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Fans Brave Elements To See Nationals

Guest Heather Dinich

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Guest Heather Dinich

The homemade sign was bigger than the 11-year-old Nationals fan fighting Sunday's wind to hold it.

"Will bat lead-off for autographs," the fluorescent yellow letters read. "Go Nationals!"


Andy Long, in a red, oversized Washington hat, almost toppled over at the Nationals' home exhibition game against the Mets as he proudly displayed his work of art. It was the first time meaningful baseball was played in RFK Stadium in 34 years, and the biting cold and intermittent rain didn't deter fans of all ages and backgrounds from witnessing the game's return.


"It's the first game in D.C., it's history," said season ticket holder John Long, Andy's father and a resident of Fairfax Station, Va. "The next historic event will be Opening Day. We didn't want to miss this. This is an event, too. Now we can say we were there for the very first game."


Couples were hugging each other to stay warm, and some fans had scarves and Redskins blankets as they waited in line outside of the stadium. There were whoops and hollers around 10:40 a.m. ET when security opened the gates and fans streamed through the concrete walls.


"Step right on up!" yelled one ticket taker.


The buttery smell of popcorn, the echo of batting practice and the sound of the organ made it official: Baseball was back.


Ed Brosnahan, who grew up in the shadows of the Capital building in Southeast Washington, said he never thought he'd see the day. Brosnahan was 21 years old when the Senators left Washington in 1971.


"What wind? I'm so warm just from being here and seeing this again," said Brosnahan, 56, who was bundled in a Nationals jacket and had a Wilson glove warming his left hand. "I never thought I'd see it. I'd pretty much given up all hope. Big kudos to Mayor Anthony Williams. He managed to do what none of the other ones could do."


The voice of Charlie Brotman, former announcer for the Washington Senators, boomed from above as he announced the Nationals' starting lineup. Mayor Williams, who threw out the first pitch, received a standing ovation while the D.C. council members got booed, most likely for their lengthy and unsettling negotiations with baseball.


Williams was seated in the sixth row behind home plate, waiting for the Mets' third out in the fourth inning when 9-year-old Aaron Bobeck walked up to him and thanked him. Williams signed the back inside flap of Bobeck's program.


"This is a special program," said Suzin Bobeck, Aaron's mom. "We're going to save this. We were Mets fans until today. We didn't have a team before."


Williams said the crowd, which filled the majority of the lower deck, was bigger than he expected, especially considering the weather.


"It's an incredible moment to be able to bring baseball back to the city," he said. "To see the first home run, the first ball hit into the stands, to be able to talk to some of the players here ... it's just a remarkable moment."


Brosnahan agreed.


"I've been a baseball fan my whole life," he said. "When the Senators left in '71, I was pretty much soured on baseball. I wasn't going to adopt the Orioles. I was brought up to hate the Orioles. ... Coming back in here to see my team again, that's worth the price of admission."


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