Getting Out to the Game

Thirty-four long years have passed since the Senators limped off to Texas to become the Rangers. Now Major League Baseball is finally returning to Washington DC--and the nation's capital is buzzing in anticipation of Thursday's sold-out inaugural home game between the Washington Nationals and the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Of course, this being DC, the talk is as much about politics as sports. The former owner of the former Senators is now the current president: George W. Bush is expected to throw out the first pitch, resuming a long dormant Washington tradition. The last DC first ball was thrown out by Richard Nixon; the first by William Howard Taft exactly 95 years ago, on April 14, 1910. In 1950 the ambidextrous Harry Truman threw out two first pitches: one with his left hand and one with his right. If he chooses, this president might watch the game from diamond box 113. The seats, which in the old Senators' days were painted white, are next to the visitors' dugout and have been the traditional place for the president at RFK Stadium. Bush might also be in the chairs that will be placed on the field just for opening day or in the mezzanine section behind home plate. Wherever he sits he'll find himself surrounded by the usual DC players: cabinet members, senators, congressmen, lobbyists, lawyers and more than a few members of the media. Unfortunately for Tony Tavares, president of the Nationals, most of the season ticket buyers wanted seats just like Dubya's. "Everybody said on the ticket forms they wanted to be in the front row, but there are only so many front row seats," he says. Try telling that to the K Street crowd: "Some law firms love me, some firms hate me. But then, they hate each other too," Tavares jokes. Another common VIP complaint was the lack of luxury boxes at RFK. His response: "The words luxury and RFK shouldn't be used in the same sentence." Over 10,000 requests were made for 5,000 infield box seats, meaning that 5,000 people would be left less than satisfied. Then the news got out that the team had set aside 1,000 slots for VIPs. That's a big PR problem in a town where all fans think they're VIPs. The New York Times columnist David Brooks was so unhappy with his own ticket assignment he banged out a tongue-in-cheek column in which he imagined looking down from his nosebleed seats at the likes of Karl Rove and Vernon Jordan. As if that weren't enough, team executives had to apologize in a weekend memo because the "heavy volume" of orders delayed processing and left some fans without their season tickets until early this week. Indeed, overall demand for tickets has been very strong--and not just for the prime locations. The team has sold the equivalent of 21,000 full season tickets and over 1.92 million total seats. That's already about a million more fans than any Senators team ever drew in a single season. Last week a good pair of opening day tickets topped $1,000 on eBay. Despite the high expectations, the team on the field this year might resemble the one that almost lost 100 games in 1971. The old joke used to be that the Senators were "first in war, first in peace...and last in the American League." Change "American League" to "National" and the line can live on.