Nationals Notebook

Ticket Sales Are Waning

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 28, 2007

VIERA, Fla., March 27 -- Less than a week before the season, the Washington Nationals have sold fewer than 30,000 seats for their first Opening Day at RFK Stadium, team president Stan Kasten said Tuesday. In addition, the team's season ticket base has fallen for the third straight year to what Kasten would only describe as "15 and change" -- or somewhere between 15,000 and 16,000.

The season ticket base last year was just more than 16,400, down from nearly 22,000 in 2005 -- the first year Washington hosted a team since 1971. After a drop-off of more than half a million fans last year to just below 2.2 million, Kasten would not make projections on attendance for the year, the final season at RFK Stadium.

In a telephone interview, however, Mark Lerner, the son of principal owner Theodore N. Lerner, said he badly wanted RFK's last home opener to be sold out, even with more than 15,000 seats available six days before Monday's date with the Florida Marlins.

"I want this to be a sellout, like a lot of those Opening Days with the Senators," Lerner said. "This is a new era, but I think with this being the last Opening Day at RFK, this and that final game in September are going to be special occasions."

When baseball returned to Washington after a 33-year absence in 2005, a sellout crowd of 44,080 attended the club's first regular season game. Last year, 40,530 fans saw the Nationals and New York Mets in Washington's first home game.

"The record for the stadium is 45,480," Lerner said. "I'd like us to get 45,481."

Lerner apologized for a delay in season tickets arriving to hundreds of customers less than a week before the season begins.

"At the end of the day, we can't blame the carrier," Lerner said. "It sits on our desk to make sure it doesn't happen again. We apologize."

Roster Cuts

The Nationals trimmed their roster Tuesday, optioning reliever Chris Booker to Class AAA Columbus and reassigning outfielder Abraham Nuñez and right-hander Jason Simontacchi to minor league camp. Simontacchi will rehabilitate his strained right hamstring and won't start the season with the major league team, giving the final spot in the starting rotation to Jason Bergmann.

Nationals front-office members, however, expect Simontacchi -- who hasn't pitched in the Grapefruit League since April 14 and in the majors since 2004 -- to take Bergmann's spot once he's healthy.

The Nationals also purchased the contracts of left-hander Ray King and first baseman Dmitri Young, a formality that places them on the 40-man roster and ensures their spots on the team.

Pitcher of the Day Right-hander Jerome Williams made his final start of the exhibition season, allowing two runs and walking four in five innings. Because his turn falls on Sunday's off day, he will remain in Viera to pitch to minor leaguers before joining the major league team. Up Next vs. Orioles at Viera, 1:05 p.m. vs. Marlins at Jupiter, 1:05 p.m.

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