Saturday, April 04, 2009

Like Old Times--But New At The Same Time

There is just nothing more special than walking into the Our Home Park for the first time--for any baseball game--in any season. It doesn't matter whether it's the last exhibition game of spring training or Opening Day. It's Major League Baseball Time again in Washington, DC--that is all that matters, at least for us. Which makes today's final tune up before Monday's Opener--one of the most joyous times of the year. Some may not understand that, but going 33 years without a team to call our own makes the appreciation of each First Pitch--That Annual Rite Of Spring--that much more special.

Understand--The African Queen and I couldn't wait to walk into Nationals Park this afternoon. We knew our friends would all be there. Not just the players, coaches and front office folks we have come to enjoy. But the ushers, ticket takers, service employees and the many, many more of our mutual loving fans of Our Washington Nationals. There is a fan base in The Nation's Capital and some of those turned out early this first Saturday of April for Full Season Ticket Holder Fan Appreciation Day.

Let me tell you--if you ever wanted to Meet & Greet ANY PLAYER FOR OUR WASHINGTON NATIONALS--this was the opportunity. No, it wasn't crowded, maybe a thousand folks tops--which if you really wanted that special One On One--it was there for the taking today. Over the course of the two hour get together, The African Queen and I took pictures with (in order of appearance) Shairon Martis & Randy Knorr, Jim Riggleman and Steven Shell, Pat Listach, Cheryl Stevens (Stan's Boss), Wil Nieves & Garrett Mock, Rick Eckstein & Randy St.Claire, Wil Ledezma & Saul Rivera, Alex Cintron & Joel Hanrahan, The Guz!! (Cristian Guzman--who was as always thrilled to see The African Queen) and Alberto Gonzalez, the always humble Austin Kearns, Willie Harris (who came up with The Quote Of Day--which will come a little later here) & Julian Tavarez, Justin Maxwell & Roger Bernadina--while finishing off with none other than Our Franchise Player--Ryan Zimmerman. The Z-man drawing quite the crowd--and then in a very special way--stopping the photo line-- along with Maxwell and Bernadina to head over to the handicapped section down the rightfield line at Nationals park to give special greets to a few soldiers recovering and rehabilitating at Walter Reed in Washington, DC. That was a very nice gesture.

While Sohna and I are not autograph fans--many others are and they took the opportunity given to get the signatures of Marquis Grissom, Jesus Flores, John Lannan, Michael Hinkley, Kory Casto, Jason Bergmann, Elijah Dukes & Daniel Cabrera, Scott Olsen, Lastings Milledge, Josh Willingham and Ronnie Belliard. Of course, Our Number 10 nearly jumped out his chair upon noticing Sohna standing nearby. "How you doing baby!! Always good to see you!!" Ronnie has always taken to The African Queen. Pretty much the same as Willie Harris--who had us absolutely rolling in laughter over his commentary.

SBF: "Willie have you seen our commercial we did together on MASN?"

Willie: "We did a commercial?

SBF: "Yeah over your field exploits last year."

Willie: "We did a commercial? "I don't remember!! When did we do that?!"

SBF: "When you do see it--you will!!"

Willie Harris totally puzzled.

The African Queen then explains what went down.

Willie: "I can't wait to see it!! Where can I see it?"

Julian Tavarez--new to all this banter--standing nearby trying to figure out the commentary going back and forth between all of us. It was very, very funny. Easily--the highlight of the day for us.

And then, making the moment even better--upon seeing Garrett Mock to take a picture--the first thing he says: "I've been seeing you on television a lot lately. Nice commercial!!"

SBF: "You've seen it?"

Garrett Mock: "Yeah, it's really good."

Of course then Our Washington Nationals played that final exhibition game of Spring Training.

Points to consider from a meaningless ballgame:

Very small crowd--which actually rose to the occasion for Josh Willingham's Grand Slam in the bottom of the first inning. A deep blast over the left field wall into The Orioles Bullpen. Cheering that did not return again until the 5th Inning Tee-Shirt Toss. This was a very quiet crowd.

Willingham would also make The Defensive Play Of This Game when he hustled all the way from his position in left field--over the leftfield foul line--halfway to 3rd base--to make a TREMENDOUS diving catch of low looping fly by Baltimore's Felix Pie. A face plant that also got today's announced crowd of 11,864 to stand and cheer for the second time today for Josh's exploits.

