They’ve Come A Long Way, Baby

The Washington Nationals are going to the World Series!!!

It’s a sentence that seemed so far away, in the early days of terrible teams playing in their temporary home at RFK Stadium. I still loved going to watch them play in that dump of a stadium, just because baseball was here, in DC. But man, there were some bad teams. Some guys (Alfonso Soriano, Dmitri Young, Adam Dunn) stopped in for a quick visit to reboot their careers. Some guys (Nook Logan, Nyjer Morgan) seemed to have so much potential only to fizzle out.

Then there are the ones that I wish could have been a part of this. Brad Wilkerson, my favorite player that first year, traded to the Rangers for Soriano. Nick Johnson, oft injured but a “professional baseball player” in every sense. Chad Cordero, the Chief, and bright spot in dark days. Ian Desmond, anchor of the infield for years. Michael Morse, who brought fun to the park. Jayson Werth, who signed when it seemed like no free agents wanted to come to DC. Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, Tyler Clippard, and rubber-armed Livan Hernandez.

It goes without saying that I am most happy for the franchise player, Ryan Zimmerman. Even in those early days when I still went to Nationals games to see them play my beloved Yankees, I couldn’t help but cheer for him walking it off on Father’s Day in 2006. He’s been through everything with this team, and he deserves it more than anyone.

You may be wondering, “What if the Yankees make the World Series too, who will you root for?” The Yankees were my team growing up, I was born in New York, and I loved watching them my whole life. But DC is my home now. The Nationals are my team. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Game Four Memories

When it was clear that the Washington Nationals were going to make their first postseason this year, I could not resist getting tickets. I took a chance that Game Four would be “necessary,” and managed to get two tickets to the game. (If there had been a sweep, I would have gotten my money back, so no big deal.) As it turned out, the game would end up being at a perfect time of day: 4:07pm. I could take my son, Evan, to the game with me to experience our first playoff game together.

The butterflies started building in my stomach around noon, and when I couldn’t take it any more, I left work and went home to get the boy from school. He excitedly changed into his Nats shirt in the car and we hopped on the Metro to the stadium. At 1:30pm, the train was mostly full of early bird Nats fans heading down to the game with us and at one point, we spotted two teachers from his school. We gave each other a wink and a nod and went our separate ways.

Hopping off the train, I picked up a new red Nats hat for the boy, a bag of peanuts, and we headed inside and got our “Natitude” rally towels. The crowd was still sparse, but the excitement was in the air. Behind the center field scoreboard, kids were getting their face painted and Evan got a balloon sword, which he somehow managed to get all the way home without popping. We found our seats and headed down to the right field wall to watch batting practice and hope to catch a ball. We had no such luck though, in spite of the cute guy with the little glove begging for the ball. Finally, we settled into our seats and waited for the game to start.

The National Anthem was sung, and out strolled the giant Frank Howard. Howard is still a beast of a man and is most famous for hitting mammoth homeruns at RFK Stadium. There are white seats in the upper deck where Howard hit particularly monstrous homeruns. Who knew that having this slugger throw out the first pitch would be so appropriate?

Finally, the game got underway. Our seats in right field were directly in the line of the sun for a good portion of the game until the sun finally ducked behind the upper deck. On many of the early hits, we had no idea where the ball had gone, save for the reactions of the players. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be on the field in that situation. Ross Detwiler was the last hope for the Nats. The first three pitchers in the Nats’ rotation – Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, and Edwin Jackson – had let the fans down with their efforts. Detwiler stepped up from the first pitch and did little wrong. Only an error from Ian Desmond (followed by a foolish but overlooked throw to home from Bryce Harper when he should have thrown to second) allowed the Cardinals to put up a run. The Nats had trouble hitting as well though. Only Adam LaRoche managed to get the fans out of their seats with a solo homer to give the Nats the lead in the second. That’s not to say that the fans weren’t on their feet. We were all excited and itching for something to happen, but over and over again, we had to sit down and wait for another moment.

Evan did pretty well throughout the game. There was a moment in the fourth inning when he asked when we were leaving (“When the game is over, buddy.”), but that quickly passed when I told him that the Presidents Race was coming up. Then he spent the next inning and a half talking about that. We grabbed some hot dogs at one point and we managed to stay in our seats for most of the rest of the game until the top of the ninth. Two outs, man on first, Drew Storen pitching to Matt Carpenter. Storen runs it to a full count, and Evan says he has to pee. I manage to hold him off until Ian Desmond corrals the popup for the third out and we make a mad dash to the bathroom and make it back to our seats just in time to hear the PA announcer say, “Now batting, Jayson Werth.”

