Nats Enjoy An Evening In the Park

By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 28, 2008

The family moving into the gleaming new mansion at 1500 South Capitol Street SE, was so big it needed two buses, so awestruck their mouths seemed permanently stuck in the "Wow" position. And just as any family would, the Washington Nationals walked in the door at Nationals Park as one unit, but soon splintered off into groups of three, two or even one to explore their new digs, the youngest kids going straight to the yard, the oldest adults to the offices and dens.

"Does this thing get CBS?" third baseman and college basketball aficionado Ryan Zimmerman hollered to no one in particular, strolling onto the fully lit field and gazing at the 4,500-square-foot, high-definition video board beyond the center field wall.

A few moments later, Zimmerman took a long look around and said, "It's even better than any of us thought it would be."

There will be time to grow into their new home -- a workout today, an exhibition game tomorrow, Opening Night on Sunday, followed by 80 more home games -- but last night, just before 9:30, was the Nationals' first look at their new stadium. It may have been a pure media relations concoction, perfect for short sound bites and over in plenty of time for the 11 o'clock newscasts, but the players' reactions were genuine.

"This," veteran Dmitri Young said, lugging around a metal briefcase, "is absolutely beautiful."

As workers hand-wiped the high-priced Presidents Club seats behind home plate, and as team president Stan Kasten and principal owner Mark Lerner pointed out various features, the Nationals -- in suits and ties, fresh off their plane from Florida -- walked in the grass and the dirt of their new infield, under the lights on a mild evening.

"It's almost like moving into a new house," closer Chad Cordero said. "You want to go out and check out everything. That's basically what it is. It's checking out our new home."

New center fielder Lastings Milledge took a long walk out to his new position, imagining the arc of a fly ball in the lights. Infielder Felipe L¿pez stood at home plate with an imaginary bat in his hand, picturing long fly balls that would have been outs at cavernous RFK Stadium, but which here just might drop over the fence.

A handful of relievers made the trek out to the home bullpen, while others congregated on the mound, where -- uh-oh, what is this? The mound appeared to be quite steep. Steep and high. A pitcher's delight.

"Don't tell anyone -- we don't want them to come and fix it," said one pitcher, in a conspiratorial tone. "But that's a very high mound."

Manager Manny Acta, with his wireless piece still stuck behind his ear, stood in the dugout to take in all the angles -- the view of the opposing dugout, the Nationals' bullpen, the third base coaches' box. But as if catching himself losing sight of the bigger picture, he moved his gaze outward, to take in the wider view.

"Look at this place," he said. "I heard somebody say, 'Let's take batting practice right now.' That's how excited guys are about this place."

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