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April 15, 2005

Nationals home opener is a promising start

by Michael Bushnell, Page Editor
With their 5-3 win last night, the Washington Nationals hosted the first regular season Major League Baseball game in the District in 34 years. And even if they had lost last night to the Arizona Diamondbacks, the buzz and the anticipation of the 10th game of a 162 game season could have been victory enough for baseball and the Nationals franchise, that finally has a home.

As Nats broadcaster Mel Proctor noted, RFK Stadium and the field looked like it had been in use for 10 years, not completely realigned over the last three months, and finished a week ago. The stands were filled with red and blue "W" hats, and not just for the President who threw out the first pitch. Maybe this will work, after all.

And for the Nationals franchise itself, the media attention was astonishing, and in a good way. Leading up to the game, every major cable news channel had reports outside the stadium, and fans were in line before 1:45 for the 7:05 p.m. start. I'm sure the novelty will last at least two or three more weeks before everyone realizes that this is a 75-win team in a terribly ugly stadium.

I'm sure D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams loved the sight, as well. He fought hard to get a team here, and he got a large ovation last night before the game. If only the 80 percent of the crowd from the Maryland and Virginia suburbs were eligible to vote for D.C. mayor next year; then he might have a shot at winning a primary election.

According to my buddy Doug, who was there last night, the stadium was "electric" when Vinny Castilla hit a two-run home run to put the Nats up 5-0. Normally I don't use guys named only "Doug" as a source, but he someone finagled a couple tickets out of someone or somewhere, and had a great time. Even more than that, he was an Orioles loaylist, even during the doldrums of the early part of this decade. The yarmulkes at his Bar Mitzvah were Orioles orange. But he's jumped ship and become a Nationals fan. "We finally got a team with 'Washington' in it," he said.

Which reminds me, kudos to whomever is the Nats' P.R. team. They managed to convince much of this area that we had been baseball starved for 34 years. I like the hunger metaphor, but I never felt famished when the Orioles were the only ticket in town.

Yes, that's right. We've had a team 35 minutes away for our entire lives. The Orioles; remember them? The one's who play in that great downtown stadium? The guys with the goofy orange jerseys and the trial lawyer owner who helped cancer victims and the state of Maryland win $2.1 billion in court from Big Tobacco? Yeah, the Orioles. The team with an owner.

But somehow fans bought into the fact that the D.C. team is "their" team. Granted, the O's, through much of Angelos' hobnobbing about keeping a team out of Washington over the last five years, have hurt their own case.

That said, whether you think like me that the "we've been without baseball" pitch is a crock or not, having another team is still pretty cool. The Baltimore-Washington area can support two teams, and the corporate base in D.C. and Northern Virginia will help the Nats sell tickets, even as their buzz wanes.

Still, the crowd was extremely loud last night. RFK was always a great acoustic stadium when the Redskins played there, and apparently it's still got it for baseball. The fans were dressed for their new favorite team, and they were very passionate.

When Diamondbacks reliever Lance Cormier appeared to drill Castilla in the back on purpose in the eighth inning, the whole stadium let Cormier hear it, barraging him with a chorus of boos that lasted for the whole inning. When the eighth ended, cameras showed fnas near the Arizona dugout hurling vicious insults at Cormier as he left the field.

Nothing beats hurling insults at a guy you don't know. Hey; it's baseball at its best.

I've definitely become grown to this prospect of having both an American League and National League team just a short drive away from home. Now I can see any of the 30 teams in baseball, because both leagues are here now.

And while I'm still an Orioles fan, it's becoming hard for me to not catch on to Nationals fever. I thought it was just a head cold, but it's become a full-blown fever. Yesterday and today, I've never heard this many people talking about a relatively meaningless game in early April. "Who did the Nats play last night?" was an extra credit question for a Latin test I took today.

So the buzz last night was great, and the crowd was in to it. Hopefully that can last until at least Thursday, the first Nationals game we have tickets to. Ticket sales have surpassed 2.3 million for the year, and merchandise sales are in the top three of all of baseball. And this was even before the first pitch was thrown at RFK.

After a long fight to get a team in the District, they started off as well as anyone could have hoped. Regardless of how the season goes from here, the fans, the field and the team gave everyone who involved in getting a team to D.C. a night to remember forever.

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  • Nats Fan on April 16, 2005 at 10:22 PM
    Mike. The Ravens are also 35 minutes away but do you take them in as a home team? Not many people in the D.C. area do either. The O's were only like a home team because they were the closest thing to a home team. The fact is they played in a different city and unlike D.C. which is in walking distance from Downtown Silver Spring Baltimore is a fairly long drive on the highway.

    Plus the Metro ride to RFK is a lot quicker than going through all the traffic on the highway to an O's game.

    Also one more thing. This is NOT the same team that was in Montreal. We made some valuable pickups in the offseason and have a very good hitting team. Wilkerson, Castilla, Guzman, Guillen, Vidro. Not to mention that Livan Hernandez is a very good pitcher. The team has motivation to do well. They are no longer in Montreal where nobody cared about them but are in D.C. where they are the hot commodity. They can win 80 or more games this year.

    The 34 year wait is over and instead of looking for negatives just be happy D.C. finally has a team. Like the rest of us.
  • Aaron on April 22, 2005 at 8:49 AM
    As far as the whole baseball starved thing goes, you have to remember the older generation who lived with the Senators. I know my social studies teacher has never been able to embrace the Orioles as his own team, and was thrilled when he was able to put on his Senators hat from the 50s. Also, the people from the Northern Virginia who didn't go to the Orioles games. I was at the home opener, and the people that were waiting in the security line for me (man, did that suck) were commenting about they maybe have gone to 5 Orioles games in the past 34 years. They just couldn't make the trip up there.

    I was an Orioles fan, but between the Nationals excitement, and Angelos giving the finger to every Orioles fan on the planet, I had to jump ship. Maybe if Angelos sells the team, or is assassinated, I'll be able to support both equally, but until then...GO NATS!
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