Kasten stresses ballpark is on schedule
Nats' new home on Anacostia River set to open in April 2008
WASHINGTON -- The Nationals are facing a lot of questions this spring, most of which involve a young team and a new manager. However, the one question many Nationals fans are wondering about has nothing to do with baseball on the field, but construction off the field.
Will the team's new 41,000-seat stadium be ready for the start of the 2008 season, as promised? That was the question to which team president Stan Kasten gave a definitive answer in a press conference Tuesday morning talking about the state of the new stadium and the beginning of a campaign to sell its luxury suites.
"Before I got here, I heard horror stories," Kasten said. "But since I've come to town, all of those reports of problems were overblown ... and now everyone in this city is moving together in lock-step down the road at finishing this on time, which it will be, and it will open in April 2008."
Kasten and the Nationals gave out information about the construction as the team nears a year to the date of the stadium's scheduled opening.
The park will be located in Southeast Washington, just a few minutes from the team's present home at RFK Stadium. It is being built along the Anacostia River, bounded by South Capitol Street to the west, M Street to the north, First Street to the east and Potomac Avenue to the south.
There will be about 22,000 seats in the lower bowl, plus 12,100 in the upper bowl, where fans can see the U.S. Capitol building. There's also going to be 2,500 club seats, 1,112 suite seats, a 500-seat founder's club with indoor dining and a 1,330-seat diamond club with indoor dining.
More than half of the fans also will be able to walk right from their cars into their seats -- without bothering with elevators, steps or stairs -- because the field will be located 24 feet below street level, with the main concourse at the same height as the sidewalk.
But one thing most people might notice is the grove of cherry blossoms scheduled to be in place behind the bleachers in left field. Kasten said the Nationals want the ballpark to be a place that people can feel comfortable with and enjoy even while watching a baseball game.
"I think what you'll be able to say about this park is it might be the prettiest park," Kasten said. "When you look at the postcard view that is the view between the foul poles, I don't know any that's going to look as pretty as this one between the trees and the flowers and the colors and all the stuff going on out there. And if that becomes our signature, I'd be very proud."
Kasten also said that the Lerner family, the team's majority owners, have spent "tens of millions" of dollars on the project. The District of Columbia had agreed to spend up to $611 million on the stadium after a political process that took months to straighten out and was nearly derailed several times. But Kasten said the Lerners were committed to making the new ballpark special.
In fact, Kasten said other events will be held at the park that have nothing to do with baseball. Two bar mitzvahs already have been booked, with many other similar events likely to come in the future.
"It's not just a ballpark," Kasten said. "It's an elegant, fancy, cool place to hang out."
Jeff Seidel is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.