Playing First Base in wake of Nick Johnson's son having a medical emergency, Adam Dunn showed his perilous side--nearly taking off Ronnie Belliard's head on a pop up by Brian Roberts leading off the game. Then Adam followed that effort with an atrocious error on a routine fielding play at first in the 3rd inning--eventually leading to a run. He may not be the best fielder but Our New Number 44 showed some moxie by hanging tough down 0-2 in his first At-Bat, garnering a walk and eventually scoring on Willingham's Grand Slam. All preceded by his Batting Practice Heroics. Adam Dunn absolutely HAMMERING a homer into the second level of the right field stands--halfway to The Scoreboard Walk. Everyone watching--turned their heads in awe over the majesty of it all. That was one AWESOME SHOT!! It really was.

Washington's starting pitcher--Shairon Martis--somehow kept himself in the game. Eventually, Martis would go six innings, allow 11 hits and give up one titanic three run homer to Aubrey Huff off the facade of the right field porch second deck. He wasn't great, but what Our Number 39 showed was the ability to remain outwardly calm--and not be flustered over the inability to command all his pitches. This was a learning experience for Shairon Martis--something he can hopefully build upon.

Joel Hanrahan making an early impression as "The Most Thrilling Closer In The Game--The Next Generation". Holding a slim 5-4 lead in the top of the 9th--Hanrahan gave up a one out single and subsequent walk before Baltimore's Scott Moore sliced a deep liner down the right field line off our new closer. One of those "Oh No!!" moments that thankfully for Washington, and Joel, went foul. Like just foul--just outside and right of the right field foul pole. The African Queen stating: "I thought The Chief Cardiologist no longer played for us?" The remaining crowd on hand exhaling in a collective sigh of relief. A reprieve for Joel Hanrahan that allowed Our Number 38 to recompose himself, settle down and eventually get Moore on a ground out to Alberto Gonzalez to end the game.

No worries despite the theatric--as Joel would finally close this one out in this final exhibition game of the 2009 Spring Training Schedule for Our Washington Nationals. Curly "W" Number 15 in The Grapefruit League signified that it's time for The Championship Season To Now Begin. The last six weeks are behind us. It's time to play ball.

Come Monday, April 6th--Our Washington Nationals will be playing for real. That first pitch thrown in Florida--at Dolphin Stadium--will feel like old times again--but new at the same time. You see, Washington has built a far better team on the field than existed over the past four. Make no mistake about it, DC's team may be far from the best. But for first time, there is some depth. There exists some quality youth. And there is that veteran experience needed to pull any team together.

Version 5.0 of Our Washington Nationals is about to take the field anew. Hopefully, 2009 will be a breakout season.

Other Notes & Highlights

Love the new Red with White Trim and Curly "W" uniform shirts worn by the concession staff at Nationals Park. PNC Diamond Club Staff wear a modified Red Curly "W" Polo Shirt. Really nice stuff.

Running into Radio Broadcaster Dave Jageler on the field before this evening's game--we ask Dave whether he's been up to the broadcast booth high up and behind home plate at Nationals Park. Dave responds: "No, I have been acclimating myself by going one floor at a time. I don't want to be caught short of breath during the broadcast." Sohna and I just busted out laughing.

Not 20 Minutes before game time, never tiring New Hitting Instructor Rick Eckstein working with Austin Kearns in Washington's indoor batting cage. Adam Dunn waiting for his licks too.

We don't think we have ever attended any game were The Home Team--Our Washington Nationals played National League Rules (The Pitcher Batted), while the opposition played American League Rules (The Designated Hitter). Yeah, it's a common occurrence in some Spring Training Games. But it was still strange to witness.

MASN has apparently moved their behind home plate camera from Gallery Level to Stars & Stripes Club Level. A platform has been built directly behind home plate Section 214--taking away a handful of seats.

Throughout the night, there was a special promotion to have fans text to a certain number to vote for any of three ladies auditioning to be a Co-Host for entertainment at Nationals Park. All three from the details shown on The HDTV Scoreboard--beauty queens in their own rights. Sort of strange, but what does this mean for Clint?

