Remembering RFK as a Truly Multipurpose Stadium

Before RFK Stadium empties out as a baseball park, the Nats will recognize former Senators, who played there before moving to Texas.
Before RFK Stadium empties out as a baseball park, the Nats will recognize former Senators, who played there before moving to Texas. (By Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)
By George Solomon
Sunday, September 23, 2007

It must be the season for retro: Newspapers and magazines seem to be writing endless articles about aging boomers and putting out special sections for seniors suggesting to us ways of living, playing and working longer.

Not to be outdone, professional sports are getting in step. For instance, the Washington Nationals will recognize a number of former Senators before their final game at RFK Stadium on Sunday. They include Frank Howard, Dick Bosman, Chuck Hinton, Fred Valentine and Hank Allen -- all AARP eligible. When the game ends, they'll dig up home plate for relocation to the new stadium, which will open in April.

The Redskins, of course, will be offering their own nostalgia at 4:15 when their guys (2-0, don't you know) take the field at FedEx Field against the New York Giants in helmets, jerseys and pants from the early 1970s -- before there was an ESPN -- as the franchise celebrates its 75th anniversary. One would not be shocked to find these retro items on sale somewhere in the area.

But the sun will shine brightest today on RFK Stadium, whose availability was a key factor (with the promise of a new stadium) in the Montreal Expos' move to Washington in 2005.

The stadium on East Capitol Street that opened in 1961 was best known as home to the Redskins until 1996 and more recently D.C. United and a number of international soccer matches. The late Robert Short moved the Senators to Arlington, Tex., after the 1971 season and except for some exhibition games over the years, RFK was baseball-dormant until a relentless three-decade effort by a number of people paid off when Frank Robinson's guys showed up.

"A lot of people in town have fond memories of the Senators," explained Mark Lerner, one of the team's owners. "I'm a traditionalist. We also admired how classy the Orioles closed Memorial Stadium" in 1991.

"Our first year [2005] here was great because we didn't have to play any games in Puerto Rico, like we'd done the previous two years," Nats closer Chad Cordero said the other day. "I liked that we had our own place to play and when things got exciting, the stands behind our dugout would shake."

And with a twinkle in his eye, he added: "I've saved a bunch of games here and blown a few. But it's all been a lot of fun."

What I liked most about the return of baseball to Washington these past three years: the good cheer shown by most fans, even though attendance declined in 2006 and 2007 (drawing nearly 2 million this year isn't terrible); the scrappy players; access to the park by car and Metro; the daily Presidents Race (Teddy is a lock today); welcoming ushers; improved grounds crew; and good radio and TV broadcasters. Also, the two managers: Robinson and Manny Acta.

Unfortunately, the quality of food never improved, and the organization didn't put enough emphasis on players and promotions in 2007.

But leave it to first baseman Dmitri Young to offer a final farewell to baseball at RFK: "My fondest memory will be when we leave here for good. The gaps in the outfield, much too deep. Time to move on."

Changes Along the Line

Even with the intense coverage, I'm having trouble trying to keep up with the Redskins' offensive line since injuries to right tackle Jon Jansen (fractured fibula and dislocated right ankle) and right guard Randy Thomas (torn triceps). Not to mention left tackle Chris Samuels's training camp injury and recovery and the departure of Derrick Dockery -- the incumbent left guard from a year ago -- to Buffalo via free agency.

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