Nats say good-bye to RFK Stadium
Unlike the pitchers, hitters can't wait to move to new ballpark
WASHINGTON -- In the past three seasons, the Nationals have had more success at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium than on the road. Entering Sunday's action, Washington was 121-121 at home as opposed to 94-138 outside of D.C.
Sunday's matinee contest between the Nats and Phillies marked the final baseball game at RFK. There have been plenty of good memories in those three years, from the Nats' first home opener on April 14, 2005, against the Diamondbacks to Alfonso Soriano hitting three home runs in one game.
But you won't find many players who are sad to see the place go. They can't wait, in fact, to play in the new Nationals Park, which is scheduled to open in 2008. The ill regard for RFK started with former Nats Jose Guillen and Vinny Castilla in 2005. They disliked the park because it was too spacious and they felt it prevented them from hitting home runs.
But it's more than just the spacious dimensions of RFK that has some of the current players happy to leave.
"I can't wait to get out of here and go to the new stadium," shortstop Felipe Lopez said. "[RFK] is uncomfortable. You get spoiled going to other stadiums, and then you come back here and it's so old. There is only one bating cage. You can't really work like you want to. The new stadium is going to have multiple cages. It's better."
This season, Austin Kearns and Ryan Church have been arguably the biggest victims of RFK. They have 14 home runs apiece, and Church believes that he and Kearns would have had at least 25 home runs if they played their home games elsewhere.
"Getting into that new stadium couldn't happen any quicker," Church said. "When they started counting down, they had some 50-something games left. It looked like it was going to be forever. But it's almost a reality."
Manager Manny Acta can't wait to get into the new ballpark either, so he doesn't have to hear his position players cry about the dimensions.
Asked about what's the one thing that he wouldn't miss about RFK, Acta said: "The fences. Not having to hear all the crying and complaining every time one of my guys hits a long fly that doesn't go out; I won't miss that."
Not everyone has negative feelings about RFK. Acta will forever look at the stadium as his first home as a big league skipper.
"It's always going to be a special place for me," Acta said. "Regardless, wherever I go or how long I'm going to stay on this earth, it's going to be my first big league managing home.
But you won't hear any of the Nationals pitchers complain about RFK, which allowed them to record a lot of long fly-ball outs.
Right-hander Shawn Hill, who has a respectable 3.55 ERA at RFK this season, is one hurler who took advantage of the situation.
"I like throwing here," Hill said. "It's comfortable. Obviously, the dimensions play in our favor."
As a member of the Reds, Kearns went from Riverfront Stadium to Great American Ball Park. He said that he's a fan of older stadiums, but he's looking forward to going to Nationals Park.
"The new stadium will help everybody," Kearns said. "There is going to be a lot of people in the seats. I'm sure the hitters will look forward to it."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.