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Nats Want Prime-Time '08 Opener

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 14, 2007

The Washington Nationals are pushing the idea of opening their new ballpark next season on a national stage, asking Major League Baseball officials to grant them a prime-time game on a Sunday night to be broadcast on ESPN, according to sources who have been briefed on the club's plans.

The proposal calls for a single game between the Nationals and an opponent to be determined, most likely one from the National League East, on the Sunday before the full major league schedule begins. MLB officials, who distributed a draft schedule to clubs earlier this week, are weighing that idea along with other moving parts in the schedule -- such as a proposed series between Boston and Oakland in Tokyo. The schedule could change in coming weeks and months.

"Nothing's finalized yet," said Katy Feeney, MLB's senior vice president for scheduling. "First of all, we'd obviously have to talk to ESPN. It's too early to say anything's done."

The Nationals wouldn't open with a full series at home to make sure the new ballpark, located along the Anacostia River in Southeast, is completely ready. Rather, the one-game opener would serve as a dry run, just as an exhibition game against the New York Mets in 2005 served as a test for RFK Stadium. The Nationals then embarked on a nine-game road trip before opening the home schedule 11 days later.

Feeney said MLB has opened with single games in the past. In 2001, Atlanta opened at Cincinnati for one game before hosting the Mets, and Milwaukee played one game in Los Angeles before heading to Houston.

"We are allowed to do single-game openers," Feeney said. "You don't want to make them travel too tough, and I would think the opponent would come from within their own division. It's easier to pull one game out of the schedule that way, and it's generally easier geographically."

One scenario that might make sense would be for the Nationals to host the Mets -- an opponent ESPN might find attractive from a ratings standpoint. The Mets and St. Louis Cardinals opened this season on a Sunday night in a rematch of the 2006 National League Championship Series.

Better Than Expected?

With 16 games remaining, 10 at home, the Nationals need to go 7-9 to better their 71-91 mark from a year ago. Considering the dire predictions prior to the season, that would seem to be an accomplishment.

"It won't mean anything to me," Manager Manny Acta said last week. "From Day One here, I wanted to play .500." Alas, to accomplish that goal, the Nationals would have to finish with 16 straight wins.

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