By Steven Goff and Daniel LeDuc
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
The first home run at the new Nationals ballpark might not be smashed by a major league slugger.
The George Washington University baseball team will inaugurate the playing field in a game March 22 against Saint Joseph's University, GWU officials and Nationals executives are to announce today. The game would be a week before a scheduled exhibition game between the Nationals and the Baltimore Orioles. The official season opener is March 30 in a night game against the Atlanta Braves that will be televised on ESPN.
The college game -- which would be the first event in the new park in Southeast Washington -- provides the city and the Nationals with a warm-up for the big crowds expected for the big-league games. Attendance would be limited to GWU and Saint Joseph's fans, according to sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the formal announcement has yet to be made.
A Major League Baseball video on the Nationals' Web site confirms the March 22 game plans.
The George Washington team typically plays its home games at Barcroft Park, a field in Arlington County that seats 1,000. The Colonials' game against Saint Joseph's is an Atlantic 10 Conference contest.
Because officials plan to limit the size of the crowd, the game likely will not cause the traffic congestion and parking concerns that the Nationals have been working hard to alleviate in advance of the official opening weekend. But it would provide a dress rehearsal for vendors, concessions employees, ushers and other workers before the crush of a sold-out house with 41,000 fans expected for both the Nationals' exhibition and home opener.
The college game also would give construction workers a chance to make sure the facility is functioning properly. City permits certifying the successful completion of construction, which legally allow the public into the ballpark, could be issued within a week or two, construction executives said.
The playing field at the new park has been in for months, as are most spectator seats. The interior of the ballpark has taken shape, with restaurant equipment installed and counters and bars in place. Plumbing was tested over the weekend. Corporate suites have been painted and are being furnished.
And now, officials said, the menu for fans is taking shape. It will feature the usual mix of hot dogs, chicken fingers and french fries, along with half smokes, Cajun food, chicken wings and other offerings.
Yesterday, the Nationals and the ballpark's food service, Centerplate, announced the selection of 11 food vendors, including local eateries meant to provide an authentic Washington flavor.
The vendors are Ben's Chili Bowl, Boardwalk Fries, Cantina Marina, Gifford's Ice Cream & Candy, Kosher Sports, Krazee Ice, Hard Times Cafe, La Piccola Gelateria, Mayorga Coffee, barbecue from Red, Hot & Blue, and Noah's Pretzels. Noah's will feature curly "W" pretzels that match the teams' logo.
"The Nationals and Centerplate, our overall food and beverage partner, are committed to celebrating the culture and cuisine of the Washington, D.C., region in the ballpark," Nationals President Stan Kasten said in a statement. "These partnerships with local vendors will offer fans some of the best of our area selections."