WASHINGTON - The Washington Nationals held their first practice at their new ballpark Friday, giving them their first chance to answer everyone's favorite question.
Will Nationals Park be a pitcher's park or a hitter's park?
"We're going to overanalyze every single thing every single day," infielder Aaron Boone said after a 90-minute workout under the lights. "You get a true read on the park after a couple months. Early in the season you have different weather than you have all year, so it's funny to analyze everything."
There was a steady breeze blowing from left to right during the practice. As the players began to take the field, the public address announcer was doing some practicing of his own, repeating "Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States" over and over, in anticipation of President Bush throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at the regular-season opener tonight against the Atlanta Braves.
"It's kind of tough to read balls off the bats of lefties with the lights being right there," outfielder Willie Harris said. "The balls go into the lights. I'll just work on seeing the ball off the lefties' bats and prepare to make the right adjustments to make the catch."
The players agreed unanimously on one thing: No matter how it plays, Nationals Park will be a better park, as in better than RFK Stadium.
The initial speculation is that the new stadium, located along the Anacostia River about a mile south of the Capitol, will slightly favor pitchers. The dimensions aren't much more intimate than those at roomy RFK.
Nationals Park is 335 feet down the right-field line, 370 in right-center, 402 in center, 377 in left-center and 336 down the left-field line. RFK's posted dimensions were 335-380-410-380-335, although players doubted whether the measurements to the power alleys were accurate.
If Friday night's practice is any indication, the two unsightly parking garages beyond left field could produce a wind tunnel effect that right-handed hitters won't love.
"It's not going to be a bandbox," General Manager Jim Bowden said. "It's not going to be a hitter's park like Philadelphia or Cincinnati. It's not going to be a pitcher's park like RFK. I think it's going to be a balanced park that leans toward the pitchers. I don't think any of us are going to know for sure until we actually play ball there."