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Washington Nationals Set Up In Nation's Capital

RFK Stadium to Play Host / New Stadium Planned

The Robert F. Kenndedy Stadium: Home of The Nationals

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WASHINGTON -- After all of the political hurdles that had to be cleared in starting the renovation of Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, those working on the Washington Nationals' home now find themselves in a surprising position.

Ahead of schedule.

"I think our people are really happy," said Tony Robinson, director of public affairs for the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission. "We're actually ahead of schedule, which is truly remarkable under the circumstances."

RFK Stadium should be ready for the team's first game, an exhibition against the Mets on April 3 at 12:05 p.m. ET. The Nationals will play at RFK for the next three years until their new stadium opens in time for the 2008 season.

The renovation of RFK Stadium, which Robinson said should cost $13-18 million, is extensive but moving along nicely. One of the biggest keys to the advanced time frame was a surprise that came from Mother Nature. The weather in the Washington area was unusually mild for much of the winter, with sunny skies and temperatures in the 60s and 70s common throughout December and January.

"The weather played a role," Robinson said. "We were actually blessed with the weather."

That good weather helped the contractors work on the very long list of things that needed to be done to make RFK usable for baseball after a long hiatus, as the Senators left for Texas after the 1971 season.

Robinson and Chris Bender, director of communications for the Office of Planning and Economic Development, both said that the seating bowl had to be rearranged clockwise. They also had to build a baseball field with an outfield fence, add a third-base dugout, and improve and refurbish the other dugout.

They also needed to refurbish both locker rooms and redo the press box. Robinson said an irrigation system is now in place. Bender said also that everything has to be set up in such a way that the D.C. United soccer team can still use it for the next three years.

"The field has to serve two masters for three years," Bender said.

Bender said doing a load of preliminary work was a big reason the renovation got going so quickly.

"We did a lot of work to see what we needed to do," Bender said. "That way, if we were awarded a team, it wouldn't be a surprise. We were able to jump out of the blocks, and that's what we did."

The renovation project stalled at first while the D.C. City Council battled for weeks over funding for a new stadium. The District couldn't spend any money on the RFK renovation until the final budget for the new field was approved, and since that didn't happen until late December, it made things tougher.

Bender said they're in the process of doing land acquisition for the new stadium. But for now, he said RFK will be ready on April 3.

"We still might have some paint drying on April 3," Bender said with a laugh. "But we'll be ready."

Jeff Seidel is a contributor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

SBS has paid special attention to the relocation of the Montreal Expos and its transformation into the Washington Nationals . It focuses on issues that are addressed in our Oakland Baseball Simworld, from politics to team relocation.

Click here to use the SBS Oakland Baseball Simworld to relocate the Oakland A's, finance and build a large new stadium , and evaluate its impact on the team's fiscal picture. What decisions will you make to finance such an effort and still field a competitive baseball team?

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