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RFK Stadium

RFK Stadium was home for 36 seasons to the Redskins, whose return to prominence as a football power began the same year (1960) that the original baseball Senators played their final season, relocating in 1961 to Minnesota as the Twins. The Redskins' first game in D.C. Stadium was a 24-21 loss to the New York Giants on October 1, 1961. The team's first win in the stadium was over its future archrival, the Dallas Cowboys, on December 17, 1961. This was the only win in a 1–12–1 season, and it came on the final weekend of the regular season. The Redskins' last win at RFK was a 37–10 victory over the Cowboys on December 22, 1996.

 

The stadium hosted its first baseball All-Star Game in its first season of 1962, which was attended by Robert Kennedy's brother, President John F. Kennedy (in whose administration Robert Kennedy served as Attorney General), and the 1969 All-Star Game, which was played in the daytime, after a rainout the night before. It turned out to be the final MLB All-Star Game played during the daytime hours.

 

Another notable baseball moment occurred in a Cracker Jack Old Timers game in 1982, when 75 year-old Hall of Famer Luke Appling hit a home run. Although he had a .310 lifetime batting average, Appling only hit 45 home runs in 20 seasons. However, because the stadium had not been fully reconfigured, it was just 260 feet (79 m) to the left-field foul pole, far shorter than normal.

 

In its tenure as the Senators' home field, RFK Stadium was known as a hitters' park. Slugger Frank Howard, a six-foot-seven-inch tall, 255-pound left fielder, hit a number of tape-measure home runs in his career, a few of which landed in the center field area of the upper deck. The seats Howard hit with his home runs are painted white, rather than the gold of the rest of the upper deck. Howard also hit the last home run in the park's original tenure, on September 30, 1971. With one out remaining in the game, a fan riot turned a 7–5 Senators lead over the New York Yankees into a 9–0 forfeit loss. However, in its tenure as the Nationals' home field, RFK has been known as a pitchers' park. While Howard hit at least 44 home runs for three straight seasons (1968–70), the 2005 Nationals had only one hitter with more than 15 home runs, Jose Guillen with 24.

 

Design

The stadium's design was nearly circular, attempting to facilitate both football and baseball. It was the first to use the so-called "cookie-cutter" concept, an approach also used by Philadelphia, New York, Houston, Atlanta, St. Louis, San Diego, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. However, as would become the case with every other stadium where this was tried, the design was not ideal for either sport due to the different shapes and sizes of the playing fields. As the playing field dimensions for football and baseball vary greatly, seating had to accommodate the larger playing surface. In the case of RFK Stadium, this resulted in the first ten rows of the football configuration being nearly at field level, making it difficult to see over the players.

 

As a baseball park, RFK was a particular target of scorn from baseball purists, largely because it had no lower-deck seats in the outfield. The only outfield seats are in the upper deck, above a high wall. It was said that RFK was "the first ballpark built that had only an upper deck." According to Sporting News publications in the 1960s, over 27,000 of RFK's 45,000 baseball seats were in the upper tier or mezzanine levels. The lower-to-upper proportion improved for the Redskins, with end-zone seats filling in some of the gaps.

 

A complex conversion was necessary, at a cost of $40,000 per switch, to convert the stadium from a football/soccer configuration to baseball and back again; in its final form, this included rolling the 3rd-base lower-level seats into the outfield along a buried rail, dropping the hydraulic pitcher's mound 3 feet (0.91 m) into the ground, and laying sod over the infield dirt. Later facilities were designed so the seating configuration could be changed much more quickly and at a lower cost. The conversion was only required several times per year during the Senators' joint tenancy with the Redskins, but became much more frequent while the Nationals and D.C. United shared the stadium during the mostly-concurrent MLB and MLS seasons; in 2005, the conversion was made more than 20 times. Originally the seats located behind the stadium's third-base dugout would be removed for baseball games and put back in place when the stadium was converted to the football (and later soccer) configuration. When these sections were in place, RFK seated approximately 56,000 fans. Following the Washington Nationals' move to RFK in 2005, this particular segment of the stands was permanently removed to facilitate the switch between the baseball and soccer configurations. These seats were not restored following the Nationals' move to Nationals Park, leaving the stadium's seating capacity at approximately 46,000. D.C. United do not normally make the tickets for the majority of the upper-level seating available for purchase, and the stadium's reduced capacity thus is not normally problematic for the club.

