Thursday, March 31, 2011

Stinging Cold Opening Day

Photo Credit--Rob Carr Getty Images
Contact with a baseball thrown hard upon a swinging bat in cold weather many times stings.

Today on Opening Day 2011 at Nationals Park, Our Washington Nationals were stung by terrific pitching at the hands of The Atlanta Braves. Yes, it was 41 degrees at the 1:11PM official first pitch--thrown by Livan Hernandez. And a misty rain fell throughout as the ever dropping temperature deteriorated the conditions for fans and players alike.

It was frigid outside.
Photo Credit--Rob Carr (Getty Images)
But heat always overcomes cold and on this dreary Thursday afternoon, Atlanta pitchers Derek Lowe, Eric O'Flaherty, Peter Moylan, Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel bettered Washington's Livan Hernandez, Doug Slaten, Tyler Clippard, Todd Coffey and Sean Burnett. Look, in the bottom of the 9th, The Braves new closer, Kimbrel, was heaving the ball in frosty breath conditions--97 miles per hours.
Photo Credit--Alex Brandon (AP)
Warmth cuts through ice and this afternoon on South Capitol Street Atlanta's pitching made Washington's batters appear as if their bats were melting from the high heat pitches thrown from their solid staff. Understand, Ole Number 61 didn't pitch bad. In fact, Jayson Heyward's second inning home run BARELY made it over the right field wall. But it did. And a little bit of lost focus in the top of the very 1st inning--with two outs by Livo--plated the first tally of the new season against D.C.'s Team when Brian McCann slapped the first pitch he faced all season right back up the middle to score Chipper Jones from 2nd base.

That was it.
Photo Credit--Rob Carr (Getty Images)
That was the ball game because Our Washington Nationals couldn't muster any rally and weren't helped either by the dead air stagnated over the stadium throughout the competition. Rick Ankiel's drive to the Out Of Town Scoreboard in the bottom of the 2nd inning off Lowe--is a home run in hot, humid weather. Adam LaRoche's opposite field whack to the visiting bullpen wall in left in the bottom of the 4th would have gone out in July & August as well. Unfortunately, this was late March--the last day in fact on the calendar month-which meant you not only had to hit every baseball hard--but you needed to make perfect and solid contact as well.
Derek Lowe wasn't going to allow any of that today. And when Craig Kimbrel threw nothing but smoke to get Ankiel looking to end this game 2 hours and 32 minutes after first pitch--The Tomahawk Choppers had put Opening Day in the win column while Washington was left thinking about 161 more days to come.
Final score from Nationals Park where chilly winter weather nine days into spring and great pitching by an opponent took every last warm feeling out of the well bundled home crowd--The Atlanta Braves 2 and Our Washington Nationals Zero.  Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche combined to make three fine defensive plays for D.C.'s Team. Danny Espinosa singled, doubled, made a terrific up the middle backhand stab and throw to first to record an out on Nate McLouth in the top of the 6th. And Washington's pitching really was--really good.

The pitching, defense and athleticism Our General Manager Mike Rizzo has consistently stated this spring was there. To everyone's dismay watching and rooting for Washington, the offense was not. Yes, heat melts ice and hopefully today's stinging cold Opening Day loss to The Atlanta Braves on South Capitol Street will soon be forgotten.

Game Notes & Highlights
Photo Credit--Alex Brandon (AP)
I wish we had a picture of this. When Livan Hernandez was warming up as the entire roster was traditionally being announced for both teams--Livo was standing in right field just beginning his warmups. In true Big Cuban Style, as his name was announced and the NatsHD camera was upon him--Ole Number 61 paused in mid rotation of a toss and flicks his neck up in acknowledgement to the crowd. That man gets the entertainment value of baseball plus the devotion and appreciation many fans in Washington have for him.

He's just so unique.
That's also why you can't fault him for getting into the 7th inning today and allowing two runs and taking the loss. He deserved better, but it just wasn't his day. Washington's offense didn't muster a single run against Atlanta's pitchers to his favor.  It happens.

Jim Riggleman's bullpen was solid. Slaten, Clippard, Coffey and Burnett were all good. Our Manager's called upon relief corp throwing 2.2 innings of one hit, one walk, shutout ball. You couldn't have asked for more.
He didn't last through the sixth inning and he tossed an astronomical 105 pitches (in Livo territory) during his time on the mound, but Derek Lowe had that great sinker of his working. Six Washington batters went down on strikes. There were just three fly ball outs recorded by The Braves all afternoon. New Atlanta Manager Fredi Gonzalez has a good pitching staff with Tommy Hanson and Tim Hudson still to be seen this series. The type of hurlers Washington would love to emulate with Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann leading way in the years to come. For right now though--you have to appreciate what The Braves bring to the mound.  Good stuff to emulate.

Batting 7th today in Manager Jim's starting lineup, Danny Espinosa showed all of his tools--a quick bat from both sides of the plate, tremendous range fielding at 2nd base and hustle that everyone can appreciate. Espi may just be a rookie, but Danny has all the tools to be a very good player.

A Very Good Player.

The heart of Washington's order--Werth, Zimmerman and LaRoche all singled today to complete the five hits surrendered by Atlanta's pitching. Zimmy and Ankiel also walked.

