If you listened really closely as you walked up the shallow concrete inclines toward the RFK Stadium ball field, you could hear the faint sound of tireless airhorns bleating in your imagination. It was hard, walking out into the open stadium air for the first time, to rid myself of the image of a soccer field with a comb-over, cleat-ripped grass neatly cut like an outfield with something to hide. The seats lacked that satisfying sproing when I stood up, as though the seats were already weary with the work of bearing some other burden. It struck me that the Nationals had not found a home so much as a leaky basement they could sleep in.
But as I looked around me at the sea of red hats with that curiously curvy little W worn by fans wringing hands against bouncing legs, I softened a little. By the time President Bush stalked purposefully to the mound to deliver the ceremonial first pitch (high, ball one), I'd left my doubts, and my lifelong Oriole fanhood, at the door.
During the real first pitch, a called strike to Diamondback Craig Counsel, the stadium was a mess of flashing lights. The pitcher, Livan Hernandez, redirected the throw from catcher Brian Schneider to the Nats dugout, from whence the ball was to be taken to the Hall of Fame. Three pitches later the crowd roared to its feet as Counsel struck out looking. Counsel, clenching his jaw, turned to the ump and had a few choice, if calm, words for the guy. And he probably had a point: you almost had to believe that the ump had given Hernandez the benefit of the doubt, almost had to feel sorry for a Diamondbacks team stripped of most of its major talent and forced to play away against the Return of Baseball to Washington
Vinny Castilla provided the Nats' first ever runs at RFK, smacking a two-RBI triple in the fourth to shake the fans from of their seats once more. The sac-fly that followed off the bat of Brian Schneider brought that same crowd to its feet once more. For the opening stretch, at least, the fans were going to scream themselves hoarse at every opportunity.
And then suddenly it was a baseball game. The fans twittered between pitches, unable to keep pace with their initial strike ROAR, ball AWW pace. The middle innings, as middle innings often are, were lethargic, with Hernandez nursing a one-hitter and Vazquez settling down to strike out a couple of sides. During Castilla's next at-bat, I commented to my seat-mate, "I'm thinking what we need is to see a home run." Ker-smack! Wish granted. The crowd sea boiled once more.
But the main thing opening night accomplished was the passing of the pomp. Because at the end of the night, it wasn't about the hour-long waits at Secret Service security checkpoints, the gold-shimmer fireworks that greeted the 5-3 victory, or the historical-team moment that took place before the action. By the end of the night, it was all about the normal, the usual, the clicking in place of the collective fan mind to the game. As the sleepy machine roared back to life in the eighth and ninth, as they booed mercilessly at Diamondback reliever Lance Cormier's classless plunking of a single-short-of-the-cycle Castilla, as they clapped with increasing measured increasing fury on every two-strike pitch, as they delivered the already-standing ovation to the departing and exhausted Hernandez; as all of this happened the baton was passed. The capacity crowd at RFK Stadium had taken possession of their Washington Nationals, and with a grip strengthened by thirty-some years of separation anxiety, they should have too much trouble hanging on.
Nick Falgout. Nick Falgout was bored one day and decided to change his Chips staff information. And now, for a touching song lyric: "I'm a reasonable man, get off my case Get off my case, get off my case." ~ Radiohead, "Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd … More »