On Thursday, many teams played their first game with 161 more to go. I visited the first stadium of 30 I will see this season. My story recounts the day – the glory of
hen designing my travel schedule, I originally didn’t co
Opening Day – Morning:
5:00 AM Rochester International Airport – TSA Pre Check Line
I’m in the security line when I pass a priest (maybe a monk – but in Rochester? Do we have monks?). He’s decked out in full regalia (no offense intended) in a full cassock, skull cap, big cross, and rosary beads. I’m only thinking about baseball. Thus, my first thought is:
“He must be heading to a San Diego Padre’s game dressed like their mascot the “Swinging Friar1.” All I have is my Nats hat and my camera. What if he plans to go to all the stadiums dressed like the home team’s mascot? That’s more than I’m doing.”
5:15 AM Rochester International Airport, Gate B1
I realize I’m going incognito, I’m a Mets fan in a Nationals cap. I bought the hat last year during a family outing to a Nats game and a weekend in DC. That was when I was trying the slow approach to “collect ballparks.”
At the gate I see the usual — a few Yankee hats but no Mets gear. How do I explain if asked? “Going to Opening Day? Are you a Nats fan?” Do you think they will play the Yankees in the series?”
“Actually no, I’m a Mets fan going to DC for the game. I’m wearing the cap because my goal is to get a selfie in the home team’s cap at every major league stadium. I have a blog, and I’m raising money for youth baseball.”
7:00 AM Delta Sky Club LaGuardia Terminal
11:30 AM Outside Nationals Park
I can’t do it. My misgivings started when I saw all the fans at the L’Enfant Plaza metro station. Most were in Nationals attire, but a significant few were wearing Mets shirts and hats. Today, I’m not representing appropriately. I don’t feel like I am part of my tribe. I can’t greet my brothers and sisters and wish them luck for the season in a Nats cap. I’m somewhat embarrassed, somewhat ashamed of myself.
Luckily I pass a street vendor selling Nats and Mets caps for $10. The caps have a tab back so I can expand the Mets one to fit over my original Nationals one.
Other than taking my ritual selfie with the Nats cap, I spend most of the day, wearing two hats. I have no place to put the Nats hat except on my head, so I cover it with the Mets cap. The sight draws attention. “So, you’re a Mets fan, but live in Washington?” Or “you’re a fan of both teams, how is that possible?” I explain:
“Actually no, I’m a Mets fan, only in DC for the game. I’m wearing the cap because my goal is to get a selfie in the home team’s cap at every major league stadium. I have a blog, and I’m raising money for youth baseball.”
The explanation is getting redundant, but the spectacle enables me to pass out a few cards and maybe garner a few more followers – all is good.
Later, on the way out, I pass the vendor who sold me the Mets cap. “I remember you,” he says. I express my thanks, “you saved my day.” I’m superstitious, wearing the Nats cap may have jinxed the Mets season and my journey. He’s my mythical angel.
Opening Day – The Day Before
To prep for Opening Day, I am thinking about three things – the bliss of Opening Day, the history of the two cities that spawned the Nationals, and hot dogs.
“There is no sports event like Opening Day for beating back the forces of darkness and the National Football League.”George Vecsey 2
Previously, I wrote that life begins anew when the pitchers and catchers report to spring training. While that is true, spring training only happens because of the impending baseball season. Spring training is only the first sign that winter is over and that it’s time for baseball. Opening Day confirms our spring training thoughts, that the sun will shine, and all things will be good again. Or, when things aren’t good, you can endure the hardship at a ballgame with a beer and a dog.
Moreover, Opening Day is a time of optimism. On day one, anyone’s team has a chance to win it all. Everyone is undefeated and the future is bright.
Baseball is glorious and Opening Day is rebirth:
“In our sun-down perambulations, of late, through the outer parts of Brooklyn, we have observed several parties of youngsters playing “base,” a certain game of ball … Let us go forth awhile, and get better air in our lungs. Let us leave our close rooms … the game of ball is glorious.”– Walt Whitman, from the 23 July 1846 edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle 3
Baseball is back in all its glory. I am partial, but the first game of the NFL, NBA or NHL is just that – a first game. Opening Day of the baseball season is rebirth, time to enjoy the summer’s warm air and relish in the optimism.
