Notes: Papal visit coming April 17

Notes: Papal visit coming April 17

WASHINGTON -- Pope Benedict XVI, leader of the Roman Catholic Church, will make his first American visit in April, which is currently scheduled to include a mass at Nationals Park on April 17.

"We are in discussions with the Diocese, and will work with them to make that happen," Nationals team president Stan Kasten said Tuesday.

The new park will offer the team the opportunity to host non-baseball events like concerts and meetings. Kasten said the biggest benefit would be the ability to rent out the luxury suites to groups planning weddings or bar mitzvahs. Some events have already been booked.

"We're open for business," he said.

Ticket relocation progresses: The long process of relocating Nationals season-ticket holders to the team's new ballpark is nearing an end.

On Friday, the Nationals will be mailing out seat assignments to anybody who has been a season-ticket holder for at least one year and has elected to purchase seats in the new stadium.

"We've relocated every seat by hand," Kasten said. "This stadium is just so different from RFK in a number of ways -- all of them good."

He estimated that of the initial group of season-ticket holders from 2005, about 80 percent will purchase a plan in 2008. Priority for seating will be given based on how long fans have been season-ticket holders. Fans who have joined for the 2008 season will not receive their seating for about another four weeks.

Suites a slow sell: One of the reasons the club will enjoy the new stadium is the revenue it will receive from the sale of premium seats and suites.

Kasten told reporters that the suites were not sold out, though he expects they will be by Opening Day. Approximately 50 percent of the available suites are sold at this point.

The team has hired additional sales people that will begin working next week to fill the park to capacity.

Purchasing a suite requires a minimum three-year commitment.

Parking and Metro update: D.C. officials continue to work with the Nationals to establish adequate parking for the stadium. Currently, on-site parking is only guaranteed to season-ticket holders.

One solution that has been discussed is to open the parking lots at RFK Stadium and shuttle fans to the new park. Kasten said those talks continued to be productive, and the groups discussed using what he called "directional assistance" to make sure the shuttles could run without interference from rush-hour traffic.

All fans are being encouraged to take the Metro to the stadium, and the new Navy Yard platform is expected to be ready for Opening Day. Metro officials say that when it is fully operational, a soldout stadium can be cleared out in 42 minutes.

More Nationals Park tidbits: Among other things, Kasten said the new facility will have more bars and restaurants than any other stadium he is aware of. Many of the luxury suites will feature complimentary food and drink.

• One last-minute change to the seating was made last week. The team planned to offer a "batter's eye" box in center field that would allow fans to look over the pitcher's shoulder. After visiting the site, the team decided that the seats did not offer as good a view as they hoped, and they will be moved further into left field.

• Single-game tickets will go on sale in mid-February, after all the season-ticket holders have had the opportunity to claim their seats.

• The outfield walls will be 8 1/2 feet high, except for a 14-foot wall in right-center field.

• Naming rights for the new stadium have not been sold yet, though Kasten did not rule out that happening before Opening Day. Until then, the stadium will be referred to as Nationals Park.

• Foul territory will be extremely limited in the stadium, allowing fans to be closer to the action. Kasten chalked that up as a win for the hitters.

"It's going to be a good thing for them, because they don't want their foul balls caught," he said.

Michael Phillips is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.