D.C. prepares for first game since 1971 season

Thursday, April 14, 2005

WASHINGTON -- As a kid in the 1940s, Bowie Kuhn ran the hand-operated scoreboard for the original Washington Senators at now-departed Griffith Stadium. As the commissioner of Major League Baseball decades later, the native Washingtonian tried in vain to keep a team in the nation's capital.

Tonight, Kuhn plans to be among the 46,000 or so in the RFK Stadium crowd when the Nationals make their home debut against the Arizona Diamondbacks -- the city's first regular-season major league game since Sept. 30, 1971.

"It's a very sentimental thing for me," Kuhn said. "It was just a matter of time before baseball returned."

The night caps a series of celebrations marking that return: the first spring training game, an April 3 exhibition game and dress rehearsal at RFK, and the April 4 opening day game at Philadelphia. President George W. Bush is slated to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.

"Everybody's looking forward to it," pitcher Zach Day said. "We know it's going to be a long day, but everybody's excited for the day to come."

Washingtonians have pined for a ballclub to call their own ever since the Senators left for Texas 34 years ago. That was the last time any major league team switched cities; it also was the second time D.C. lost a club.

This time, Beltway baseball fans are the beneficiaries of dwindling local support for the Montreal Expos, who were given a new town, a new nickname and new uniforms. The roster is mostly unchanged, and the Nationals' only real household name belongs to the manager, Frank Robinson, a Hall of Fame player who began managing 30 years ago.

Still, the Nationals are tied for first in the National League East after beating the Atlanta Braves 11-4 Wednesday to improve to 5-4, all on the road. Every other major league club already has hosted a game this season. Then again, after more than 12,000 days between home games, what's another couple of weeks?

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