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Last RFK opener is lacking

The Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON -- Next year, Washington will open a $611 million baseball stadium in front of a certain sellout crowd expected to include the president of the United States. And perhaps the Nationals will win.

Yesterday, the Nationals played their final opener at 46-year-old RFK Stadium in front of a not-quite-sellout crowd. The president wasn't there to throw out the first ball. And the Nationals lost, 9-2, to Dontrelle Willis and the Florida Marlins.

But at least the Nationals got to open at home, which is more than can be said for the Orioles. Plus, it was a sunny day.

There were red, white and blue bunting, fireworks and a flyover by F-18s.

In other words, it was a day for the home fans to accentuate the positive and try not to get too distraught by Willis' allowing two runs (one earned) in six innings or by Florida's Hanley Ramirez's four hits.

Or by Washington center fielder Nook Logan's being assisted to the dugout after wrenching his left foot making a catch in the fourth inning. Or by Washington shortstop Cristian Guzman's being forced from the game with a mild hamstring strain sustained running to first one inning later.

"That was just kind of like freak stuff," Nationals outfielder Ryan Church said of the injuries that dampened Manny Acta's Washington managerial debut,

As they dined on chicken and grapes during a pre-game tailgate, Nationals fans David and Brenda Keith of Falls Church, Va., didn't seem too worried about pundits' forecasts that the Nationals could lose more than 100 games this season. It was Opening Day, too soon to fret.

"Who lost more games last year, the Orioles or Washington?" asked David Keith, who took the day off from his energy consultant's job to attend the game. "The Orioles did [92 games to 91], and I don't see why that can't happen again."

Other Washingtonians were more charitable to the Orioles.

Mark Tuohey, chairman of the DC Sports & Entertainment Commission -- which is overseeing construction of the stadium on the Anacostia River -- said in an interview that he'd like the Orioles to be the first visiting team to play at the new park.

"The Orioles are our first cousins, and we will always be close to them," Tuohey said before the game. "I'd love to have the Orioles open up the new stadium in an exhibition."

Before yesterday, it had been 36 years since a Washington baseball team -- the Senators -- began the season in their own stadium.

Since Major League Baseball doesn't want Washington and Baltimore playing home openers on the same day, the Orioles were relegated to opening on the road last night. They had started the season in Baltimore every year -- barring strike- or lockout-marred seasons -- since 1981.

"It's been nice that we were able to open at home," Orioles spokesman Bill Stetka said in a telephone interview. "It had become the de facto presidential opener."

Next season will be Baltimore's turn to open at Camden Yards. Baseball plans to start the Nationals on the road to give the city extra time to complete the stadium, which Tuohey said will be ready on schedule.

Tuohey said, "I hope and expect" President Bush will throw out the ceremonial first pitch next season, as he did in 2005. "I think fans are very upset he's not here today," Tuohey said of Bush, who had a scheduling conflict.

Instead, fans settled for the Racing Presidents -- oversized renditions of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt who made an appearance between innings.

It was a day for enjoying the spectacle of baseball's return, said Acta, 38, who managed the Dominican Republic's World Baseball Classic team last year. "Beautiful day for Opening Day, beautiful crowd," Acta said.

Notes -- Logan's injury was listed as a hyperextended left foot and he will be re-evaluated today. ... Guzman will also be re-evaluated. ... Like Acta, Florida's Fredi Gonzalez was making his managerial

(Box score, PG 7E)

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