The very first Presidents Race of 2009 featured Teddy--running out of the centerfield gate first--and promptly waving an American Flag. What a surprise? Our Lovable Loser did not even finish the race. George won convincingly over the 2nd place Abe.

Food Choices Tonight--Noah's Pretzel Hot Dog Pretzel, $6--very good. Club Level Pat's Pizza Cheese Slice--$5 ($3 cheaper than 2008). A big slice and quite good. The African Queen found it to be much better than last year. In fact, except for the sliced beef sandwich for $10.50 and Grand Slam Nachos for $10, there are no other entrees or meals at The Stars & Stripes Club which cost more than $9.50 (which is the Grilled Steak Sandwich). Shrimp Burger $8.50. Buffalo Dog $6. The stand in Centerfield Plaza which will sell the Crab Louie Sandwich has yet to open--still don't know the price.

Strange Fact. While waiting in line for pictures with Our Players, our good friend Luis looks down behind a seat and see's a rubber band wrapped White Curly "W" Tee-Shirt that is soggy, damp and mildewy. Apparently a long lost Tee-Shirt Toss from 2008 that somehow had never been picked up for--like about nearly six months?

Finally--My Best Friend!! Screech!! stopped by to say hello. Teenage Screech surprising us in the 9th inning and actually drawing quite the crowd among the patrons still at Nationals Park. Of course posing with The African Queen for the customary In-Seat Photo.

All Photos Copyrighted--Nats320--All Rights Reserved


Jay said...

Nobody covers a game like you Jeff.


I saw the commerical with you in it, it came on after the game.

Are you going to cover the statues ceremony on Wednesday? I can't be there so I look forward to your coverage.

Thanks as always.

Screech's Best Friend said...

Jay: Yes, we are planning to be there if the schedule works out. Thanks.

Andrew Lang said...

Cheryl Stevens (Stan's Boss)

SBF - I got a chuckle from that!

BTW, I am on vacation for Spring Break with the younger kids so missed yesterday. I sent my 15 year old and his baseball team in my place and he text messaged me during each great point in the game.

For the pre-game festivities, where was Adam Dunn stationed for the event?

See you on Opening Day!!!!

Screech's Best Friend said...

Andrew: We didn't see Adam Dunn, but we are not positive whether we just missed him on the autograph level or he did not partake.

Anonymous said...

Many thanks Jeff!! Great Day was had with your as always great, easy to find, just what we need info. We found Lot 7 (first time for us) using your map and info about when the gates opened!! Great commercial - saw it on MASN. Mr. Harris owes you.

Eddie J. Cunningham said...

Although I was disappointed more people didn't show up, I was very impressed with the friendliness and courtesy of the staff. Believe it or not, an usher invited me to sit down in the left field stands above the visitors' bullpen. (Keep in mind, this was the bottom of the seventh inning.) I politely declined, since I was planning on leaving anyway---it was getting cold and I was having trouble keeping my eyes open. But I like what I saw last night and hope this bodes well for the 2009 season!

Dave M. said...

OK, i hate to make a few (minor) quibbles because i am genuinely looking forward to the upcoming season, but a few things:

What is with those empty advertising screens on the parking garage over the left field wall? They were empty last year and it just looks tacky. There's got to be something the Nationals can put there or take them down. Just sayin'. Also, it doesn't look like they've fixed the big and little hands on the "W" scoreboard clock-it was impossible to read during night games last year because they weren't lit up.

And "Natstown"? I'm sure some people will like it, but to me it just sounds kinda lame.

Also, do we really need a female sorority girl co-host for Clint-quite possibly the most disliked individual at games? Wake up Nats promo department. Please. I'm begging you. I really want to love the franchise this year, don't make it any harder for me than you have the last few years...

Lastly, SBF-you do an incredible job covering all things Nationals, and thank you. Heres looking forward to a great 2009 season!

Anonymous said...

SBF (in response to Andrew Lang):

Dunn was signing autographs during the second half of the FST event behind Section 108, along with Joe Beimel. Manny and Josh Bard were at that station during the first half of the event.

Anonymous said...

Another really impressive play by Willingham was running down Brian Roberts' shot down the left field line and firing it back in, holding Roberts to a single.

Anonymous said...


The T-shirt was from Nat-Pack t-shirt throwing practice so the t-shirt is most likely only a couple weeks old and got soggy from the rain!