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Nationals rush toward starting gate

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — It seems 34 years would be enough time for Major League Baseball to get things in order for its return to the nation’s capital. But no, there’s a mad dash as the Washington Nationals prepare for their debut.

With an exhibition game against the New York Mets set for Sunday at RFK Stadium, the outfield wall installed this week still needs painting. Tickets are just being put in the mail.

And the Nationals still are the only team that doesn’t have a deal to have their games televised.

“My hair’s probably going to fall out this week,” team president Tony Tavares said.

It’s been a frantic pace since Major League Baseball, which owns the franchise, announced Sept. 29 that the team would move from Montreal. The short time frame is unprecedented in modern history.

The last expansion teams, the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays, had three full years to prepare for opening day from the date their franchises were awarded — and their preparations didn’t have the rapt nationwide attention the Nationals receive from being in the nation’s capital.

Tavares keeps a meticulous list of things to accomplish, and lately he’s been focused on matters ranging from handicapped seating to the installation of monitors with DVD players to be used as coaches’ aids.

His list ballooned to 90 items a few days ago, but he has it down to 50 or so. Not that all will be accomplished by Sunday, but he’s confident the average fan will notice nothing out of sorts.

“Will everything be perfect for April 3? No,” Tavares said. “We haven’t had as many training sessions for staff as I would like, but we’ll get through it.”

The biggest outstanding issue is one over which the Nationals have no control: television rights — a big moneymaker and a hugely important public relations tool. The right to televise the games has been the subject of almost daily, drawn-out negotiations between baseball and Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos.

Angelos says the presence of a team in Washington devalues his franchise 40 miles to the north, and he wants a compensation package to include having Washington’s games broadcast on his Orioles network.

Baseball is balking at that but maintains a resolution will be in place when the Nationals open their season Monday at Philadelphia.

“We’re very concerned,” said D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission Chairman Mark Tuohey, who helped negotiate the agreement that brought the team to Washington. “We want this game on television.”

Once the Angelos matter is settled, Tavares will move as quickly as he can to hire on-air talent, secure broadcast trucks, sign up sponsors and resolve other technical issues. It will be the ultimate rushed job for a man who has become a master of them over the last six months.

Meanwhile, many fans anxiously awaiting tickets they’ve ordered will have to wait a little longer. Season tickets have been mailed, but single-game tickets won’t go out until April 8 or so, less than a week before the April 14 home opener.

Today, the team will move its offices from three trailers in the RFK parking lot — where the same small table serves as both a conference room and a lunch room — to new offices inside the stadium.

The stadium has its grass field in place, plus the fence and foul poles, leaving painting as the only major work remaining.

Allen Lew, the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission’s chief executive, joked that fans might want to “check the seats to see if the paint’s still wet” before sitting down.

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