New stadium, new Nationals. That's the way Ryan Zimmerman sees it.
On a day for finishing touches to the ballpark and the lineup, Washington beat the Baltimore Orioles 3-0 Saturday night in an exhibition game that also served as a dress rehearsal.
Before the game, workers mowed the infield and outfield grass at Nationals Park, getting that curly "W” in center field just right. There were wires being tucked away, pillars near an entrance being painted blue and other last-minute fixes before a crowd of about 25,000 filed in for the Nationals' first game in the place.
And, in the distance beyond left field, there was the view of the Capitol Building dome, no adjustments necessary.
"It's a new feel. It makes us a little bit more excited to come here every day, and it gives us a sense of pride," said Zimmerman, none too upset to leave behind creaky, leaky RFK Stadium. "It's going to be tough to beat us here."
The Nationals have finished no higher than fourth place in three seasons since the franchise moved from Montreal to Washington. They play the first regular-season game at their $600 million-plus new home on Sunday night, when they host the Atlanta Braves.
Odalis Perez will pitch for Washington against Atlanta's Tim Hudson (4-0 with a 0.60 ERA against the Nationals in 2007).
"I don't have any doubts any more about the park," Washington president Stan Kasten said. "It's going to play just fine. It's going to service our customers just fine. I know we're going to learn some things and have to improve some things and change some things in time, both for tomorrow and again in time for our first homestand. But we know, big-picture-wise, it turned out spectacular."
The biggest picture is provided, of course, by the giant video board in right-center, measuring about 4,500 square feet (compared with less than 1,400 at RFK).
Before playing in the new park, Washington set its opening-day lineup as manager Manny Acta discussed the last two up-for-grabs spots in his starting nine.
Nick Johnson, who missed 2007 with a broken right leg, got the nod over Dmitri Young at first base, while Ronnie Belliard beat out Felipe Lopez at second.
"I'll be fired up. It's going to be pretty cool," Johnson said, thinking about Sunday. "I missed a full year. A lot of work to get back. A lot of ups and downs. To be back on the field, it's a cool thing. Real cool."
The Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers were also set to play a Saturday night exhibition in an unfamiliar ballpark: the strangely configured Los Angeles Coliseum.
The Dodgers said 115,300 tickets had been sold, including some 25,000 for standing-room only, for the first big league baseball game at the facility since September 1961.
The crowd was expected to break the existing world record for a baseball game of about 114,000 who attended an exhibition between the Australian national team and an American services team during the Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia, in 1956.
The game was part of the Dodgers' 50th anniversary celebration of their move west from Brooklyn. They played at the Coliseum for four years before making Dodger Stadium their permanent home in 1962.
It was a stadium built for track and football, not baseball.
Routine fly balls, even popups, soared over a 42-foot high screen in left field, where the distance from home plate to the foul pole was just 251 feet. Meanwhile, drives to right and center of over 400 feet were easy outs.
The distance to the left-field foul pole for this game was 201 feet, and the screen was 60 feet high.
"It's really close. This might be one of the only places Juan Pierre could go opposite field," Dodgers catcher Russell Martin said, poking a little fun at his power-challenged teammate.
Esteban Loaiza, slated to start for the Dodgers against knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, took a look down the line and shook his head.
"It's short, man. It's like playing a whiffle ball game," Loaiza said.
At Memphis, Tenn., the New York Mets beat the Chicago White Sox 3-2 in the second annual Civil Rights Game.
The game culminated two days of festivities recognizing a significant time in the country's social history and baseball's role in that change. Martin Luther King III threw out the ceremonial first pitch, while Hall of Famer Hank Aaron was featured in a video tribute.
"Anytime you can bring attention to a part of our society that needs improvement, and you have a chance to make things better as a result of your participation, you can only be supportive of it," White Sox general manager Ken Williams said.
AutoZone Park is only a short distance north of the National Civil Rights Museum, the former Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed 40 years ago.
Both teams toured the National Civil Rights Museum. Several players said they got chills standing in the room King exited before his assassination.
"I found myself yearning for more. I wanted to stay longer. It didn't seem like it was long enough," Mets utility man Damion Easley said. "I felt like a sponge. All the information I got, I wanted more."
White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen called the experience "awesome," and wished the team had more time to appreciate the exhibits when they toured the museum Saturday morning.
On the field, Carlos Beltran hit a two-run homer for the Mets and John Maine put the finishing touches on an outstanding spring with four scoreless innings. Chicago starter Jose Contreras went 6 2-3 innings, allowing two earned runs.
In other spring training games:
Braves 5, Indians 4, 7 innings
At Atlanta, Mike Hampton allowed a run and four hits in three innings and looked ready to make his first major league start since 2005 for the Braves.
Cleveland's Jake Westbrook wrapped up a perfect spring with four scoreless innings. The right-hander pitched 18 innings this spring without allowing a run. He gave up seven hits, walked six and struck out 20.
Blue Jays 5, Phillies 3
At Philadelphia, Toronto's Aaron Hill hit a two-run homer off Jamie Moyer. The Phillies got a three-run homer from Pat Burrell.
Cubs 4, Mariners 2
At Las Vegas, Chicago's Ryan Dempster allowed one run and six hits in four innings, and Reed Johnson led off the game with a homer against Seattle's Jarrod Washburn.
Astros 9, Tigers 4
At Houston, Ty Wigginton's three-run homer keyed a five-run sixth inning for the Astros. Nate Robertson went five innings for Detroit and gave up four runs.
Reds 8, Rays 4
At Sarasota, Fla., Javier Valentin hit a three-run homer and Johnny Cueto gave up three runs — two earned — in four innings for Cincinnati.
Athletics 6, Giants 2
At Oakland, Calif., Justin Duchscherer gave up one run and three hits in six innings for Oakland. San Francisco demoted backup catcher Eliezer Alfonso, who hit .091 this spring, to the minors.
Twins 5, Pirates 4
At Bradenton, Fla., Delmon Young went 2-for-2 with a homer for Minnesota, and Pittsburgh's Matt Morris gave up two runs in six innings to lower his spring ERA to 8.03.
Brewers 5, Royals 2
At Milwaukee, Tony Gwynn Jr. drove in the tying and go-ahead runs on a bloop single in the seventh. He also doubled and stole two bases, finishing the spring with a .382 average.
RoughRiders 7, Rangers 2
At Frisco, Texas, Kason Gabbard pitched four perfect innings before being knocked around in the fifth by the Rangers' Double-A affiliate.
Springfield 10, St. Louis 3
At Springfield, Mo., Rico Washington celebrated making the St. Louis Cardinals' opening-day roster by hitting a home run.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.