. "With the president in the building, I thought things went fairly smooth."

Perhaps the biggest complaint concerned the long lines for Metro service at the Stadium-Armory Station, especially after the game, when fans created a bottleneck at the escalators.

Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said yesterday that 17 eight-car trains rolled through the station after the game and that the transit agency does not plan to add more for tonight's game. More than 27,000 fans took Metro, far more than the pregame estimate of 20,000, she added.

"That happens when you get 45,000 people going to a ballgame . . . and everyone wants to leave at the same time," Farbstein said of the long lines. "It's no different than when Redskins games ended."

She and Lew urged fans to take Metro and recommended that they use the Stadium-Armory stop's second entrance a couple of blocks away if the entrance near the D.C. Armory is backed up.

Dan Tangherlini, director of the District's Transportation Department, said officials generally expect more fans to arrive late and depart early for future games, as traditionally happens in other cities. D.C. officials estimate that the average attendance for home games will be 30,000 fans, reducing the burden on Metro even further, he noted.

"It's going to be an interesting balancing act," Tangherlini said. "Everyone is learning. People who go to the games are learning what is the best way to get there, and we're learning the best way to manage it."

Meanwhile, the stadium's 9,000 parking spots, at $10 apiece, were all taken. In neighborhoods adjacent to the stadium, parking enforcement officers from the city's Public Works Department wrote 195 tickets and towed 19 cars, city officials said.

Some fans complained that the lines at concession stands were too long.

John Hatcher, 54, of Arlington screamed, "No hot dogs!" to a passing employee of Aramark, which operates the stadium's 31 permanent concessions stands and 70 portable stands.

"I've been in this line for three innings. How can you come to a baseball game and stand in line for three innings and not get a hot dog?" Hatcher said.

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