Yesterday was Opening Day at Nationals Park, where the Washington Nationals hosted the Cincinnati Reds. As you’ve probably heard by now, the Nats won that game 3-2 in 10 innings, thanks to a wild pitch thrown by Reds’ reliever Alfredo Simón, allowing Nationals’ third-baseman Ryan Zimmerman to sprint home. While it was a dramatic end to what started out as a pretty ho-hum game, it was still exciting to be there. There’s nothing like being at a ball park during Opening Day, where the atmosphere is electric, the fans are enthusiastic, and the weather can be unpredictable.
Yesterday was a bit chilly (in the mid-50s), with a steady wind that made matters even chillier. But the festive atmosphere was wonderful , from the 12-member drum corps that welcomed fans right outside the center field main entrance, to the moment of silence paid to Gary Carter, to the enormous American flag that was unfurled by dozens of soldiers in the outfield during the pregame ceremonies, to the military plane flyover immediately following the US Marine band’s beautiful rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner.” It was a great day for baseball, and even for someone like myself who is not very patriotic, it was a great day to be an American.
The best performance of the game was put on by Nationals’ starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez. In his Nationals Park debut, Gonzalez struck out seven, didn’t walk a single batter, and allowed only two hits in seven innings. I felt so bad for him when the Reds tied the game in the ninth inning – poor Gio pitched so well and had nothing to show for it! But those two runs in the top of the ninth were not entirely the fault of closer Brad Lidge; Ryan Zimmerman uncharacteristically bobbled a ball hit by Scott Rolen, which allowed him to reach second base and then be driven home, along with Joey Votto, by left fielder Ryan Ludwick (who was previously 1-10 against Lidge). Ludwick rolled a single down the line, which also went through Zimmerman, to score Votto and Rolen.
I was so stressed out at that point, along with the other 40,000 fans in attendance. The bottom of the ninth and top of the tenth were unproductive, and then in the bottom of the tenth with runners on second and third and two outs, with Roger Bernadina at the plate, Simon threw a wild pitch, scoring Zimmerman, who is no stranger to the walk-off win. Phew! The Nationals had won, they are now 5-2, and half a game ahead of the New York Mets in sole possession of first place!
Two other noteworthy happenings occurred at the game yesterday: Gio Gonzalez got his first big-league hit, since he was with the American League Oakland A’s previously. He hit a blooper off Reds’ starter Matt Latos in the fifth inning, and ended up being tagged out at home plate on a fielder’s choice. He was so excited when he got to first base! I bet if you ask him, he’ll say that getting his first hit was more exciting than pitching a two-hitter and striking out seven!
What else could have been more noteworthy than that yesterday? Well, something set us fans off, and we booed louder than I’ve ever heard a crowd boo anyone. No, it wasn’t because Jayson Werth continued to struggle (he actually went 2 for 5); it wasn’t because the Nationals store was closed for renovations (it is expected to reopen on May 1st); the booing was because “Teddy,” one of the four “Racing Presidents” mascots and fan favorite, lost the presidents’ race again. If you’re not familiar with this middle-of-the-fourth-inning ritual, there are four big-headed mascots of our Founding Fathers – Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt – who race from a center field gate to a designated spot along the first- or third-base foul line. This has been going on since the opening of Nationals Park in 2008, and poor Teddy has never won. There are t-shirts, websites, and Facebook fan groups dedicated to “let Teddy win,” but that has never happened. Teddy even tied the shoelaces of the other three Presidents together while they were sleeping before the fourth inning, but Teddy still lost (yesterday’s race was won by “Shoeless Tom”). Fans were not happy – many believe that once Teddy wins, it will be an omen that will lead to a World Championship (or at least a playoff berth); but we still have to wait for that to happen, since poor Teddy can’t get a break!
But the game ended on a good note, so Nationals fans are happy. We love our ballpark (it is so easy to get to on the Metro!), we have a much-improved team, and we hope to have a lot less booing and a lot more cheering to do during the 2012 season!