RFK's final game

`Play ball' a last time

Former Senators, longtime fans show up to see Nats close out stadium's baseball era

From The Cover

From the cover

September 24, 2007|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,Sun Reporter

WASHINGTON -- A stadium with a rich and unusual history closed its turnstiles to baseball yesterday, 45 years after opening the 1962 season with President John F. Kennedy throwing out the first pitch.

Ted Williams once managed at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, Vince Lombardi coached the NFL's Redskins there, the Beatles performed there and a long line of presidents threw out the first pitch in what was traditionally the opening game of the major league season.

RFK, which is being retired because the Washington Nationals will move into a new stadium next year, was home to the 1962 and 1969 All-Star Games and hosted the longest errorless game in major league history (22 innings) in 1967. Among the 1,819 major leaguers to play there was Boog Powell of the Orioles, who twice hit three homers in a game at the stadium.

"There are no bad memories here," said Dick Bosman, a former Washington Senators pitcher who was among seven former Senators introduced to the crowd during a ceremony before the Nationals-Philadelphia Phillies game.

Bosman started the last game of the 1971 season at RFK, which ended chaotically when fans rushed the field with two outs in the ninth inning and forced the Senators to forfeit against the New York Yankees. The team became the Texas Rangers the next year.

Yesterday, the Nationals closed the stadium with a 5-3 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies, who entered the game having won nine of 10 games and are vying for a playoff berth. The fans stood and rocked the stadium one more time as closer Chad Cordero struck out Jayson Werth with two runners on to preserve the victory. The stadium was long known for its stands that visibly shook.

The win, highlighted by Austin Kearns' three hits and two RBIs, gave the Nationals a 122-121 record at RFK.

RFK is unusual because there was a 33-season hiatus in between baseball games that counted in the standings -- a period that stretched from the forfeited game to the relocation of the Nationals from Montreal in 2005. The Nationals have played at RFK the past three seasons while the new stadium is constructed on the Anacostia River in southeast Washington.

The arrival of the Nationals meant that many Washingtonians got to return to the stadium of their youth. Yesterday, those fans said goodbye.

"When I came back here [in 2005], I was so overcome with emotion and I took such a trip back in time," said Barbara Angelino, 50, a software programming instructor from Boyds.

She brought her mother, 87, to yesterday's game, saying: "I was determined to get her to the last game at RFK because I owe my love of baseball to her." Her mother took her to her first game at RFK -- then called D.C. Stadium -- in 1966.

Yesterday, Angelino also brought autographed photos of slugger Frank Howard and other former Senators, as well as a faded newspaper clipping showing her chatting with Williams, the Boston Red Sox Hall of Famer who managed the Senators to a rare winning record in 1969.

Howard and Bosman were among those honored yesterday during a pre-game ceremony in which former Senators were introduced and trotted onto the field with their present-day counterparts. Fans were given commemorative RFK Stadium T-shirts. The Senators were introduced by Charlie Brotman, who was the Senators' public-address announcer at RFK -- and at Griffith Stadium before that.

The ceremony "brings closure to this place," Bosman said. The stadium is still home to D.C. United of Major League Soccer, although the club has said it would prefer to play at a facility built specifically for soccer. Football's Redskins left for FedEx Field in 1997.

After the game, Nationals players presented their game jerseys to fans at home plate.

Among the season-high 40,519 fans present yesterday was one with an unusual hobby. Jim Aalderink, 53, of Byron Center, Mich., said he has now attended the closing of 21 stadiums and the opening of 20.

"There are two other guys who close stadiums, and we are all friends," Aalderink said. He said his favorite old stadium is Chicago's Wrigley Field, while PNC Park in Pittsburgh is his favorite new facility.

The Senators won the first game at D.C. Stadium on April 9, 1962, as President Kennedy threw out the first pitch. Kennedy was assassinated the next year, and the stadium was named for his slain brother before the 1969 season.

RFK in many ways is a relic, despite an $18.5 million makeover to get it ready for baseball in 2005. It has no luxury suites, which team owners today consider nearly as much a necessity as bathrooms.

Groundskeepers dug up home plate after yesterday's game. Nationals officials said it would either be used at the new stadium or saved for posterity.

jeff.barker@baltsun.com

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