During the years when the stadium was used only for Redskins games, the rotating seats remained in the football configuration. If a baseball game was scheduled, the left-field wall was only 250 feet (76 m) from home plate, and for some exhibition baseball games, a large screen was erected.

Some of RFK's quirks endear the venue to fans and players. The large rolling bleacher section is less stable than other seating, allowing fans to jump in rhythm to cause the whole area to bounce. Also, because of the stadium's design and the proximity of the fans to the football field, the stadium was extremely loud when the usual sell-out Redskins crowds became vocal. Legend has it that former Redskins coach George Allen would order a large rolling door opened in the side of the stadium when visiting teams were attempting field goals at critical moments in games so that a swirling wind from off the Potomac and Anacostia rivers would interfere with the flight of the kicked ball.

 

Since the stadium is on a direct sight line with the Washington Monument and the United States Capitol, light towers were not allowed; instead, arc lights were placed on its curved, dipping roof.

 

Dimensions

The dimensions of the baseball field were 335 feet (102 m) down the foul lines, 380 feet (120 m) to the power alleys and 408 feet (124 m) to center field during the Senators' time. The official distances when the Nationals arrived were identical, except for two additional feet to center field. After complaints from Nationals hitters it was discovered in July 2005 that the fence had actually been put in place incorrectly, and it was 394.74 feet (120.32 m) to the power alleys in left; 395 feet (120 m) to the right-field power alley; and 407.83 feet (124.31 m) to center field. The section of wall containing the 380-foot (120 m) sign was moved closer to the foul lines to more accurately represent the distance shown on the signs but no changes were made to the actual dimensions.

 

Stadium Name

The stadium was opened in October 1961 as the District of Columbia stadium (D.C. Stadium for short). The stadium was renamed in January 1969, for U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated in Los Angeles the previous June. As Attorney General, Kennedy's Justice Department played a role in the racial integration of the Redskins. Along with Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall, Kennedy threatened to revoke the team's lease at the federally-owned stadium until it promised to sign African American players.

On April 14, 2005, just before the Nationals' home opener, the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission announced an agreement with the Department of Defense under which the military would pay the city about $6 million for naming rights and the right to place recruiting kiosks and signage in the stadium. In return, the stadium would be dubbed Armed Forces Field at RFK Stadium. This plan was dropped within days, however, after several prominent members of Congress questioned the use of public funds for a stadium sponsorship. Similar proposals to sell the naming rights to the National Guard, ProFunds (a Bethesda, Maryland investment company) and Sony were rumored that season, but no agreement was ever finalized.

 

Baseball

In the Washington Senators' final home game, on September 30, 1971, the Senators led the New York Yankees 7–5 with one out in the top of the ninth. Fans storm the field and tear up bases, grass patches, and anything else they can find for souvenirs. The Senators forfeit the game, 9–0.

April 14, 2005 – Washington Nationals defeat the Arizona Diamondbacks 5–3, before a crowd of 45,596, to win their first home opener in Washington, D.C. They go on to sweep the 4-game series.

 

June 17, 2006 – The Washington Nationals overcome the deficit of seven runs against the New York Yankees and beat the Yankees by blowing Yankees closing pitcher Mariano Rivera's save in the bottom of the eighth inning with Alfonso Soriano's steals and Jose Guillen's triple and Ryan Zimmerman's single in front of a sellout crowd of 45,085 fans.

 

June 18, 2006 – The Washington Nationals defeat the New York Yankees on Ryan Zimmerman's walk-off home run off Yankees ace starter Chien Ming Wang in front of a sellout crowd of 45,157 fans. The Nationals win the three-game series against the Yankees.

 

September 16, 2006 – Washington Nationals' Alfonso Soriano steals second base in the first inning of the game against the Milwaukee Brewers to become the fourth player in the Major League Baseball history to hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases in a season. (At Shea Stadium in New York City six days later, Soriano becomes the first person ever to reach 40 home runs, 40 stolen bases, and 40 doubles in one season, making him the only member of the 40-40-40 club.)

 

July 4, 2007 – Washington Nationals 1st baseman Dmitri Young hits a Grand Slam enroute to a 6–0 Nationals win over the Chicago Cubs before almost 40,000 fans.

 

September 23, 2007 – Washington Nationals defeat the Philadelphia Phillies 5-3, before a crowd of 40,519, in the final baseball game scheduled to be played at RFK Stadium. The win gives the Nationals an overall record of 122–121 in three seasons at the stadium.

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Ball Parks of Yesterday, Baseball History, Texas Rangers, Washington Nationals, Washington Senators

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