It looked pretty horrendous outside. Recess had been cancelled and I sat jammed between two of my classmates at the lunch table, munching on my potato chips and attempting to get a word in edgewise in the pile-up also known as the lunch conversation. As I attempted to sit in our 4th grade line-up spot, I was immediately intercepted by my dad, who told me I had a "dentist appointment.” I walked up the stairs, grabbed my backpack and lunchbox and walked out the front door of the elementary school.
The day happened to be Opening Day 2011 and I was donned in my Dustin Pedroia shirsey in honor of the fact. Back then, the Red Sox were my team of choice and the Nationals were a mere afterthought. My dad gave me the news as we opened the doors to the car: I did not, in fact, have a dentist appointment; we were going to Opening Day at Nationals Park. The first words out of my mouth were "you're crazy!"
He had planned it the night before and in his messenger bag was my Strasburg shirt to change into. We arrived at the park shortly afterwards, my first Opening Day and my first Nats game in a while. I was shocked at the amount of excitement, balloons, flyovers, red white and blue, and - well - just hype. The Braves would be the opposition, standing between Jayson Werth and a glorious coming-out party (as well as Adam LaRoche and Michael Morse, now that I think about it).
The pitching matchup was Nationals mainstay Livan Hernandez against Derek Lowe.
The game itself was freezing, frigid, frosty, cold and any other word you may use for a ridiculously low temperature. There were few mistakes defensively made by the Nats, Werth got his first hit as a National and a few long fly balls were hit, but nothing left the yard for the home team. Livo was spectacular (striking out the new Braves acquisition Dan Uggla) except for a two-run home run given up in the second inning. That homer provided the only runs of the game and the Braves shut out the Nats, 2-0. Even so, it was much more promising than almost any other game from the past season. But, more importantly, I was hooked.
That game changed everything for me, and made me realize how amazing it is to have a local team. And while I didn't fully convert immediately, like all long distance relationships, the spark with the Red Sox fizzled and Nationals Park became more than a structure, but a ballpark and a place where I felt at home. MASN replaced NESN, Curly W's replaced - well, red socks, Zimmerman replaced Pedroia and I realized how a local ballclub to see every day, to live and die with, was so gratifying to have. I'm not going to say that it was coincidental that I ended up falling in love with the team the year they came closer to relevance than ever,that certainly made things easier, but when I walked through those gates on Opening Day, something changed.
And the rest, as they say, is history.