03/28/08 10:00 AM ET
Nationals Park set for historic debut
Nats face off against Atlanta with President in attendance
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
Atlanta manager Bobby Cox is a little leery about playing for keeps in a place his men will not have seen until a few hours before the opening pitch. The Braves do plan to begin batting practice on Sunday 45 minutes earlier than usual -- just to get a little feel of the place."It will be rough," Cox said, "but it's just something you have to deal with. It will still be fun to be in that setting." Not that Manny Acta's Nationals will have a home-field advantage -- unless you consider a sneak peak any kind of an edge. "It's very exciting," Acta said in Florida, before getting his first actual look at Nationals Park. "All we have seen are all the pictures and the promos and all that. I can't wait to get in that new stadium and learn our way around it." "I can't wait to play there," said Chad Cordero, Washington's closer. "I have been excited by the thought since they dug the ground." The Nationals hurried north from their Grapefruit League finale on Thursday and headed directly to the Capitol Riverfront to take a quick tour of their new home for 81 nights and days. Wide eyes and slackened jaws ensued. "This is absolutely incredible," first baseman Dmitri Young said. "This is everything you want out of a new stadium. I'm in awe." The expansive and oval-shaped -- White House ... Oval Office ... get it? -- clubhouse took away the breath of catcher Paul LoDuca, who called it "absolutely gorgeous. This room here is bigger than a lot of these guys' houses. You can't get any better than this." Bats and gloves were to follow on Friday, when the Nationals were to go through the paces of their first Nationals Park workout. On Saturday, the Nats get an even more tangible sense of the place in a final exhibition tuneup against their Baltimore Orioles neighbors. The new 41,888-seat ballpark on South Capitol Street will be not only the setting, but part of the show for the opening of Washington's 75th baseball season -- the fourth in the NL, following two AL incarnations (1901-60 with what now are the Twins, and 1961-71 with what became the Rangers). Fans making their way from the Navy Yard Metro Station to the park will stroll through a veritable street fair of Dixieland music (Sheiks of Dixie), barbershop quartet harmonies (The Ringers), face-painters, balloon artists and stilt-walkers, and receive lanyards and rally towels as they enter the house. Inside, their eyes will be first drawn to the 102-foot-by-47-foot High Definition video board. Pre-game festivities will feature native Washingtonian Denyce Graves performing the National Anthem, punctuated by the flyover of four F-16 bombers from the 121st Fighter Squadron of the D.C. Air National Guard. Then President Bush will hop out of the Nationals dugout, jog out to the middle of the diamond, and pop the season's reveille into the mitt of the Nats' manager, expected to form his batterymate. The First Fan, and the First Acta. Many more acts to follow.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.