WASHINGTON (AP) -The first fan arrived at 6 a.m., and even he had parking issues.
``I'm hoping the car will be there after the game,'' said 54-year-old Chuck Shouey of Alexandria, Va.
Shouey took his spot at the front of the line more than 14 hours before the first pitch of the first game Sunday at Nationals Park, the new $611 million home of the Washington Nationals. The team set aside 400 upper-deck tickets at $5 each for fans such as Shouey, who wouldn't or couldn't get a ticket in advance.
``It wasn't about money,'' Shouey said. ``It was about being either in or out, and we wanted to be in.''
Like all the fans, Shouey was thrilled to be leave behind the Nationals' previous home, RFK Stadium, but he also was experiencing a glitch or two, as might be expected at a grand opening.
For instance, he said the Nationals had told him the ticket window would open at 10 a.m.; as of 3 p.m., it was still closed. He said several fans who arrived early gave up and left.
As for his car, Shouey learned quickly what the Nationals have been preaching for weeks: There's virtually nowhere to park in the area without the threat of getting ticketed or towed. The team is hoping to educate fans about the joys of public transportation, and Sunday was the first major test, with a sellout crowd of 41,888 expected to watch the regular-season opener against the Atlanta Braves.
``RFK was just kind of in a decrepit state; it had seen its time,'' Shouey said. ``I think what I'm looking forward to most here is a beautiful view of the city. What I'm looking forward to least here is getting here.''
Sunday's game had an additional logistical hurdle. President Bush was scheduled to throw out the ceremonial first pitch, which meant metal detectors and bomb-sniffing dogs were inescapable. Neighboring streets were to be closed near game time to allow the president's motorcade to arrive, adding to more confusion and congestion for those who drove.
Some fans took advantage of a shuttle bus from RFK Stadium, while those who arrived by subway were welcomed by a red-carpeted Half Street festooned with red, white and blue balloons and a barbershop quartet. The decorations couldn't hide the fact that the outside of the stadium still looks like a construction zone, dominated by cranes and unsightly fences, as developers rush to build restaurants, shops and hotels next to the new ballpark.
Inside, it was a different story. The park, with its open layout and dark blue seats, looked immaculate as fans started to file in. Those in the upper deck soaked in views of the Capitol and the Washington Monument, while some on the concourse peaked down at the Anacostia River. The mammoth high-definition scoreboard in right-center field reinforced the unmistakable fact that this is a ballpark built in the digital age.
Another of the ballpark's signature features wasn't ready for prime time. The cherry blossoms planted beyond the left-field bleachers aren't yet in bloom.
Still, there was little to dampen the excitement of the early arrivers. Armando Arcos of Columbia, Md., was so taken by the experience that he got the signatures of everyone standing with him in the $5 line. He held several sheets of notebook paper with hundreds of names.
``I'm going to give it to the Nationals,'' Arcos said. ``They're memories.''
---
AP freelance writer Rich Dubroff contributed to this report.
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