Washington and Montreal: The Tale of Two Cities
The Misery Index
Despite many great players and some successful seasons, the Nationals represent a long history of sad baseball. Depending on how you calculate it, the Nationals heritage includes two cities and four to six franchises. Over 160 years they have won only one major league championship, and that was 95 years ago. To be fair, their Montreal antecedents won some minor league championships. However, so did the precursor to the major league San Diego Padres and their fans long for more as well.
Think of it this way. The last time a Washington team played in the World Series was during the summer before my father was born. He lived for 86 years without seeing a team from Washington or Montreal in the World Series.
This history is why The Atlantic listed the Nationals third on the “Fans Misery Index.”
Washington’s Sad Baseball Legacy
Before the musical “Damn Yankees” George Washington was considered “first in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen.” The play transformed the saying to describe the Washington Senators’ sad legacy. The Senators were “first in war, first in peace and last in the American League.” 4
Unfortunately, the current version of the Washington Nationals has continued to disappoint somewhat. Even though they have won four NL East titles, they have never won a playoff series. They are also the city’s third franchise (possibly fourth depending on how you classify the 1901 incarnation).
A Brief Washington Chronology
Consider this brief history:
- 1892 – 1899: The Washington Senators play in the National League until the league reduces from 12 teams to eight.
- 1901: The Senators join the new American League. I’m not sure why this team is not counted as the second Washington franchise.
- 1905: The “Senators” change their name to the “Nationals”, but everyone continues to call them the Senators.
- 1925: The lowly Senators win their only World Series
- 1926: They win their last pennant but lose the Series.
- 1955: The aforementioned “Damn Yankees” opens on Broadway and becomes a hit. Note that the play references the “Senators” even though the team name has been the “Nationals” for 30 years.
- 1956: The Nationals officially change their name to the Senators but continue to play in front of increasingly fewer fans.
- 1960: The Senators move to Minnesota and become the Twins. 5
- 1961: Version two (three? see 1901) of the Senators replaces the first one (second?) but is not successful either.
- 1972: After eleven years of difficulty, the team moves to Arlington and becomes the Texas Rangers.
- 1972 – 2005: The city tries to lure a new franchise to the capital. 6
- 2005: Washington’s third (fourth?) franchise is born when the ownerless Montreal Expos move to the capital and become the Nationals. They play in a new stadium, and the team is popular.
- 2005 – 2018: Although winning many games, and four division championships, the Nationals never win a playoff series.
Montreal – A Prouder Tradition?
Others may disagree, but my read is that Montreal has a prouder tradition than Washington but ultimately suffered a similar fate.
Montrealers started playing baseball in 1860. They formed the Montreal Base Ball Club (MBBC) in the 1870s and an amateur league in 1898. 7
Professional ball started in 1897 when a minor league team from Rochester, NY moved to Montreal and became the Royals. After disbanding in 1917, the Royals reformed in 1928. They soon started affiliations with major league teams, most notably the Brooklyn Dodgers. 8
In 1933 and 1934 the Royals were the AA Affiliate of the Philadelphia Athletics.9 Then in 1937, they became the AA affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates.10 In 1939 they started their famous association with the Brooklyn Dodgers, serving as their top farm team through 1960. Between 1935 and 1958 the Royals played in 11 league championships winning seven of them.
As you can imagine, the Royals’ association with the Dodgers enable Montreal to host many future
Although it took ten years to achieve their first winning record, the Expos won 95 games in 1979. In 1980 they almost won the National League East and in 1981 came within one game of the World Series.11
After an uneven rest of the 1980s, the Expos developed another strong team. In 1994, they had the best record in baseball (74 – 40) when the players went on strike. Since the strike canceled the rest of the season, playoffs and World Series, the Expos’s never capitalized on their strong team. The strike discouraged fans and attendance dwindled. Ten years later the Expos moved to Washington.
