A Site To Behold

In the time since officials formally broke ground on the Washington Nationals' new stadium, the ballpark has risen steadily along the Anacostia River in Southeast Washington.
By Thomas Boswell
Wednesday, March 5, 2008


Manager Manny Acta already has his favorite seat picked out. Not a fancy box seat or suite, but a lower-deck outfield perch just above the Nationals' bullpen in right field with the game spread out before him like a panorama and the Anacostia River just over his shoulder. "The perfect place to watch a game," he says, as if he wishes, for a day, he could be a fan.

Reliever Chad Cordero finds himself so curious and vaguely excited by the final touches at Nationals Park that he goes on the Internet "almost every day" just to look at rooftop photographs -- updated every 15 minutes -- that show the tarp being taken off the field, exposing a winter's growth of brilliantly green grass, or the first nighttime lighting of the huge scoreboard.

John Patterson has deliberately never visited the site. He wants to be hit in the face with the whole experience so, he hopes, it will leave the same indelible impact as "the first time I saw RFK the day before baseball came back to Washington. I want to know how the new park looks, but I'm more interested in how it will feel. Will it be exciting, full of energy? What makes Wrigley Wrigley or Fenway Fenway? You don't know until you're there and feel it."

Ryan Zimmerman, Nick Johnson, Dmitri Young and Austin Kearns buzz about the same subject: Just how much closer will the fences be than they were in enormous and almost certainly mis-marked RFK Stadium. "It can't be worse," Zimmerman cracked. "The difference in how the two parks play could be huge, just huge. We'll find out," Johnson said. "You had to crush the ball to get it out of RFK."

Those 377- and 370-foot signs in the left and right field power alleys in the new park, in the same place where so many solid drives turned into outs for the Nats in the past, may now be doubles or homers that skim into the seats. Supposedly, RFK was 380 feet in the gaps, but almost no Nat believes it. Try 390.

"If it's really 10 to 20 feet closer in some places, that's a whole lot," Kearns said. "Only two guys hit opposite-field home runs to right field in RFK last year: Ryan Braun [of Milwaukee] and Zimmerman."

Felipe L¿pez "hit one down the right field line," Young corrected. They all agree that doesn't count. Will proper hitting -- taking the outside pitch to the opposite gap -- finally be rewarded on a Nats team full of gap-to-gap rather than dead-pull hitters?

"In RFK, you'd kill one to the opposite field, it'd be caught, but everybody would slap your hand in the dugout and say, 'Keep up the good [hitting] approach,' " Kearns said.

Washington players are counting the days until their final exhibition game March 29 against Baltimore. As much as they're teased by what $611 million can build, they are perhaps even more ecstatic never to see RFK again.

"You had at least 90 to 1,000 generations of rats and cockroaches that had multiplied in RFK since the last baseball team left," Young said. "I think the rats probably ran the Redskins off to FedEx Field."

"I only had a few mice in my office," said Acta, defending the dungeon.

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