How Did Fans Fare Getting To the Game?

Traffic Flows Smoothly, But Trains Are Packed

By Daniel LeDuc
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 30, 2008; Page C01

Washington's new ballpark hosted its first major crowd yesterday as more than 34,000 fans arrived for an exhibition game between the Nationals and the Baltimore Orioles, testing the facility and determining how easy it will be to get there.

Traffic moved smoothly, and drivers reported little trouble. But Metro trains -- promoted as the best way to get to Nationals Park, which is nestled in a dense Southeast neighborhood -- were packed, and some fans faced delays.

"It was standing room only, and they had to stop putting passengers on for a while," said J.D. Almond of Marshall, Va., who had taken the train to the Navy Yard Station, Metrorail's stop nearest the stadium.

Gates opened at 3 p.m. for the 6 p.m. game, giving the crowd ample time to arrive before the first pitch. Metro trains became crowded not only with baseball fans but also with sightseers attending the Cherry Blossom Festival and spectators leaving the early morning National Marathon, a sign that the ballpark will be competing with other major events when it comes to the fan travel experience.

Nine people were arrested outside the stadium last night for scalping tickets, D.C. police said. Two were arrested for vending without a license.

The Nationals host the Atlanta Braves tonight, the official opening game, and expect a capacity crowd of 41,888. President Bush has agreed to throw out the ceremonial first pitch, and the game will be televised nationally on ESPN starting at 8 p.m. Gates will open at 3:30 p.m. Fans will go through security, so the team advises arriving early. South Capitol Street SE near the ballpark will close periodically when Bush is at the game.

Yesterday offered a good glimpse of what to expect at the publicly funded, $611 million stadium complex. Season-ticket holders and invited guests of the team got their first look inside and responded with enthusiastic oohs and ahs. The stadium was decked out in red, white and blue, its playing field immaculate and its concessions stands mobbed.

"At RFK, there was nothing else to see. It'll be nice to feel connected to the city," said Tom Gibson, who drove with his family from Alexandria and reported no trouble parking at his lot two blocks away.

"I think the getaway will be worse, when you put everybody on the road at the same time," he said as he eyed centerfield.

The post-game exit might be a bigger problem after tonight's home opener. With the game likely to go well past 10 p.m. and people facing work and school tomorrow, fans will want to leave fast and get home.

The Lerner family, which bought the Nationals two years ago and inherited the location of the ballpark, is hoping to draw fans early and find ways to encourage them to linger after games. The owners are seeking to entertain the crowds, entice them to spend money and ease congestion by spreading out the masses going to and leaving the ballpark.

Metro used $20 million in federal funds to triple the hourly passenger capacity at the Navy Yard Station, a block from the north side of the ballpark. When trains weren't crowded yesterday, it worked smoothly.

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