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)


. said...

(Son of "Let Teddy Win the President's Race)

We (Me, and "Let Teddy Win the President's Race") noticed that the nationals were doing some false advertising, regarding two things:

1: "All seats have cup holders"
2: "All seats are faced towards home plate."

On opening night, I were seated behind the third base line, where one seat was tilted towards home plate slightly more that another one. Not only was this cramped, but THIS SEAT DIDN'T HAVE A CUP HOLDER! You can tell which seats doesn't have a cupholder, because it is connected to another seat by a chain. Just a warning.

Anonymous said...

How was opening day not a sell-out???? Me and my dad looked every which way to find tickets, and the team held out on us....ahh

Oh, an they better fix the concessions, cause this shouldn't happen at a new yard. =/

PS- What a great game!!!!=)

paul said...

It was great to see the Nats, with a couple of exceptions, play such a good, crisp game on a national stage. The Braves also played well, except for mysteriously letting Nick Johnson grab those extra bases. Great job, Nick. (By the way, when was the last time a team made 24 outs in a row and still won? Harvey Haddix's perfect game through 12 innings before losing in the 13th is the only game that comes to mind.)

As a professional nitpicker, I can't help but worry (again) about Paul LoDuca's defense. His knee must still be bothering him, preventing him from full movement. And what is the deal with Cristian Guzman? You learn at age 8 to keep your glove on the ground. There is no excuse in letting a ball go through your legs, as he has twice in one week.

Metro seems to be trying its best, by the way, although communication is still a bit of an issue. As we exited the Navy Yard station yesterday to go up three long escalators, Metro employees repeatedly yelled at us not to walk up the escalators and to remain in single file. It was like that Seinfeld episode when he goes back to junior high, and they have a fire drill. I thought: how clever, there are three turnstiles upstairs, and they are saving us from chaos. But no, when we got up to the top, there were 6-8 turnstiles, and we all broke into random lines to get out. So I can't figure out what the point of making us stand in one place was all about.

Then, after the game, the trains arrived frequently but without markings. A fellow with a megaphone declared each train to be "going to Greenbelt, Mt. Vernon, L'Enfant Plaza, Gallery Place," in other words, everywhere everyone wanted to go. But then our train dumped us at Mt Vernon Square, causing a lot of confusion.

I left the ballpark about 10 minutes after the game and couldn't help noticing huge numbers of fans still coming downstairs. I'm wondering if there was a backup up there, or were people just milling around, having a good time as we were.

A friend of mine corrected me, saying it is possible to walk around the whole ballpark without changing levels. But as SBF noted, without the lines bending, it takes a while to get around.

Finally, does this stadium not sound as loud as RFK? I was hoping for the same raucous atmosphere as 4/14/05 and didn't quite get it.

All in all, a big congratulations to the front office and everyone that made this first weekend possible. I'm still in disbelief that we have a team, let alone a team that is improving and in a beautiful ballpark. Thank you.

Sam R said...


Thanks for the great narrative. Hey do you know what happened to Elliot Yamin? I thought he was supposed to sing God Bless America.

Anonymous said...

@SBF, great recap as usual.

@paul, no the stadium wasn't that loud, but my hope is that it's not due to the "open" design. Last night's crowd simply was not typical of what we'll see in the future. The stadium itself was and will be the main attraction for several homestands, after which the game will start to take center stage again.

Anonymous said...

Good experience last night. Not as emotional or as memorable as 4/14/05 nor was it as loud, but good nonetheless. Open air stadiums just cannot trap the sound the same way as an enclosed stadium can. But I could understand the PA announcer for the first time in three years!

Concessions are a problem and I don't know how they can fix it. RFK could not handle the big crowds and unfortunately, it looks like NATS Park's food stands also cannot get us our food quickly when we have a sellout. RFK taught me that you need to buy your food right when you arrive, or you'll miss too much of the game. The rule still applies at the new park. I got a cheeseburger with a cold bun and a piece of American cheese perched on top of a hamburger. I learned from Saturday night's game, that if I expected a straw and a top on my soda, that I needed to buy a souvenir cup. The credit card purchase worked fine both nights, but it's got to slow the process down for everyone because you have to sign the little sheet of paper. But I was just grateful that I was able to get my food in time to be in my seat before the player introductions. We stopped at a drive thru McDonalds on the way home since we were still hungry and paid much less for much better food. Sad but true!

