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Field Gets Soggy Welcome

Nationals Mark Milestone at New Ballpark

The Washington Nationals and D.C. officials paused yesterday amid a frenetic countdown to the start of the 2008 baseball season to celebrate a landmark in the construction of their new stadium on the Anacostia waterfront — the installation of turf.

Team president Stan Kasten, Mayor Adrian Fenty (D) and officials from the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission met on a rainy morning to show off the $1 million worth of Kentucky bluegrass sod laid last week.

“Only 16 months ago, we gathered here for the groundbreaking,” said Bill Hall, vice chairman of DCSEC, which is overseeing construction. “Today we’re here to celebrate the laying of the new field, and in a mere five months we’ll be back for the greatest ceremony of all — Opening Day.”

Most of the approximately 41,000 seats in the park have been installed, and with the field and scoreboard in place, the most pressing unfinished project is getting the stadium enclosed so the concourse and luxury suites can be finished during the winter.

As Fenty announced that “baseball is back,” officials credited the work of the construction firms involved and the warm, dry fall weather for keeping the project on schedule.

“It’s still going to be a race to the finish line,” said Greg O’Dell, chief executive officer of the DCSEC. “We’re by no means on autopilot. We don’t know what kind of winter we’re going to have.” [IMGCAP(1)]

Team officials are confident enough the park will be ready by Opening Day that they are moving forward with plans to host a free “dress rehearsal,” as Kasten put it. The rehearsal will come in the form of an exhibition game against the Baltimore Orioles on March 29. The hope is that the Nationals can start the regular season at home the next day.

Kasten said season ticket holders would get seats for that game, with the rest going to construction workers, children and community groups. Tickets would not be available to the public.

Kasten also announced that season ticket holders from the team’s previous three seasons at RFK Stadium have been allocated seats at the new park and will be receiving their tickets next week. He said more than 90 percent of holders from last year signed up again for 2008.

Season ticket prices range from $10 per game for upper deck outfield seats to $300 per game for “presidential seats” behind home plate.

With the exception of the choicest spots, which must be purchased for all 82 games, other seats are available in 82-, 41- and 20-game packages.

Prices have not been set for individual game tickets, which go on sale in late February, but the team has announced it will offer a limited number of $5 grandstand seats.

“It’s the people buying expensive seats behind the plate that enable us to offer $5 and $10 tickets,” Kasten said, adding that even the worst seat in the new park’s upper deck is closer to the field than anything in RFK’s upper deck.

The DCSEC’s O’Dell said that though the contingency plan always has been to open the season at RFK if the new park isn’t ready, he and the Nationals are hopeful that won’t be necessary.

“When I was in Atlanta, everything I read about D.C. led me to believe this project couldn’t be done,” said Kasten, who used to be president of the Atlanta Braves. “Today, we have with this new field evidence that it can be done.”

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