Talking with Original RFK Stadium Section 320 Nats Fan "Red Shoes Jim" during the 7th inning this afternoon, we discussed how Jayson Werth's two running in sliding catches and Adam LaRoche's sprawling dive to his right in the top of the 4th to retire Brian McCann during today's game are the type of defensive plays not seen consistently over the past few seasons in Washington. The type of defensive gems that when not made turn a one and two run down ball game into four and five run down ball game.
Odd stat of the day. The type of reference only baseball can consistently provide. Jayson Heyward's home run on Opening Day this afternoon was his second in as many seasons since beginning his Major League Career. Only Kaz Matsui of the 2004/2005 New York Mets has ever accomplished the same feat.  Go figure.

Of course, Opening Day had its usual pagentry. The announcing of the team rosters and starting lineups. The presentation of the colors. The unraveling of a gigantic American Flag. The playing of the National Anthem by The U.S. Navy Band and the throwing out of the first pitch. This year performed by the Armed Forces represented by Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard soldiers.

Ryan Zimmerman was officially handed his 2010 Silver Slugger Award and Our General Manager Mike Rizzo briefly spoke to the crowd before the game to thank them for their support.

2011 Home Scoreboard

2011 Visiting Scoreboard
And finally, we noticed quite a few tweaks to Nationals Park today--as compared to 2010 (and more on that coming later). But nothing beat the changes to the HD Scoreboard. What's with all the red & white when Washington comes to bat? And the black when the opposition hits? The lineups are smaller in size.  It's much harder to read.

Why change what was a good thing?
2010 Scoreboard (Bigger Type-Easier To Read)
2010 Scoreboard (Blue Highlight)
2010 Scoreboard (Yellow Highlight)
There was nothing wrong with the previous version of the HD Scoreboard. Yellow to represent significant numbers (especially scoring), blue to highlight, white to represent other information, larger type to be able to read everything rather easily.
2011 Scoreboard
You can't look at the new 2011 HD Scoreboard graphics without staring at it for a longer period of time. It was difficult to read today and this was a day game. What will it be like when Washington plays its first night game on April 12th?
2010 Scoreboard

2011 Scoreboard
No comparison. The older scoreboard setup was better and far easier to read.

All Other Photos Copyrighted--Nats320--All Rights Reserved


paul said...

Right on about the scoreboard. Another lapse was the lack of pitchers' numbers on the out o town scoreboard. I wonder if they have cut back on the personnel involved during the day? Only Joba Chamberlain's number got posted!

And BTW I have no idea who Nix is, and he wasn't listed anywhere in the program. He got nixed.

But we fielded really well. I counted four plays that would not have been made with last year's opening lineup.

Unknown said...

I also agree about the scoreboard. There seems to be a lot of wasted space. I thought the average and ERA numbers were extra hard to read... on a red background?

I DID think the out-of-town scoreboard was easier to read, and noticed the pitcher's numbers showed up on the Yankees game later in the day.

Unknown said...

I disagree on the scoreboard. I think it is a clean sorta-retro look that matches the change to the home white uniforms. The change in font is especially snazzy. The 2010 fonts and presentation was a little bit too cheesy for a giant HD screen capable of so much more. Also glad they switched to the new Nationals logo.

It is still easy to read - if a fan can't find R-H-E in the middle without some numbers in yellow, well I just don't see the highlighting in yellow numbers as a necessity.

Unknown said...

The real problem with Opening Day was that Nationals Park just didn't seem ready to go at the concessions. Surely they knew there would be 40,000 fans. But the lines were enormous, the bathrooms were not well kept, some of the obvious concessions were not open in RF Mezz (popcorn and cotton candy stand closed), and no one ever brought a pallet of cotton candy toward the RF Mezz area.

But what's totally unexplainable is why the Union Square group's concessions were still boarded up - no Shake Shack (burgers so good you'll forget Five Guys in one bite) and the others promised, so instead there's bland burgers and a teddy's bbq tent? Seriously? Opening Day was on the calendar right? What gives on this poor performance? Not a good sign for for the fan experience.

Sam R said...

Stinging Cold not helped by the concessions running out of coffee and hot chocolate! Haven't the Nats concessions been following the weather forecast? And the CO2 problem with the beer lines was unforgivable. I thought I was squinting harder to read the line ups on the scoreboard. I did appreciate the improved defense, hopefully the concessions will step it up to match.

Take Me Out To The Ballgame!


AMcClint said...

I agree with your comment about the scoreboard. Trying to see what the player had done previously in the game required my binoculars.

I complained to a Nationals guest relations person in the Club level about having to leave the club level for Veggie Wrap and Coffee. I was misdirected to the coffee stand and asked "where did you get that wrap, I have had other people ask for such". The location of wraps and salads have not changed from last year, they are near 115.

Mr. NATural said...

I liked:

- The huge silver baseballs outside the stadium, the new look of the garages from inside the park, and the cool giant HD screen on the Miller Lite Walk. I also really liked the new flags atop the scoreboard showing our pennants and World Series--they're bold and vivid and easy to see.

I didn't like:

- Taping a Nats player quoting Richard Nixon in the segment when they needed a rally. Really? Nixon? Seemed odd to me.

The plan for the new Miller Lite Scoreboard Walk. It's all based on New York restaurants and a NY style. It's the last thing we need in Washington.

The loss of Five Guys is huge. My guess, base on many observations, is that Five Guys ranked behind only Ben's Chili Bowl for popularity.

Tempo said...

I ENJOYED paying $35 for all you can eat AND Drink tickets behind home plate on the field level with Diamond Club access that had a face value of $170. THANK YOU apathetic Washington baseball fans!