The Newest Eagle Has Landed
Monday, April 18, 2005
His name is Screech, but he doesn't utter a sound, at least not yet. He was hatched yesterday at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, emerging from a giant egg a few yards behind second base shortly before the Washington Nationals took the field against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
For the next three hours, as the Nationals clawed their way to a 7-3 victory, Screech, a 6-foot-2 eagle, strutted his stuff through the concourses and up and down the rows of seats, turning his white feathered head, bobbing his stuffed yellow beak, dancing on his oversized talons and wrapping children and adults with his brown feathered wings for enormous hugs.
A few children shrank away, a little uncertain near the towering bird. And some adults said the mascot looked more like a chicken, or maybe an owl. But most people at the game seemed delighted to see him.
"Hi, Screech! Hey, Screech -- over here!" they shouted, clamoring as if they had known the Nationals' mascot forever.
Sophia Calandra, 3, of Great Falls spotted Screech from several rows away and got her dad to carry her directly to the mascot so she could throw her small arms around him.
He's not scary," Sophia said, slightly exasperated, to a hesitant older sibling. "He's nice!"
Screech was introduced on a sunny spring afternoon that the Nationals dubbed "Kids Opening Day," the first daytime regular-season home game for the new team. The D.C. Boys Choir performed the national anthem, children 12 and younger were invited to run the bases after the game, and youngsters received a free poster of the mascot when they left the stadium.
The crowd included lots of children in Nationals hats and shirts, chaperoned by parents who said they were delighted to be able to bring their families to a major league game in the nation's capital.
"It's a D.C. team now, so we gotta support them," said Duane Washington, 29, of Gaithersburg, who brought his son Davon, 8, and daughters Alexus, 6, and Danielle, 2, to the game. Washington said that Davon is a huge basketball fan and that he had shown little interest in baseball in the past. "Who knows -- after this game, he may be interested in playing," the father said.
Team officials said 35,463 people turned out for the game, bringing attendance for the three-day series to more than 115,000. There were significantly fewer logistical problems than at the home opener Thursday night, when many concession stands ran out of food and the presence of President Bush resulted in long waits at security checkpoints.
Although some souvenir stands ran out of hats yesterday, and the wait for peanuts or hot dogs sometimes stretched to 15 minutes, fans seemed able to buy what they wanted without missing more than a few batters. Crowds at the Metro stations were generally manageable and there were no major train delays, said Metro spokeswoman Candace Smith, who added that weekend ridership figures would not be available until today.
Parking lots outside RFK took on a carnival atmosphere before the game, as thousands of ticket-holders tailgated in the sunshine. Although many bleacher seats were empty at game time, the stands were mostly full by the fifth inning.