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Lawmakers Expected at First Pitch

When the relocated Montreal Expos play their first game at RFK Stadium on April 15, 2005, District planners and D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission officials expect the federal government to be involved with opening day activities — and despite it being tax day, they don’t mean the IRS.

“We intend to celebrate the return of baseball to Washington with the federal government. I suspect we’ll have an enormous number of Congressional leaders here for opening day,” said Mark Tuohey, president and executive director of the commission.

“It’s the city’s team but it’s also the nation’s team in some ways, and we hope to have leaders there from across the country,” said Chris Bender, a spokesman in the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development.

Bender said that one of the things he is most excited about is the opportunities that come with having a Major League Baseball team in the nation’s capital.

“This city is also about the federal government. It would make perfect sense to involve [Members of Congress] in opening ceremonies in some way.”

Although Bender added that exact opening day celebration plans haven’t been figured out yet, last week’s media day at RFK showed that the stadium has some work to do before it will be “camera ready” for the occasion.

RFK has undergone some $5 million in renovations and repairs during the past four years, since the D.C. United soccer team began playing there. But making the stadium suitable for three years of Major League Baseball brings a whole new set of challenges, officials said.

The biggest challenge will be how to reconfigure the field and lower seating bowl to accommodate both baseball and soccer. With the two seasons overlapping, stadium personnel must be able to change the field configuration from baseball to soccer and back quickly. A solution for how to keep soccer games from being played on what would be the infield dirt hasn’t been found yet, an RFK official said.

The baseball field will measure 330 feet down the lines and 410 feet to the center field wall and will require that some lower bowl seating be removed from left field.

Other stadium overhaul projects include installing new sports lighting to allow baseball games to be televised, refitting the baseball press box and radio and television broadcast booths, restoring the dugouts and bullpens and renovating the locker rooms and clubhouse spaces.

The renovation budget is $13 million and the bidding process is already under way.

Current plans call for the team to move by the 2008 season to a new baseball park, planned for the South Capitol Street corridor near the Anacostia riverfront.

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