Friday, April 15, 2005

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Photo: AP

Beautiful. It was a beautiful night.

As a non-native Washingtonian, I knew I couldn't appreciate the full magnitude of this event. I have lived in Detroit and Boston for a majority of my life, able to go to games whenever I wanted.

Since I knew the great things the game has to offer to a community, I desperately wanted my new adopted home metropolis to snag a team of its own. We finally did it, and last night was the first big payoff.

I was lucky enough to snag a pair of tickets when the public sale opened on March 26. My seats were quite a bargain - $15 a pop for Upper Reserved in Section 517 behind home plate. A little high, but a spectacular view of the field. And my beautiful fiancee was kind enough to drive up to go the game with me.

Here's my account of the game, for your reading pleasure.

We hopped on the metro around 4:30 and had an easy ride on the yellow line to L'Enfant Plaza. At L'Enfant was where it got tricky. We waited for about a half dozen trains to go by before there was enough to room to squeeze onboard. Actually, that's not quite accurate. There was plenty of room on some trains, but no one squeezed in far enough and the drivers closed the doors way too early. It actually wasn't as bad as it sounds since the trains came about two minutes apart.

Once we arrived at the stadium, the security line was not all that bad. We were through in about 15 minutes and that put us in our seats at about 5:50 pm.

Of course, with 25 minutes before the ceremonies started, I thought I had plenty of time to grab food. BUT, the line for Italian sausages was "recockulous" and they ran out of change once I got to the front. It took a few minutes to sort all that out. So I missed the booing of Linda Cropp and didn't get back to my seat until about 6:30.

An aside: Walking back to the get food, I saw a young girl walking the other way. She couldn't have been older than four or five and she was holding her father's hand. As she came into view of the field, her eyes widened and let out a breathless "Wowwww!" Now that moment, my friends, is what baseball is all about.

I did get back to my seat with enough time to see Charlie Brotman take the mic and introduce the D-backs and our Nats. The magic started when every National got a standing 'O', even the trainers and clubhouse staff! Tell me that wasn't the greatest moment of the trainer's life!

I thought it was very cool how the crowd joined in on "God Bless America" when the microphones for the Navy choral group weren't working. Once they turn on, the singers did sound amazing. And I believe it was on the last lines of the song when they unfurled just about the biggest American flag EVER.

Renee Fleming was very good on the National Anthem. But I have to say something here. Whoever shouted 'O' during the song (which is an Orioles fan routine for those who don't know) deserved to be taken out by the rooftop snipers. Save that crap for Camden Yards. This isn't the Orioles town anymore and besides that, it's disrespectful to the anthem. I'm open to suggestions on how we should deal with this at future games.

Then the President was introduced to about a 60-40 mix of cheers and boos, respectively. Another aside here: Everyone has a right to criticize and even hate the President. I respect that. But at an event like this, he's appearing not as George W. Bush, but as the President of the United States. Just the like State of the Union address. During the State of the Union address, the entire chamber of both parties applaud the President. They're not applauding George W. Bush, they're applauding the President. I really feel it should have been the same way at the baseball game. And I know there are many Bush-haters that probably agree.

I give the President credit for striding up to the top of the mound, delivering a ball that was over the plate (but high) and getting off the field. You could tell even from Section 517 that he wasn't happy with his toss, but it could have been much, much worse.

What followed was a very touching moment. Nine players from previous Senators' teams wandered out on the diamond "Field of Dreams" style to some majestic music, I think it was from "The Natural." The announcer introduced them all one-by-one to standing ovations and cheers. My fiancee thought this was the cutest thing ever. "I want the old guys to stay out there and play!" she kept saying.

But it was quite moving to see the 2005 Nationals take the field and exchange hand-shakes and hugs with the old-timers. I'm sure it meant a lot to the new players to get to reconnect with figures of the days of the Washington-baseball past. I hope it showed them how important baseball is to this city and how much they will be loved as a team.

RFK absolutely sparkled with flashbulbs when Livan threw the first pitch. I was so taken aback by the moment that I didn't even notice it was a called strike. Great way to kick off a new franchise.

Livan pitched very well with a few minor hiccups. It was real fun watching him pitch and do his thing out there on the mound.

In the fourth inning, Vinny Castilla tripled home two runs and the Nats added another on a sacrifice fly. The fans responded well, going nuts when Washington scored. It wasn't as raucus as a football game, but that's OK. Baseball lends itself to a more serene type of experience.

In the sixth, Castilla hit a moon shot that landed in the Nats bullpen. 5-0 good guys. I was thrilled that the fans gave him a long enough ovation to get him to come out for a curtain call. Fabulous.

In the eighth, Vinny came to the plate with a chance to get a single to hit for the cycle. The crowd impressed me again, standing up to cheer for Vinny. Like Brad Wilkerson said, it was 5-0 in the eighth inning - most people would have left by now.

Of course, pansy-ass Lance Cormier drilled Vinny in the back with the first pitch, and the crowd promptly Cormier hear its disapproval. And we booed for the remainder of the inning. I don't see how it wasn't intentional. And I hope that F-Robby instructs the pitcher to take care of business on Saturday or Sunday. My money is on Troy Glaus, the third baseman, as the lucky recipient of a plunking in retaliation.

In any other situation, I would have not sent Livan out to start the ninth. But he had a one-hitter complete game shutout in the works on opening day. Since we had a 5-0 lead, it was a worthwhile gamble to send him back out to finish his one-hit shutout. Of course, a few got on and Livan gave up a gopher ball to Chad Tracy after a prolonged battle with Luis Gonzalez.

F-Robby pulled Livan, who got a well-deserved hearty ovation. I wish, however, that he didn't keep mouthing off to home plate umpire Jim Joyce as he left the field. Chad "The Chief" Cordero game in and slammed the door for a 5-3 Opening Night win. I was glad that so many fans stuck around to see the end.

It did take us about an hour just to get into the metro station to get home. Besides that, it was a fairly smooth trip back.

Some additional notes:
-People need to sit down and enjoy the game. Stop getting up every two innings for food and beer! You can't be that damn hungry or that damn desperate to get drunk! Of course, the problem would be solved if Aramark would get its act together and run the concessions more smoothly and put more roving vendors in the stands. This will be remedied, I trust. Still, people need to take it easy on the food. Did you buy a ticket to watch a game or did you buy a ticket to spend $6 a pop on beer and sausages!? SIDDOWN!

-The ThunderStix have got to go. They don't belong at a baseball game. Soccer, football, basketball, hockey, maybe - but not baseball. I give the fans credit though, not many people used them. But that may have had something to do with the fact that had "Inaugural Game" printed on them. People probably stashed them away as a collectible.


All in all, a magical night that I loved, even though I couldn't fully appreciate it since I'm not a native to the area. I know this is a start of a great institution for this area, however. Baseball does something special for the spirit of a community. I want to see some decent crowds in the months to come!


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