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Maybe it’s best the Washington Nationals franchise stays away from retractable roofs.

Tuesday’s news that the baseball team had approached D.C. government officials, including Mayor Vincent Gray, about the possibility of retrofitting a retractable roof onto Nationals Park at the city’s expense generated widespread scorn and comparisons to the somewhat different situation playing out in Atlanta, where the Braves are planning to move outside the city limits to nearby Cobb County. In doing so, the Braves will vacate Turner Field, an outdoor ballpark which was constructed as the Olympic Stadium for the 1996 summer games.

Of course, the team now known as the Nationals used to have a retractable roof on an old stadium, though one might not know it because it seldom, if ever, functioned. That was in the 1976 Olympic Stadium in Montreal, the home of the Expos from 1977 until they departed for Washington following the 2004 season. That stadium, known to Montrealers as “The Big O”, opened for the 1976 Olympics without a roof, although it was supposed to have one.

The Big O, as it's known in Montreal, has seen its share of heartache when it comes to its roof. (Jason Dick/CQ Roll Call)
The Big O, as it’s known in Montreal, has seen its share of heartache when it comes to its roof. (Jason Dick/CQ Roll Call)

ESPN compiled a list of Olympic Stadium failures and cost overruns back in 2003, many of which related to the retractable Kevlar roof (yes, the material most notable for use in bulletproof vests). The roof was stuck in storage for almost a decade before it was even installed, ESPN reported. A report produced by Boston PBS affiliate WGBH explained how the roof was supposed to work, describing it thusly: “the enormous fabric roof was supposed to fold into the adjacent leaning tower, much like a giant umbrella — but it didn’t.”

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The original Kevlar roof, which was ultimately replaced with one that didn’t retract, sometimes could not even keep the field from getting wet since it kept tearing. ESPN noted a 1991 rainout of a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“Our poor roof,” Expos relief pitcher Tim Burke was quoted saying in a 1991 report from St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports columnist Jeff Gordon. ”It sure has spent a lot of time on the disabled list.”

Major League Baseball is scheduled to make a brief return to Olympic Stadium next March, with the Blue Jays hosting the Mets for a pair of spring-training games. They’ll be played indoors, under the permanent roof.


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