Monday, April 07, 2014

Evolution of Night

I've been a Reds fan since birth. Dressed in Reds gear from head to toe, I was exposed to my first game at age one when the Reds came to San Diego's Jack Murphy stadium in 1978. Both parents were from the Dayton area, and Reds fandom in my family goes back generations. At the time of my birth, the Big Red Machine were World Series Champs, the last championship for the greatest team in baseball history. I count myself lucky in that the Reds won a World Series in my lifetime and I was just old enough to appreciate it.

Naturally, Opening Day is a holiday in my heart, and the Reds are second to none in the day's festivities. I've missed watching the Reds on Opening Day very few times in my life - once when I was abroad (no MLB.TV in 1998) and twice when I was in the Army and couldn't take the day off. I even flew to Cyprus in 2010 and stayed in a five-star hotel when I was living in Beirut just to make sure I had a good enough internet connection to watch the game. Unlike a lot of Reds fans, the E$PN Sunday-Night-Game-Before-Opening-Day and the overseas series don't bother me. Everyone knows the true Opening Day is on the Monday when the Red play their first baseball game, and I don't need to wax poetic to convey how special it is.

Still, the magic of Opening Day is present in other cities whose teams don't get to start at home every year. But, like I can never know what English sounds like to one who doesn't speak it, I'll never truly know what Opening Day feels like to a fan of another team when their Opening Day occurs a week into the season. Sure, I've gone to half of the Nationals home openers since that wonderful first one back in 2005, but it just doesn't fill my heart with the same level of joy as that of my beloved Reds. We are what we grow up with.

I didn't attend the Nats home opener this year, due to budgetary constraints and a recently-developed aversion to precipitation. (I think the winter scarred me.) But thanks to, I got to go to Game 2 and sit in these awesome seats:

The process was easy. I just went to, typed in "Nationals," and the games came up instantly. I put in a bid for less than face value and learned I won the tickets in less than five minutes - all I had to do was print them out and I was good to go. I probably could have just used my phone to scan the tickets at the gate, but I have an irrational fear that my tickets won't work every time I go to an event, and I'm old enough not to wholeheartedly trust technology. My fear extends to printed tickets, too. Once I got screwed on U2 tickets that I got from Craig's List and only the kindness of a stranger with an extra ticket got me into the show. But you don't have to worry about fake tickets if you use ScoreBig, as the tickets are guaranteed. And there are NO fees. They don't charge you to use your own ink and paper like the team does. What's more, there's no creepy ticket oak growing in your backyard.

I woke up Saturday morning with first-game-of-the-season jitters, wondering if the winter of our extreme discontent were truly over, if I really could see a baseball game in the evening, but I had a Reds game to watch before it was time to go to the ballpark. I headed to the Metro soon after Hoover gave up that game-ending grand slam to Ike Davis. Ugh. Ike Davis? Really? Anyway, I love living on the Green Line - it's so simple to get to the ballpark, and one of the best experiences in all of MLB (at least of the fifteen MLB parks I've been to) is coming out of the Metro and catching sight of the stadium and all the excitement of the crowds. The pre-game buzz is intoxicating. As in any ballpark, the first glimpse of that oh-so-verdant field after you enter a ballpark is spellbinding. I wanted to hug the whole world when I saw this:

I don't know how many times I've been to this ballpark, but I leisurely strolled the long way to my seats, making sure I took in everything as if it were my first, not fiftieth, visit. A new crab cake stand - awesome. The old Washington baseball history collages - fantastic. The tribute to the Negro Leagues - ok, so that's still as tacky as ever. It looks like it belongs on a county fair ride. Still, the Nats do a decent job of honoring the Grays, including Josh Gibson in the trio of statues that greet (scare?) fans at the main gate, Gibson and Buck Leonard banners in the stadium, and equal space for the Grays in the Washington baseball history collages. They should - the Grays outdrew the Senators in attendance at Griffith Stadium back when Washington was "First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League."

When I finally sat down, it was just about game time. Wow, was it cold. The wind was fierce, and I worried I hadn't brought enough layers. It wasn't the coldest game I've ever been to - that treacherous Game 5 of the NLDS versus the hated Taint Louis Deadbirds was pretty darn cold, and it snowed on Opening Day in Cincinnati a few years ago when I attended, though I had brought a thermal sleeping bag for the latter game and was the envy of all around me. 

Fortunately, the wind died down, and then it was somewhat pleasant, at least with the amount of clothing I had on. The game started off well enough. I have never witnessed in person a homer that traveled as far as the LaRoche bomb to the upper deck. I do not exaggerate when I say my mouth dropped when I saw it sail so high above me. I believe holy-something came out of my mouth. The crowd roared, the fireworks went off, and I was in love with baseball all over again.

I happened to be sitting in a spot where you could see the Washington Monument, and it seemed as if I were sitting in a painting. The evolution of night was rather breathtaking.

But, as the sun went down, so, too, did the Nats' good fortune. Strasburg's pitching devolved, and he was chased from the game in the fifth inning. I don't think it's a coincidence that the National Cherry Blossom festival fireworks were going off as he had his meltdown. They certainly were loud and distracting. The Barves took the lead and never looked back, winning the game 6-2. Yet the outcome didn't really matter to me that night. I was just ecstatic that I finally was able to see a baseball game, especially after our dreadful winter.

I recommend using to get great seats like these. I'll probably go again on the next homestand. Now, if only they could get us discounts on the beer!

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