Monday, March 31, 2008

Nats' Opener: Best. Night. Of. 2008.

From the front page of today's Washington Post:

No grass was ever greener than the Kentucky blue that spread out across the field at dazzling new Nationals Park last night. No popcorn ever smelled so delicious. No beer ever tasted so refreshing, no hot dog so juicy. The senses were overloaded and overwhelmed on an Opening Night unlike any ever witnessed in these parts -- in a $611 million, taxpayer-built palace in a formerly blighted part of the District, in front of a national television audience.

And no roar ever washed over a building like the one that built and soared and then exploded from the crowd of 39,389 as the final pitch of the night arrived from the mound and landed, following a mighty swing from Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, over the wall in left-center field, a walk-off home run that gave the Nationals a dramatic 3-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves and provided a fitting end to a memorable night.

"Storybook ending," said Mark Lerner, the Nationals' principal owner. "It was the end of a perfect day. You can't write a script like that."
It was the best season opener anyone could want (and I've been to 3 of the Nats' 4 so far, with bronchitis regrettably holding me back two years ago.) It was the best ending to a game I can ever remember attending, out of the few dozen or so I've probably been to in my life. It was the perfect way to kick off the new ballpark and the new season. And I still can't believe I was able to be there to see it happen.

For weeks I'd been frustrated that I was unable to buy tickets to the game when they first went on sale online, then watched as $%^&ing scalpers proceeded to sell tickets at outrageous prices--upper-deck seats going for $70, $80. Yesterday morning, my friend and I woke up early, and in a last bid to secure seats, tried bidding on virtually every eBay auction and Craigslist posting, only to see them get out of reach.

Finally at noon, we decided to just go empty-handed to the stadium and try our luck at picking up the limited number of walk-up seats that the team was reserving for the day of the game. The Nationals had said on their website that they would not allow people to camp out for them, so we figured we could just show up and try and get lucky.

Well, we got there a little after 1pm to find lines wrapped around the block. I later read in the Post that people had camped out since 6am. Even after we joined the line though, the crowds grew exponentially, and after two hours of waiting in line we realized our chances weren't good, and that we'd probably wind up forking triple-digits in cash to a last-minute scalper.

Right then came my luckiest break...ever? I heard someone far, far ahead in line call my name. It turned out to be my friend Tolu, from my fantasy baseball league, who had got there with his buddy much earlier. Right in the nick of time--the walk-up tickets were released ten minutes later--he invited my friend and I to get seats with him so we could all sit together.

How much did I wind up paying for admission to the game? $5, baby!

Five dollars from seats that, although up high, were much closer to the field than their RFK counterparts. There was no problem at all with the view from the bleachers--heck, you could see the Capitol dome right up close from our seats.

The new stadium is flat-out amazing. It's a beautiful, mesmerizing, absolutely perfect temple of baseball. You can read about all the great features elsewhere, but it's impossible to not point out the closeness of the seats, the wide concourses with open views of the field, the giant HD scoreboard, and the elegant architecture throughout. We spent almost 2 hours before the game just walking around, pretty much in awe.

The game the recap. Basically, a magical night was almost tarnished when Lo Duca let up a passed ball to let the Braves tie it in the top of the 9th. With two outs in the bottom of the 9th, right when all of us frozen-to-the-bone fans were steeling ourselves to go into the wee hours of the night, up came the future of the franchise. At that point, the Nats hadn't managed a hit since the 1st inning.

When his bat connected with the ball, people cheered, likely thinking it would be a solid double. But it kept deep center...and over the wall. Ensue pandemonium. I've never felt such ensuing delirium at a stadium before. The night was saved--no, immortalized. I jumped into my friend's arms, into strangers arms, high-fiving and hugging anyone around. During a brief pause to catch my breath, I noticed a video camera man focused right on us--we may have been on the Jumbotron (or ESPN?), but I was too busy to notice.

The Nationals may not have a good year this year, but anyone who saw last night's game felt something special. A storybook ending, indeed.


NJ said...


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