03/26/07 6:53 PM ET
Nationals' new ballpark coming around
Development of around $611 million project moving along
By Jeff Seidel / Special to MLB.com
There's countless pieces of equipment in an exorbitant maze all around the plate which, in about one year, will have a batter stepping up to it in the 2008 season opener. The plate's in place and can be seen from almost anywhere in the Nationals' new stadium, whose bowl is basically complete, a reminder that baseball is on its way soon.
"I think one year from today, they'll be grooming that field and working with probably hundreds and hundreds of people here trying to get this thing ready," principal owner Mark Lerner said. "I can't wait."
There seems to be little doubt now that the stadium will be ready on time -- something team president Stan Kasten emphatically stated at Monday's media tour of the partially completed site.
"I also want to reiterate my thanks, on behalf of the Nationals, on behalf of our ownership, the Lerner family and our many partners, for the extraordinary job that is happening here," Kasten said. "People ask me all the time, 'Stan, is the stadium going to be ready? Is it going to be ready?' You cannot have any doubt that we are opening up this ballpark in April 2008."
Development of the approximately $611 million project appears to be moving along smoothly at this point -- one week before the Nationals start their final season at RFK Stadium.
Allen Y. Lew, chief executive officer of the DC Sports & Entertainment Commission, said some parts of the stadium will be put into place in the coming weeks and months. Installation of the outfield wall is set to begin shortly, with the scoreboard scheduled to go into place around June or July.
Field excavation will take place in the next few months, with the actual field itself being put into place in October so it can be ready for baseball in April 2008. Some of the stadium's lighting is already in place and by July or at some point in the summer, most of the building's structural work should be completed.
In previous interviews, Kasten emphasized the fact that the Lerners and the Nationals don't want this to be just a baseball building. They want it to be a very fan-friendly type of place, and an early look at the stadium shows that.
The concourses are extremely wide and easy to walk through, much like the newer stadiums that have been built in recent years. RFK Stadium, closing in on 50 years of age, is very narrow and getting through in a crowded game can be an adventure. That won't be the case at this ballpark.
Concession stands will be set up in a way that lets fans see the game while waiting for their food and drink. It's all about making things easy for the fans.
"It's obviously going to be a showcase, and we're very proud of that," Kasten said. "It's also going to be a great place to watch the game. It's not going to be cookie-cutter or bland. We're very proud of what's happening."
The construction schedule is a long one. Ronnie Strompf, vice president of Clark Construction Group -- the ballpark is being built by Clark/Hunt/Smoot as a joint venture -- said that equipment is geared up as early as 4:30 a.m. ET, and there's people usually working nine hours a day six days a week for major things.
They've also added a night shift that works from 6 p.m.-2 a.m. to get more stuff done. That extra shift will continue for a while longer, and there could even be a point where they're working 24 hours a day to get it all done on time.
Alphonso Maldon is senior vice president for external affairs and president of the Washington Nationals Dreams Foundation, as well as a partner with the Lerners. He stood in the concourse around where third base would be and just smiled when looking out at the stadium.
"It's totally exciting standing here, and look at the third-base line and look at where home plate is and look at just the view you're going to get," Maldon said. "It's exciting just to think about just a year from today, we'll be playing ball or ready to play ball in this park."
Everyone walked throughout the ballpark and had little trouble seeing a stadium coming into place around the already planted home plate.
Opening Day really is just one year away.
"We are truly building the latest of Washington's monuments," Kasten said.
Jeff Seidel is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.