And then, this happened.

By this point everyone was standing for the entire at bat, and with each narrowly foul ball we held our breath. Finally the last crack sounded and the place erupted. We knew. The Nats had lived to see another day.

Jayson Werth was ostensibly the hero, delivering the walk-off homer. But don’t forget Detwiler’s six solid innings. Jordan Zimmermann’s electric three strikeouts out of the bullpen. Tyler Clippard striking out the side. Ian Desmond’s defense saving a fine inning for Drew Storen.

What a game. And how awesome to have my son there with me to see it.

Merry Strasmas!

A couple of weeks ago, I took a flier on a long shot. No, not the Kentucky Derby. I took a reasonable guess that the date of Stephen Strasburg’s Major League debut would be June 4. I turned out to be wrong, but we went to the game anyway and had a good time. The kids played on the playground, had ice cream, and we managed to escape without buying any souvenirs.
Last night was Strasburg’s actual debut, and you’d have to say he lived up to the hype. 7 innings, 94 pitches, 2 runs, 4 hits, no walks, and 14 strikeouts. FOURTEEN! Including the last 7 batters IN A ROW! After giving up a homerun, he retired the next ten batters, including eight by strikeout. Phenomenal.
At least I will have a better idea of when he’ll actually pitch from now on. Every five days, mark it down.

Goodbye to the Stadium

There were no tears last Monday, when I went to Yankee Stadium for the last time with my two kids and my wife. But last night, sitting with my son as Andy Pettitte threw the first pitch of the last game at the “House That Ruth Built,” I definitely got choked up. It happened a few more times: the Bleacher Creature roll call, Bob Sheppard announcing Derek Jeter, Whitey and Yogi in the booth, Michael Kay (and not Phil Rizzuto, RIP) coming on to do an inning of play-by-play, hearing “Enter Sandman” as Mariano came in and locked down one more win. But most of all, hearing “Start spreading the news…” Over and over and over again. They just kept playing that song, and I didn’t want it to end. Next year, a new era in Yankee baseball will begin, but we’ll always remember our times at the corner of River Avenue and 161st St.

Silver Lining

We’re going to our last game at Yankee Stadium tonight.
Alas, the Yankees are all but mathematically eliminated.  They’re starting Alfredo Aceves (who?) tonight.  But, on the bright side, we’re lucky that it looks like we won’t get hit by any rain.  And we might just get to see Derek Jeter pass Lou Gehrig for the most hits at Yankee Stadium, just before it closes.  Maybe we’ll get lucky and he’ll hit a homer to us in the left field bleachers to pass him!
Ellie said last night that only kids cry, grownups don’t cry.  I have the feeling she may be proved wrong tonight.

Get the F*** Outta Here!

Those are the words that I was able to lip read off Ryan Zimmerman, as he sprinted toward first base after he smoked a shot in the bottom of the ninth to win the Nationals Park opener.
The stadium looks great, and I’m almost hoping that we lose at curling tonight so that I don’t have to play next Monday, and I can go through with my crazy plan to drive up to Chicago on Friday, catch a Cubs game on Saturday, drive to Detroit on Sunday, and drive back home in time for the second home opener. Tickets are still available, so I think I might just have to be crazy.

Baseball Finale

I should probably mention that our baseball season is over. We went from first to worst, what a debacle. In our last game, I was the only player with 2 hits, as we managed only 5 overall. I caught, played short and left and did okay. I even threw out a guy at second base, though he probably was safe. The throw beat him and he didn’t slide, so I think the ump called him out for spite. I finished the season with a .360 average, which is good considering how badly I started out, but bad considering how I should have killed the pitching we were up against. Still, it was enough for third best on our team. Now the long wait until March or April.
Luckily, that wait will be plenty filled by curling. In my first “Pizza League” game on Sunday, I was making shots all over the place and we won pretty easily. In contrast, in our Monday night game, I had to skip again since our usual guy was out, and I couldn’t make anything. Everything I threw was missing by either a lot, or just fractions of an inch, and it really drove me nuts. But that’s curling for you, and there’s always next week.