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For Baseball Fans, Wait Is Almost Over

Several Members Will Attend Nats’ Opening Day

After a 34-year hiatus, $18 million in renovations and nine away games, Major League Baseball will finally return to the District’s Robert F. Kennedy stadium on Thursday for the Washington Nationals’ home opener against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Though the team is starting to settle into its regular season rhythm after last Monday’s season opener and six games since then — including the Nationals’ first regular-season win, which came Wednesday night against the Philadelphia Phillies — players say they are eager, and a bit nervous, to finally play a regular season game in front of a D.C. home crowd.

“We’re excited,” said Nationals closer Chad Cordero, a 6-foot, 200-pound right hander who just last month celebrated his 23rd birthday. “I wouldn’t call them jitters but maybe nervous anticipation. I can’t wait for Thursday.”

And with everyone from President Bush to D.C.’s “Godfather of Go-Go” Chuck Brown expected to be on hand, the Nationals’ opening-day festivities will showcase some of the unique aspects of what it means to live in the nation’s capital.

Several Members of Congress have already made plans to attend the game, including House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). Hoyer, who said he’s looking forward to a night at the ballpark, believes the return of baseball to the city “will be an effective revitalization tool … and will bring with it hundreds of millions of dollars in resources” for the city.

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) — who will be recognized on the field Thursday night along with D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams (D) and several D.C. City Council Members for their work to bring Major League Baseball back to Washington — hopes to use opening day to highlight the city’s unique status in terms of voting representation in Congress.

Last Thursday, Norton sent a letter to Mark Touhey, chairman of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, asking that a large, permanent sign promoting D.C. voting rights be placed inside the stadium.

“If beer can be promoted in our ball park, surely we can get our act together to promote our own human rights,” Norton said in a statement last week.

But whether spectators come for the game or the politics or both, opening day at RFK should be a night to remember.

The doors to the park will open at 4 p.m. on Thursday, three hours before gametime. Nationals Vice President of Communications Chartese Berry said the team will welcome fans to the 44-year-old facility with entertainment both inside and outside the stadium celebrating the history of baseball in the District.

The festivities will include an on-field performance by the marching band of Ballou Senior High School in Southeast D.C.

About 45 minutes before game time, Charlie Brotman, the “voice of the Washington Senators” from 1956 to 1971, will take the microphone once again to welcome the crowd and acknowledge the many dignitaries in the crowd including D.C.’s own Mamie “Peanut” Johnson, a female pitcher who played in the old Washington Negro League.

After Brotman introduces both teams, the award-winning Navy Sea Chanters chorus will sing “God Bless America” followed by the National Anthem, which will be topped off by a military fly-over.

After Bush throws out the first pitch, nine former Washington Senators will take their old positions on the field one last time. Then, in what is sure to be an emotional moment, the nine members of the Nationals starting lineup will step onto the field alongside their predecessors for a “passing of the gloves” before the team finally gets its first home game under way.

But while most of those who work on Capitol Hill are excited about the return of baseball to D.C., that doesn’t necessarily mean everyone will be cheering for the Nationals on Thursday.

Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake (R) plans to attend the game, but according to his press secretary, “he’s a pretty adamant Diamondbacks fan.”

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