Lots more to say -- but this isn't my blog, so I'll end it here. Overall, I'd give the night a B+.

Anonymous said...

They were selling 41 game and full season plans right up to yesterday, so I think those 3K tickets probably represented those tickets they were saving for the last mintue buyers of those plans who never emerged.

SenatorNat said...

AND BANG, ZOOM WENT NO FIREWORKS?! No fireworks marking Z's game winner that I saw or heard - did I miss them in my excitement. Plus, we now know that baseball is fixed since there was already an enormous picture of Z jumping into the arms of his teammates at homeplate with the winning homer outside of the centerfield/left field entrance...

The red press box exterior definitely needs a nice blue-lettering saying NATIONALS PARK - I am presuming this is coming, correct? Think of Fenway...

And, did anyone see those clock hands - two baseball bats virtually invisible against the lit red W in right-field? Let's get out the day-glo paint, and soon...

And, please express to Mayor Fenty that the 10th Man sign does not refer to him...

And, I am really glad the President throws out the ball at the Opener only, since the security lines take something away from the experience - but, I was relieved that everyone seemed to get into the game on-time.

And, the ailes are a bit narrower than at RFK, forcing folks to jostle to get around the vendors...

And, if your lower bowl seats are on the end (homeplate side) of each section, part of your sightline gets marred by the constant up and down traffic and the vendors doing business there.

And - it is just about the greatest, most unbelievable experience you could only dream about!

Trust in all those true believers, mostly unheralded, who pulled it off for us and the generations to follow. All Great.

Bellwether said...

Thank you for posting this photo!
My friend and I are in it! I've been looking for photos of our seats and you have the best one! Thank you!

Anonymous said...

One of my pet peeves is during the National Anthem. Most folks had finally figured it out by last season. But come on people...we are in WASHINGTON not BALTIMORE. Please do NOT yell out the "OH" during the anthem "Oh, say does that star-spangled banner..." That is a Baltimore tradition. Leave it in Baltimore!

The family made it to both games. I found the food average (line too long at 5 Guys so settled for another burger), some of the lines long, not orderly, credit did not work, not enough room for lines and crowd flow in the Club level especially when the Kentucky/Davidson game finished (I felt like a salmon swimming upstream!), annoyed when the the food stand wouldn't let me keep the soda bottle cap (which I ended up spilling on myself) but the Club buffet let you keep them.

We enjoyed pre-game festivities, sitting on the Red Porch for batting practice (even got a ball from Rauch!)

Over all we are excited about a new season, new stadium, and an awesome start. Go Zimmy!

Say Hey Klib said...

Wonderful ballpark, tremendous game. 2 observations. I don't want to call them complaints, they are fixable, one more easily than the other.

First, although I don't smoke, smokers couldn't find where they were allowed to smoke. They even got kicked out of what seemed to be marked on guides as smokers areas. One of the marked smoking areas is behind the kids jungle gym by the Red Porch in centerfield...whats up with that?

Second is that there is no play by play in the concourse or in the restrooms, and very few small tv 's. The tv's I saw weren't even showing the game. I know these first few weeks they will be working out the bugs and lines will be longer than usual, however if you are missing much of the game waiting in line, the least that could happen is you could HEAR THE GAME.

RBV said...

I had club level seats and was very impressed with all of the "extras" available in that section. The view was great and it was worth the price.

A few thoughts/observances.....

-The scoreboard is awesome! The thing is about 3 sections wide!!

-They need to paint the hands on the can't see them.

-Concession lines were long but the restroom lines moved relatively quickly.

-The crowd was not as lively as I had anticipated....but, it was cold, it was Sunday, and I think most people were there just to say that they were at the first game.

-I totally agree with the "OH" during the anthem comment. It needs to stop.

Thoughts about the new park;

-They didn't try and reinvent the baseball stadium. They took a lot of things from various parks and incorporated them into this park. Job well done.

-I don't think there is much they can do to reduce concession stand lines during a they need to better organize them with posts, similar to an airport check-in that force people into zig-zag lines....what was going on last night were really not lines but a mob of people overwhelming the concourse.

All in all I would give it an A- and I would certainly recommend the park to others.

Will said...

any idea whether the post will give away free poster sized prints of the picture of the first pitch. they did it after the first game at RFK and I've got it framed. Would be nice to have a twin for it from the new stadium.