Sunday, March 30, 2008
Stealing The Show On Opening Night
The Inaugural Game in a brand new ballpark. The Season Opener before a supposed SELLOUT DC Crowd. The unfurling of two gigantic American Flags on the field. The Heart Thumping Flyover by four F-16 Fighter Jets. The Singing of The National Anthem by a Renowned Opera Singer--a Native Washingtonian. And the tossing of The Ceremonial First Pitch by The President of The United States. All fine moments--all seven--highlights--for most any baseball game. But tonight--none came close to being Number One.
Because Our Franchise Player stole the show. Who else?
As he thrust his right fist high into the chilly night--a roar erupted like not yet heard at New Nationals Park. Ryan Zimmerman had Commissioned Our Washington Nationals New Ballpark--Officially. How fitting this result. Once again--The Bottom of the Ninth--became "Z" Time. As for the fourth time in Team History--Our Number 11 launched a game winning homer. A liner to deep left centerfield that JUST got over the wall to defeat The Atlanta Braves, 3-2, in the Inaugural Opener on South Capitol Street. Could this game have ended any better!!
"I just love that man!!" exclaimed The African Queen. Ryan Zimmerman setting off The Fireworks and Celebration--both on the field and in the stands. As The Entire Washington Team ran out onto the field to meet Zimmerman at the plate--Our Manager Manny Acta stood SMILING with fists pumped up in the air. As big of a moment as anyone could expect tonight. The New Ballpark was now ROCKING--The First Official Major League Game to count in the standings will now always be remembered for its action on the field of play--not for the Pomp and Circumstance which came before it.
And Charlie Slowes' radio call on 3WT--UNBELIEVABLE!! Sohna and I thought he was going to blow a gasket--an Instant Classic. How that man never runs out of air--when a game is on the line--quite incredible. Charlie raises the level like no one.
What a moment!!
And what a turnaround after Our Washington Nationals let Atlanta back into this game with two outs in the top of the 9th. If not for a passed ball--this affair would have probably ended with far less drama.
Resetting the scene.
Heading into the top of the 9th--Washington led 2-1 over Atlanta when, surprisingly, Big Jon Rauch entered to close this one out. Apparently, Chad Cordero was experiencing shoulder stiffness. So, on came The Wookie. After retiring Chipper Jones on a blistering shot right back into Rauch's Glove--Mark Teixera followed and hammered a fastball offering from Our Number 51 that looked to be going out of the park. But this shot to right centerfield--glanced off the very top of the outfield Video Wall. Now standing on second base with a double--Atlanta Manager Bobby Cox replaced Teixera with the speedy Martin Prado. A swap to give The Braves the best opportunity to score the tying run on any type of hit.
They didn't need even one. After Jeff Francouer moved Prado to third on out number two with a grounder to Ronnie Belliard--Washington Fans were now on their feet looking for the final out of this game. Only to see Atlanta's next hitter just stand at the plate and witness the game tying run to score--in front of him. As Big Jon's next offering--away and a little low--trickled right off Paul LoDuca's glove--to the backstop. Prado jogged home. Moments away from winning their First Game at New Nationals Park--The Braves had done it again and turned the tables on Our Washington Nationals. And to think--"The Most Thrilling Closer in the Game" had nothing to do with it.
You talk about deflating. The balloon had burst, The Atlanta Braves were about to ruin a Wonderful Night for 39,389 Fans at New Nationals Park.
Thankfully--Ryan Zimmerman plays for Our Washington Nationals. How much more does this young man have to prove--before EVERYONE realizes--Our Number 11 is maturing into one of The Finest Players In The Game!!
What a Game!! What an evening! Only Ryan Zimmerman could take away the thunder of The President of The United States. Our Number 11 had stolen the show on Opening Night.
As Sohna and I slowly headed out of the ballpark and home--all I could think about was how proud I felt. Appreciative to witness a great win; honored to see My Hometown--Washington, DC--shine so brightly tonight. And forever content--in knowing--that The Opening of New Nationals Park signifies that Major League Baseball competed by Our Washington Nationals will be played in The Nation's Capital for the remainder of my life--and beyond.
Game Notes & Highlights
Our Washington Nationals received the first hit--a single by Cristian Guzman to lead off the bottom of the 1st inning. And scored the first run when Nick Johnson fisted a two strike looper between Atlanta First Baseman Teixera and Rightfielder Francouer to knock in Our Number 15. Johnson would score the second run of the night for Washington when he slid across home--awkwardly as always--on a slicing liner down the right field line by Austin Kearns.
What is it with Nick Johnson and sliding? Well before his tragic injury--Our Number 24 continually looked undecided before heading into any bag. Almost side first with head down and always concluding with a roll over the bag--Nick's going to hurt himself again one day. Which reminded me of a conversation I had once with Team President Stan Kasten on this very topic. His response--"Yeah, he's got to quit doing that." Yeah--he does.
Unfortunately--Chipper Jones laced out the very first Home Run in New Nationals Park's History. Nearly an identical shot to Ryan Zimmerman's game winner--both blasts reminding me how much I loved writing about The Section Numbers when Home Runs were hit at RFK Stadium. The South Capitol Street Park so new--none of The Home Run Porches stand out--just yet.
