New Nats stadium on schedule for 2008 opener

Updated: March 13, 2007, 3:08 PM ET
Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Come April 2008, Ryan Zimmerman might become the first player in major league history to hit a home run into a cherry tree.

A grove of cherry blossoms behind the left field bleachers is one of the latest additions to the plans of the Washington Nationals stadium.

"We couldn't find another ballpark that had trees in the ballpark," team president Stan Kasten said Tuesday at the launch of a campaign to sell luxury suites.

Kasten said construction of the 41,000-seat ballpark remains on schedule for completion by Opening Day next year. The outline has taken shape, with the steel and concrete frame of the upper deck rising above the site along the Anacostia River.

"There's no question it's going to open on time," Kasten said.

While the city has agreed to spend up to $611 million to build the stadium, Kasten said the team's principle owners, the Lerner family, are spending tens of millions of dollars more on "jazzing up the park." Several issues remain to be resolved, particularly involving traffic flow and parking.

"As you know, there are an awful lot of people with different interests in this city," Kasten said with a smile, "and we're blessed with advice from all of them."

The stadium has the temporary name of"Nationals Park, although that will change once the naming rights are sold. In an era in which nearly everything is for sale, Kasten said the team might even sell the naming rights to the levels of luxury suites, which currently bear the names of presidents Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln.

Inside the more posh areas of the ballpark, amenities include the "Oval Office Bar." The ballpark has 66 suites, and all are located around the infield.

The stadium already had a distinctive plan with its use of glass, brick and limestone, but Kasten said the cherry blossoms will create a look Americans associate only with the nation's capital.

"You see those," Kasten said, "And you know you're either in D.C. or Japan."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press