|Nationals play final baseball game at RFK Stadium|
|Written by Admin|
|Sunday, 23 September 2007 12:57|
The fans sure turned out Sunday to say goodbye for the season to the Washington Nationals and goodbye forever - when it comes to baseball, at least - to RFK Stadium, with an attendance of 40,519 making it the team's largest crowd of 2007.
And when D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, backed by a group of city council members, called for a pregame round of applause for the stadium, the spectators obliged, loudly.
The players, however, did not. They're thrilled to be going from a leaking, creaking place that opened in 1961 to a new stadium slated to open in 2008.
``I'm not going to say we're going to miss it, because we won't,'' third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said before Washington beat the Philadelphia Phillies 5-3 in the Nationals' last home game of the season. ``But it's been a great place for baseball to come back to. They did a great job with what they had here to make it, I guess, as good as they could for three years.''
This was a day to say farewell to the park originally called D.C. Stadium, then renamed in 1969 to honor the late Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. A multipurpose stadium, it hosted baseball's Senators until 1971 and football's Redskins until 1996.
And it was the first home of the Nationals, who brought baseball back to Washington in 2005, sharing the place with Major League Soccer's D.C. United, which will continue to play at RFK.
The Nationals went 122-121 at home the past three seasons, and first baseman Robert Fick called Sunday's victory ``some kind of going away gift or something that (fans) can take with them.''
Indeed, whatever complaints players or spectators might have about the stadium, it was a site for sore eyes when the ex-Expos moved from Montreal. Nationals rookie manager Manny Acta, who was given a model replica of RFK by one of the team's owners, won't forget the place, either.
``It's always going to be a special place for me,'' Acta said, ``because regardless of whatever I do or how long I'm going to stay on this earth, this was my first big league managing home.''
He and players noticed and appreciated the larger-than-usual crowd. The Nationals averaged 24,217 fans this year, down from 33,728 in Year 1, and 26,581 in Year 2.
``I really, really wanted to win bad today,'' Acta said.
Did he sense that a farewell victory Sunday matters to the fans?
``It does. I could tell,'' he said. ``Because all these people didn't show up to every game. Today was a very special day for them.''
Seven former Senators took part in pregame festivities, walking out on the field alongside Nationals. The loudest ovation was for Frank Howard, the face of the Senators, who walked out to third base alongside Zimmerman, the face of the Nationals.
Standing on the infield dirt, Howard took a mock swing, drawing even bigger cheers. He was the slugger responsible for hitting balls so far that seats were painted white in the upper deck to mark where his homers landed. Zimmerman put one up in that section, too, and the stair his shot hit was recently painted red.
The past and present of D.C. baseball talked shop for a bit.
``He's a big guy. You don't really realize how big he is,'' Zimmerman said. ``Now I can kind of believe those white seats a little bit more.''
Zimmerman knows what RFK meant to local baseball fans, and what it meant to players who were with the Expos when they played before sparse crowds in Montreal and were forced to travel to Puerto Rico for ``home'' games.
He also is well aware what Nationals Park - or whatever it will be called once naming rights are sold - will mean.
``Not only is it going to be better for us, but it is going to be better for the fans. That's the bottom line. It's going to take our organization to the next level,'' said Zimmerman, who has visited the still-in-progress new place. ``Everything's so much nicer. So we're going from, well, I don't know if this is the worst in the majors, but it's pretty bad, to one of the best.''
On Sept. 30, 1971, when the Senators played their last game at RFK before leaving for Texas, spectators stormed the field during the ninth inning to rip out chunks of grass or bases. The game was declared a forfeit.
No such problems this time, although Bob Short, the owner of those Senators, was not forgotten Sunday: Someone unfurled three long banners that read, ``Short Still Stinks.'' And there was property removed again, although this time it was supposed to go: Acta helped Nationals owner Ted Lerner dig out home plate, which will be moved to the new ballpark.
``This brings closure to this place,'' Senators pitcher Dick Bosman said, ``in the way it ought to.''