Montreal is now in the barren, baseball purgatory that Washington was in for 32 years. They are lobbying for a new team to play in their city.
Hope Springs Eternal – A New Start?
Despite the sad history and losing Bryce Harper to free agency, many still predict them to do well in 2019. Most think they are better than the Phillies who engaged the priceless (“
The Nationals have pitching, Victor Robles, Juan Soto, and two new catchers. The Phillies are good, but I think they’re overrated. Sure, they have made many additions, more than just Harper. But winning the offseason doesn’t always mean you will win a pennant.
Opening Day – Reactions to the Game
Tale of Two Pitchers
”There are opening day pitchers, and pitchers who start on opening day.”– Roger Craig13
What many misunderstand is that a great pitching matchup is like a “Mano a Mano” heavyweight fight. Each pitcher goes out to outdo the other with as few pitches as possible. The fans anticipate who will get hit first, possibly “knocked out” of the game.
I don’t know if today’s game was the greatest Opening Day pitching matchup, but it was impressive and record-breaking.
I have nothing but respect for Max Scherzer. Scherzer is relentless as he storms around the mound like a bull, breathing steam out of his nose. Today he was no different. He dominated the Mets striking out 12. However, the Mets were able to plate two – one in the first and one in the eighth.
Jacob DeGrom is brilliant, but today in a less commanding way than Scherzer. DeGrom pitched six shutout innings, striking out 10. However, he faced more challenges than Scherzer, as he had to deal with more men in scoring position. He was able to keep the hitters off balance with an assortment of pitches including his amazing fastball and changeup.
For the record, today’s game was the first time in almost 50 years that both opening day starters struck out at least ten men.14 DeGrom also extended his streak of consecutive games allowing three or fewer runs. He’s now at thirty and passed Jake Arrieta for the most in history. 15
The Mets acquired Robinson Cano for his power bat and leadership. Mets fans question how much he has left. Today he proved his worth:
- He homered off Scherzer in the first to give the Mets the early lead – all that was needed.
- He singled in the eighth to produce the Mets’ second run and the insurance they needed.
- Most important, he was “pivotal” (pardon my pun) in the 5-4-2-5 double play that ended the third inning and the Nationals’ biggest threat. It’s worth reading Anthony DiComo’s piece
ab outCano’s day and this play
The Great Hot Dog Debate
A hot dog at the ballgame beats roast beef at the Ritz.– Humphrey Bogart 16
I’ve decided to taste and rank hot dogs from each ballpark this summer.
In the next few days I will post the rules for the “contest”, but in the mean
I tried the “BANH MI” Hot Dog from Haute Dogs and Fries. The “BANH MI” is a beef dog on a grilled New England style bun, with sriracha mayo that is topped with a Vietnamese style slaw made from Jalapeños, cucumber, carrots, and cilantro.
I found it to be quite good, a nice way to open the hot dog season. The dog had a nice crunch, the grilled bun had a wonderful buttery taste and the slaw was nice and spicy. A refreshing change from the traditional sauerkraut.
However, Haute Dogs and Fries loses points because their signs don’t describe the dog choices. It would be nice to review the menu and know what you are ordering without having to ask. Imagine how many times the counter people had to explain what the “BANH MI” was. Also, the service was slow. They had a great group of people handling the orders but only one cashier.
Opening Day – Midnight:
I fall into bed roughly seventeen hours after I left home on this wonderful day.
The Mets and Nationals have 161 games to go. I have 29 more ballparks and 40 more stops to go. Can’t wait. Philadelphia is next on April 15th.
”The game of ball is glorious”Walt Whitman
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- All logo images via www.logoserver.com
- Information other than the “Damn Yankees’ piece is from http://www.sportsecyclopedia.com/al/wasdc/nats.html
- The last two bullets are from http://www.sportsecyclopedia.com/al/texas/texrangers.html
- Jerome J. Garcia / Robert C. Hunter© Universal Music Publishing Group, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc