These are the opening weeks of the 2007 Major League Baseball season, and by this time next year fans in the nation's capital will be watching their team in a brand new stadium. VOA Sports Editor Parke Brewer recently took a tour of what will be the new home for the Washington Nationals and has a report.
For those who drive down Washington's South Capital Street, they can see the new stadium for the Washington Nationals taking shape. What they cannot see is a home plate in the ground, already placed at what will be the focal point when the stadium is full of baseball fans.
Four hundred construction workers have been busy working two shifts, and soon that number will reach 1,000. Ground was broken last May at the site by the Anacostia River, not far from the U.S. Capitol. The framework is expected to be complete by July and the stadium will be ready for next season.
With the opening one year away, Washington Nationals officials gave a special tour to members of the media.
Team President Stan Kasten told the gathering he is constantly asked if the stadium will be completed on time.
"You can not have any doubts that we are opening this ballpark in April '08," he said.
The stadium will cost $611 million, paid with public funds and to be leased to the team. It is expected to be much more than just a place to watch a baseball game. The city hopes the new stadium can revitalize the run-down Anacostia area and bring in lots of tax revenue.
It will replace the Washington Nationals current home, RFK Stadium, which is 47 years old. RFK has been showing its age for some time, and many fans, like Ross Feldman, look forward to the move.
"I'm very excited about it. It's going to be nice to have a new stadium," he said. "I like to have that newer feeling stadium, a lot of new amenities. I'll miss RFK but definitely looking forward to the new stadium."
Another fan, Iris Hendley, says a modern stadium will help bring in more revenue because it will attract more spectators, especially wealthy ones.
"As much as I love RFK, the fact that we don't have sky boxes or suites, from a business perspective, I think the new stadium will help that. It stays in line with what the business of baseball is doing with stadiums."
In fact, the Nationals' new stadium will feature three categories of suites. The most expensive will cost $400,000 per year and have many luxury features and benefits.
The stadium, which will seat about 41,000, is being constructed mostly of concrete and steel, with 3,500 pieces of steel making up the bowl structure. In all there will be about 44,000 cubic meters of cast-in-place concrete.
Inspiration for the exterior look of the new ballpark, which will feature a lot of glass, is taken from the East Wing of Washington's National Gallery of Art. When the stadium is finished, Kasten says it will be state of the art.
"We are truly building the latest of Washington's monuments, a building that will be instantly recognizable as the premier baseball venue in the country," he said.
On clear days, most fans in the stadium's upper deck will even get views of both the Capitol building and the Washington Monument.