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Take Me Out to the Dentist

Weekday Afternoon Game Lures Fans With Excuses

By David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 22, 2005; Page B01

Around 2 p.m. yesterday -- a time that, on any other Thursday, would have meant nothing but work -- a father and son from Burke sat in the upper deck of Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium.

They were watching a baseball game and having trouble getting their stories straight.

Ponchos, umbrellas and the knowledge that other people have to be at work help make the chilly afternoon at the ballpark bearable in a light, steady rain. The Nationals lost to the Atlanta Braves, 2-1. (Joel Richardson -- The Washington Post)

"I just got out of school," the 18-year-old son said.

"He ditched," the dad said, which explained why they didn't want their names in the newspaper.

There was a permission slip, the dad explained, but also a little white lie. "It was a hurt foot," he said, while the son tried to shush him. "That's what I told" the school.

There were similar tales all over RFK yesterday, as the Washington Nationals played the Atlanta Braves in the city's first weekday afternoon baseball game since 1971. Without a trace of rust, Nationals fans revived a tradition as old as daylight baseball: fibbing, cajoling and sneaking their way out of school or office to go to the ballpark instead.

In the announced crowd of 30,728 were a few preschoolers, retirees and tourists. Everybody else had a story.

In the stadium's lower deck, where many seats cost $40 or more, fans were more likely to have simply given themselves the afternoon off. Such was the case for Jerry Stouck and Robert Shapiro, partners at the Washington law firm of Spriggs & Hollingsworth.

"Nobody gives me trouble," Stouck said, when asked how he managed to extend his lunch break through a 2-hour 51-minute game. "We're law firm partners."

In the less expensive seats far above the playing field, scenarios were a bit more complicated. Some of the fans up there employed the time-honored incomplete story method.

"I didn't tell them I was going to the game," Bob Marley, 44, said of his employer, an insulation company in Springfield. "I just told them I had to leave at 12."

Others joined the ranks of the theoretically ill. "I'm a teacher, and I have a bad cold," said Barbara Stern, 62, of Severna Park.

The game wasn't perfect: The weather was cold and spitting rain, and the Nationals lost on a throwing error in the ninth inning. But the hooky-playing crowd didn't seem to mind. Many said there was a special magic to this game that came from knowing that so many other people in the region were at work.

For some, it was the primal thrill of being free, or at least having some vacation days built up.

"You have a security about yourself and your career and where you are," said Larry Manning Sr., 46, of Laurel. He had taken a day off from his job at the National Institutes of Health.

"This is what baseball is supposed to be," said Anthony Peacock, 47, a travel agent sitting with Manning in the right field boxes, "a diversion from the workday."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company