Odalis Perez pitched OK. He wasn't dominating--but was effective. Chipper Jones touched him for that first homer--but no one else did. Tiring after five innings--Our Manager Manny Acta handed the baseball over to Saul Rivera and Ray King to get Our Washington Nationals to the 9th. Before--Chad Cordero's stiffness prevented him from playing--and setting up Jon Rauch for the eventual blown save--on that passed ball.
After a tough first inning when Tim Hudson was touched for the very first two runs in New Nationals Park's History--he settled down nicely. At one point he retired 19 batters in a row and showed why he is one of finest pitchers in the game. Hudson had his splitter moving well and Our Washington Nationals couldn't touch him after Austin Kearns singled in run number two.
In the top of the second--Atlanta Catcher--Brian McCann laced a liner down the right field line--heading into the corner. As always, Austin Kearns got a good jump on the ball. Knowing the nice angles Our Number 25 takes to any hit baseball--it was surprising that McCann decided to run on Austin. Kearns picked up the bouncing baseball and fired a one hopper to Ronnie Belliard--who turned and tossed to Cristian Guzman to throw The Atlanta Catcher out. Austin's effort and the relay by Ronnie--was The Defensive Play of This Game.
Of course--there was plenty of action before this Season Opener even began.
The most anticipated was The Presidential First Pitch. To most everyone's credit--George W. Bush was not overly booed. In fact--there were far more cheers than jeers. After Ryan Zimmerman was introduced to greet The President, along with Our Manager Manny Acta--Our Number 14 received the high toss from The President of The United States. A Tradition Deep Rooted in Washington's History was revived tonight. Hopefully, for every baseball season opener to come in DC--The President will return.
During the announcing of Our Washington Nationals Players, Coaches and Staff to come out and line up on the first base line, Master of Ceremonies and Hall of Famer--Don Sutton--inadvertently forget to call Matt Chico's name. The sight of Our Number 47--jogging out to join his teammates--while Mr. Sutton said "The Tallest Man in The Game--Jon Rauch!!"--funny. Matt Chico is far from being 6' 11". Chico--halfway onto the field--did a turnabout and headed back to the home dugout--even his teammates were laughing.
Washington DC Native and Opera Star--Denyce Graves sang The National Anthem and followed that effort with "God Bless America" in the 7th.
If New Nationals Park seats 41,888--how is 39,389 a sellout?
Teddy lost again in The Presidents Race tonight--by forgetting which way to go. Our Lovable Loser headed out the centerfield gate and ran toward Atlanta Braves Centerfielder Mark Kotsay--while GW, Tom & Abe ran around the warning track. GW winning easily. But Teddy DID find his way to Section 218. Surprising EVERYONE--including me--when he posted up during the 8th inning for a rousing rendition of "LET TEDDY WIN!!!" Which finally helped break the ice and get our fellow Section Seat Holders more into our fun. In the first two games at New Nationals Park--they haven't seemed to grasp the vocal ways of Our Former Section 320 Ways. THANK YOU TEDDY!! Come back again--until we get these others ON BOARD AND INTO THE SPIRIT OF THE FUN!! Some people just have to learn the hard way.
And did you pick up that FREE PROGRAM & SCORECARD? "The Nationals Inside Pitch" was handed to anyone wanting while entering the ballpark tonight. Handbook style and 32 pages long with glossy cover. Yeah, I know it's filled with ads, but its free and a nice way to score any game--without having to buy a $10 Program each and every time you enter the ballpark. Free Parking at RFK with a Free Shuttle. Free Program to enjoy. Good efforts to help keep the entertainment costs down for families.
Speaking of costs--concession lines again were far too long--costing time away from the game. Twice this evening--we attempted to purchase food from a vendor, but were unable to. No way we are missing an inning or two--just to buy food. For the second straight day--we encountered a Credit Card problem. This time--the cashier claiming their system was too overwhelmed to handle all the processing. Odd.
Those long concession lines continued to clog up concourse and walkways for a second straight night--even in The Stars & Stripes Club. At the start of the third inning--I attempted to walk out of Club Level--to visit a friend in Section 232--not very far away. 10 Minutes later--I finally reached my destination. There was virtually no movement. Between Full Time Concessions on the outer walls, the portable carts inside, Trash Cans and other bins--everyone was squeezed together. The moment reminded me of The Tokyo Subway System. We needed those guys with the push sticks to get everyone moving along.
Hopefully--this coming week Our Washington Nationals can work out the kinks of New Nationals Park--while Our Team is out of town.
Finally--Sohna and I ran into Matt Haas and his wife Susan tonight in The Stars & Stripes Club. Matt, The Project Director, for Clark Construction and New Nationals Park--was BEAMING!! "I have not had a happier day in my LIFE!!"--exclaimed Matt. "I am so very proud of all we accomplished. What a job!!" Susan stating: "You have no idea what the completion of this ballpark means to me. I get my husband back!!" (Laughing)
PS--Again thanks to so many more readers of Nats320 who stopped to say hello to Sohna and I tonight.
Tonight's InGame Photos
Zimmerman celebrating at home--Nick Wass (AP)
President Bush First Pitch--Pablo Martinez Monsivais (AP)
Zimmerman arm thrust--Pablo Martinez Monsivais (AP)
Zimmerman Home Run Swing (Mike Mangan--Section 320 Faithful)
Guzman First Hit (Mike Mangan--Section 320 Faithful)