In the batter’s box, Ryan Zimmerman’s left foot pawed at the dirt. Not 150 feet away, I pawed much more nervously at my cotton candy.
Had Zimmerman taken his eyes off of Braves reliever Peter Moylan and looked into the stands, his gaze might have fallen directly on me. I was sitting twenty-some rows back from the field down the first base line, and placing all the hope in the world directly on his shoulders.
It was March 30th, 2008. The first game ever at Nationals Park. For a city that had already lost two baseball teams to relocation, a new stadium was a shining beacon of hope. The Nationals were ours, and they were here to stay.
But the on-field product was a different story. The Nats had been a sorry bunch over the previous two seasons, compiling a 144-180 record.
But much like the team, I was having growing pains of my own. On the evening of that game, I had been 13 for exactly 16 days. It was the spring of seventh grade, and like everyone’s is in middle school, my life was a nightmare.
I had come to a new school the year before. At my previous school, I was the smartest kid around, and that compensated for how socially awkward I was. But at my new school, I was just another kid, and after a brief and inexplicable wave of popularity, I realized I didn’t have any friends. I felt lonely, and I felt sad.
It was around this time that I got into sports, an obsession that fully grabbed my attention once I realized I was too old for dinosaurs. I knew all the players and the numbers, and I lived and died with every game. In D.C., where all the teams are terrible and bound to disappoint, this was not a healthy attitude to have.
But the Nationals and their brand new field were the apple of my eye, and my hopes were very high. Along with my dad, another huge baseball fan, we attended the first-ever game at this new stadium in the hopes that it would usher in a whole new era of success and happiness for the Nats. For my part, I just hoped they would succeed so I could have something to enjoy.
So of course, it came down to one at bat. The stage was set with an almost comedic perfection: Bottom of the ninth, two outs, game tied, and Zimmerman at the plate. Zim, of course, is no ordinary player. He was the first-ever draft pick by the Nationals and, at just 23 years old, represented my great hope.
I jittered with nervous energy, attempting to win the game with sheer force of will. But Zimmerman had ice water in his veins, and though he didn’t see me, I like to think he had me in mind. With one mighty swing, he delivered.
I screamed, and I was not the only one. I high-fived everyone around me, and hugged my dad as tightly as I ever have. Rapturous doesn’t begin to explain it.
I wasn’t exactly right about that evening being a harbinger of success, at least for the next two seasons, but I knew enough to believe in the Nats, building a faith that would be rewarded.
At the same time, I started feeling better about myself. As I got older and went through high school, I grew into myself and my new school. But like every change, it needed a catalyst. Maturity was one, but Ryan Zimmerman was another.
For more posts by Andrew check out The Nats Blog.