By Daniel LeDuc
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
Tickets for the Washington Nationals' season opener in the District's new, state-of-the-art ballpark sold out within minutes yesterday, but many other games remained available for fans who want to see the city's new home for baseball.
The team's Web site and phone lines began accepting ticket orders at 9 a.m., and Nationals President Stan Kasten said the 4,000 available seats for the March 30 opener against the Atlanta Braves were sold within six minutes.
"It was like a Springsteen concert," he said. "It's been fantastic."
Callers and Internet buyers swamped the system, and some fans complained about delays on the phone and online in trying to get tickets. In the first 15 minutes, more than 5,300 people were buying tickets, Nationals officials said.
Tickets were available for individual games throughout the season, and more than 20,000 were sold in the first 90 minutes yesterday, officials said. Final counts for the day were not available, they said.
Nationals spokeswoman Chartese Burnett said no major technical glitches caused delays. "It was just volume," she said. "Everything worked fine."
The $611 million ballpark has 41,000 seats. The new facility is raising interest in the team, which since coming to Washington in 2005 has played at aging RFK Stadium.
The Nationals have sold the equivalent of 18,000 season tickets. That falls short of the roughly 22,000 season tickets sold in the team's first year at RFK. Ticket prices are higher, though, for the new ballpark. The team gave its season-ticket holders first crack last week at purchasing additional Opening Day tickets.
The team is reserving almost 400 seats, at $5 apiece, that will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis on Opening Day.
The March 30 game will begin at 8 p.m. and be broadcast on ESPN. The previous evening, the Nationals will play the Baltimore Orioles in an exhibition game at the new ballpark. That game, beginning at 6 p.m., will be broadcast on the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network. Season-ticket holders get into the exhibition for free, but the rest of the seats are being distributed by the Nationals and are not available to the public.
The small number of tickets for Opening Day left some fans grumbling, especially since there was nowhere to buy tickets in person.
"If they did have in-person places, it would have limited it to local fans and people who really wanted to go to the game rather than scalpers," said Jon Halperin, a fan who lives in the District and tried to get additional seats for the opener online yesterday. He was among those who sent e-mails after The Washington Post sought fans' feedback through its Web site.
Halperin said later that he gave up after his computer kept constantly refreshing the Nationals' Web site for more than 10 minutes without change. He holds two partial-season tickets and will be at the opening game but wanted to buy two more tickets.
Another fan, Britt Ripken of Fulton, said he began calling the Nationals' toll-free number five minutes before its publicized opening. He said he got through after about 10 tries and followed an automated voice prompt that seemingly was leading to getting him four seats together. But after waiting to give his credit card information, a live operator came on and started the process over.
Ripken ended up with four seats scattered throughout the ballpark. Still, he said, "I'm happy I got tickets."
Internet sites yesterday were offering Opening Day tickets starting at $117 for an upper outfield seat, more than three times face value. Diamond Seats, behind home plate, were being offered for as much as $1,500, well above their face value of $170.
The ticket sales came on a day filled with ceremony at the new ballpark. Home plate was transported from RFK Stadium and installed at Nationals Park.
The new scoreboard was lighted, and a series of red, white and blue graphics filled the screen, the out-of-town scoreboard in center field and a series of small LED boards along the club level that run like a ticker on Times Square.
Construction crews are working long hours to wrap up work. Yesterday, crews planted cherry trees on the plaza on the ballpark's north side, part of efforts to give the new stadium a distinctly local flavor.
As the festivities unfolded, construction workers in hard hats toiled a few steps away. They strung cable, worked on seats and installed kitchen equipment. But a few took quick breaks to record images of the new scoreboard on cellphone cameras.