$600 Million Nationals Park Makes a Debut As the Washington Nationals play the Atlanta Braves, fans will experience the stadium for the first time. The park offers views of the Washington Monument, the U.S. Capitol and the Anacostia River, one of the most polluted in the country.
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$600 Million Nationals Park Makes a Debut

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$600 Million Nationals Park Makes a Debut

$600 Million Nationals Park Makes a Debut

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Here in Washington two topics dominate the coffee klatch conversation. Of course, the presidential race and the new baseball stadium. Tonight it's game on at Nationals Park. After three seasons at RFK Stadium and $600 million-plus later the Washington Nationals have their own home - finished in time and one budget.

Nationals Park offers views of the U.S. Capitol, the Washington Monument and extremely dirty river - that's the Anacostia. And that's where we sent NPR's Noah Adams.

(Soundbite of water trickling)

NOAH ADAMS: Baseball fans will surely appreciate the cherry trees at the new park, but might notice a whiff of sewage from the Anacostia. This river flows along the eastern edge of the District of Columbia, from Maryland down to the Potomac. It carries a vast amount of trash. It's river bed is fouled by toxic chemicals.

Jim Connolly works full time trying to fix this river. He loves being on it, tries to be out there most mornings.

Mr. JIM CONNOLLY (Director, Anacostia Watershed Society): I row with Capital Rowing Club here. And, you know, with rowing you get blisters on your hands. It's sort part of the sport. I've had serious infections from contact with the Anacostia River water. I've had it where my fingers sometimes have swelled up to the size of hot dogs and I couldn't bend them.

ADAMS: The problem is fecal coliform bacteria. In the District of Columbia, the storm water and raw sewage travel through the same pipes. And when there's a big rain, by design, the excess fills into the Anacostia.

Mr. CONNOLLY: The idea was to get it away and the river was always thought as a place to put things to go away but there's no such thing as away. It goes somewhere.

ADAMS: Jim Connolly is the director of the nonprofit Anacostia Watershed Society. He says he'd really rather see a forest on the west bank of the river, but he is pleased that a new ballpark now sits on land that was classified as brown field - saturated with industrial contamination.

(Soundbite of banging)

ADAMS: At the ballpark as workers were finishing up, we talked to Susan Plump, an architect. She says protecting the Anacostia has been a design goal since the beginning. And so sewage from the park will go directly to the sanitation plant, not spilling into the river, and rainfall at the site will end up in the Anacostia. But the peanut shells and other trash gets screened out of the water.

Ms. SUSAN PLUMP (Architect): But say it does get into the system. It is then collected through a series of pipes and it is channeled into these enormous sand filters that are literally a minimum of five stories wide by two stories deep so they're huge.

ADAMS: Big plans to protect the water quality and Matthew Cuts, of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, says that's part of the reason the ballpark is good news for the Anacostia.

Mr. MATTHEW CUTS (D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission): Eighty-one times a year you're going to have thousands of people that come down and look at that river and they're going to want to do the right thing and get it all cleaned up.

ADAMS: From the upper decks you can see the Anacostia, but this is in no way a riverfront ballpark. There are sketches and hopes for a developed waterfront, but for now there's only a small sliver of a park at water's edge. And here's a question for Avon Wilson, who was supervising the landscaping there: say 41,000 fans at the game, how many could come to his little park and picnic by the river?

Mr. AVON WILSON (Supervisor of Landscaping, Nationals Park): It varies but you probably can get well over 100 people, you know, crammed in here enjoying the river and enjoying the ballpark when the ballpark opens up. So it'll be a nice view for, you know, families to come down and enjoy a nice day, you know, right before a game and right after a game.

ADAMS: Can you actually walk out and put your foot into the Anacostia?

Mr. WILSON: You can, I don't know if you want to but you can.

ADAMS: This past week Nationals Park became officially environmentally friendly. Low water usage, efficient lighting, recycling. It's the first ballpark to be certified by the U.S. Green Building Council. And it's a certification the park will have to continue to earn.

Noah Adams, NPR News, Washington.

SEABROOK: The Los Angeles Coliseum earned itself a place in history last night. A crowd of 115,300 people watched an exhibition games between the Dodgers and the Boston Red Sox. The Dodgers normally play at Dodgers Stadium but they played last night at the Coliseum - their very first home - to commemorate 50 years of Dodger blue in Los Angeles.

One hundred and fifteen thousand people to watch an exhibition baseball game. That breaks a record set during the Olympics during 1956. And, by the way, the Sox won 7-4.

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