Witness to History: From the Nats' First Game

You've read the accounts of the Nats' inagural game as seen from the press box. Now read about it through the eyes of one who saw it from the stands.

After the winter-like weather for Sunday's exhibition game at RFK, Monday looked a heck of a lot better and forecasts up in Philly were for upper 50's to 60, clear, and no rain in sight.

Sort of a strange prep for the game…after 33 years of waiting (and I've been there for all 33), your expectations are all jumbled up…you know you should be bouncing off the ceiling but also a calm before the storm. It's like any big event where's there's great anticipation involved. To paraphrase Moonlight Graham in "Field of Dreams," "…so close you can almost taste it." Got my Nats apparel ready and wondered how much dough I've already spent on this stuff before the first real game is even played. Decided I'd rather not know.

I was going up for the game with the Washington Nationals Fan Club…bus trip of about 50 people, including some dedicated folks who have been all over baseball in D.C. when it was merely a glimmer in many eyes. Also, this is a group that has been proactive in getting the word out, working with the media, and generally being a great resource for Nats fans. (Colin Mills is the President of the Fan Club and he has worked lights out to make this a success in its infancy). The bus started out in No. Virginia for the first pick-up and then headed up the B-W Parkway into Maryland, At the pick up point, we were met by media from several of the Washington television stations, a well as the Washington Post. They filmed a number of on-camera interviews and did some wide shots of the group and got the bus pulling out. The Washington Post reporter actually made the trip up for the day (a cool guy) and rode up with us. Once I saw everybody else, I knew that I wasn't the only one who's been buying Nats gear. No wonder they're outselling all MLB teams except the WS champion Red Sox.

The new park (it's starting its 2nd season) up in Philly is absolutely fantastic in design, layout, and execution. I guess I never realized last season what a great park it is. I'd been to the Vet for many games (baseball and football) throughout the years, and Citizens Bank Park is light years beyond what the Philly faithful had before. Definitely got the retro-look (it must be an HOK design) and it's located right off of Broad Street near all the Philly sports stadia. As the bus pulled in, more media flew in and were there literally as we walked off the bus. More on camera stuff and chatting everybody up. We arrived about 2 hours prior to game time and BP was underway.

The group went their own ways, but many of us just strolled around the park checking out the place, seating, sightlines, concessions, etc. We all got towels from Modell's with a special Inaugural Game logo as the O-Day giveaway…also picked up some scorecards and extra programs to stash away for the archives. Watched BP for awhile from the LF corner and tried to get some balls from the Nats guys milling around. Unless you were a kid you were mostly out of luck. They've built CBP with the concourses wide open so you can watch the action while you're in line or walking around. A good idea shared by a couple of other parks and maybe something to consider for the new place in D.C. Philly must have more specialized concessions than I've ever seen with all sorts of local food outlets represented, as well the generic ballpark fare. Ashburn's Alley is a tribute to Phillies great Richie Ashburn and is located in the outfield…a prime meeting/strolling around sport pre-game and loaded with food joints. Not as big as Eutaw Street at Camden Yards but sort of the same concept.

Walked over to the 3rd base dugout side and the ushers let us walk down within a couple of rows of the dugout. Watched Nats BP and noticed a horde of D.C. media types…every sportscaster in town (or their alternate) was there. Saw Tony Tavares and Bowden behind the plate hobnobbing. Frank was to the side of the plate and was actively talking with the players about batting stances, etc. Heard later that Mayor Williams, some of the Council, and other VIPs were present and holding court in one of the suites.

We got lots of looks and comments from the Philly fans…generally curious about the Washington team and most were happy to welcome us to the N.L. East. A lot of them were not clear on Washington baseball history and were happy to hear all about it. Baseball can be a uniting thing even for people who naturally want to butt heads (hint, hint) and it was obvious that most of them were glad to see us. Speaking of which, the visiting Nats turnout looked great…not able to count ‘em up, but based on the Nats caps and other apparel plenty of folks, in groups big and small, made the trek up for the game.

The group sat in Section 208 down the RF line…nice seats considering it was Opening Day and a big sellout. The Phillies did a great thing pre-game to tie all of the Washington baseball history together. The P.A. guy did a nice intro and they showed a quick video on the screen…former Senator (and Philly, on their '80 champs) Del Under came out to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. Great to see Del wearing a Nats throwback jersey and he looked like he was in decent shape. Another former Nat, Mickey Vernon, will do the honors at the 3rd game of the series on Thursday.

I'm gonna keep the game summary short since you can read about that in the papers or on-line. Nats leadoff hitter, Brad Wilkerson, got a bloop single to start if off for the first ever Nats hit. He was in CF and Terrmel Sledge started in left. This was because of the minor injury to Ryan Church during the ex game on Sunday at RFK. Church must be feeling pretty low as he made the club unexpectedly (see Chavez, Endy) the last week of ST and was slated to start in center. Livan Hernandez did not have a good outing and Kenny Freakin' Lofton hit a 3-run homer to spark a big inning for the Phils. (Heard in the mens' room line later: "I didn't know we had Kenny Freakin' Lofton"). The Nats battled back and got it to 7-4 in the 7th inning and loaded the bases. Sledge Hammer took 3 straight pitches to go 3-0, fouled one straight back, and then hit into an inning ending DP.

The crowd was enthusiastic all day and really enjoyed the great weather and the thrill of Opening Day. The infamous Philly fans from the football side of the house don't appear to be present at CBP, alhtough a section next to us kept yelling at us and telling us to go back to Montreal. Hmmm...Speaking of Montreal, when I was getting a beer up top saw a guy with the only Expos cap (and official jersey) I saw all day. He was with his kid and I called hm over from the beer line. He kept going but looked back and I made eye contact and convinced him I wasn't an axe murderer. Anyway, ended up talking with him for about 10 minutes...he lives in Jersey and is a huge Expos fan (long story) and goes to D.C. on business a lot. Enjoyed talking with him and he's coming down for some games. He has my name and seat numbers. Another convert.

A couple of other quick game notes:

- you'll see E-2 in the box score…of the dozen or so folks around me that scored this game, all agreed that it was Guzman's muff. Schneider, you got jobbed on that one.

- Sledge hit the first ever Nats homer and the Phillies fans in RF tossed it back. Ha…thanx guys. The ball now goes to the HOF in Cooperstown (as requested after the game). Some Joe Fan could have ebayed his way into a little cash with that ball. Have a cheese steak on me.

- Nick Johnson was on-base (2 hits an a walk) and he's one of the guys that might just be a pleasant surprise this season. We know his history, but there's hope in April, right?

- The Nats pitching mostly looked like crap…of course the teams combined for 27 hits so there was plenty to go around.

- Billy Wagner was brought in (what a waste) in a non-save situation, but the Philly faithful went bananas and he gave them what they wanted with a 1-2-3 9th to end it.

Phils win 8-4 for the first Washington baseball game in 33 years. Yeah, I'll say it ‘cuz everybody else has been. I could have cared less (win or lose). What a great afternoon and one I'll never forget. Hard to explain, but being at the ex game on Sunday and this one are almost enough. I'm not saying the home opener on the 14th won't be fantastic (because it will), but if I get run over by a bus tomorrow, I'll die happy.

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