Opening Day. The grass is freshly cut, the bunting hangs from the railings, the players are excited, there is a buzz in the air, and hope springs eternal for the upcoming marathon of a season. While it was not the first game of the season for the Washington Nationals, it was indeed their first home game at Nationals Park. Thanks to my mom who bought my dad and I two tickets for my dad’s birthday, I was fortunate enough to be in attendance for this year’s Opening Day festivities in D.C.
The day started off early to ensure we found a parking spot at dad’s office which happens to be right across the street from the stadium. We got to his office and found ourselves needing to kill about two hours before the gates opened at 10:30. Breakfast was eaten, and before we knew it it was time to walk over for our first game of the season.
Once we walked through the gates and received our giveaway hat, we split up so that dad could walk the stadium and I could watch batting practice. The Nats were taking BP first, but as is usually the case, they were quickly off the field once I got settled in a spot. I tend to stand in the Red Porch, hoping that one day I will catch a home run. Maybe this season I can accomplish that.
After the Nats cleaned up and a few minutes passed, the B…Br…Braves…came out of their dugout to take the field. Closer Craig Kimbrell, a nemesis of the Nationals and often considered the best active closer in baseball, assumed his position to shag balls right in front of where I was standing. Seeing the professionals everyday on TV is one thing, but seeing them up close in person is another. You could say, without a doubt, they do indeed lift.
As has been the case with just about every batting practice, I came up short on my effort to catch a home run. A bounce came close, just beyond the reach of my outstretched glove, but nonetheless I wound up empty handed. It didn’t help there was also about a million other kids there that had the same idea as me. I’ll just have to wait for a less crowded day.
The Braves finished up their rounds of batting practice, and it was time to find some way to occupy the last hour before the game started. I met back up with dad and we spoke to a couple friends of his who were also at the game. Around 12:30, the Opening Day events began, and we made our way across the stadium to the first base side to see everyone introduced.
Dad and I raced up to our seats upon the conclusion of the introductions in time to view the enormous American Flag in the outfield while the National Anthem was sung. Seeing the members of the military hold the Flag and taking in all the surroundings, it truly was such a memorable experience.
At last, it was time the game to actually start. The first few innings passed with relatively low excitement. Then in the top of the fifth inning, Nationals starter Jordan Zimmermann left a meatball for Evan Gattis who quickly deposited it over the bullpen in left field to put the Braves up 1-0. In the bottom of that same inning was when the controversy occurred.
Ian Desmond hit a ball down the left field line which ran down into the left field corner. The ball then got lodged underneath the wall, between the wall’s padding and the ground. Braves left fielder Justin Upton threw up his hands to indicate to the umpire that the ball was lodged instead of simply reaching down and throwing it back. Aware of the situation, Desmond did not stop running and crossed home without a play. The horn sounded indicating a home run and the crowd went nuts. Desmond had barely crossed the plate before Braves Manager Fredi Gonzalez was out to dispute the call. After a long discussion, he challanged the play and the first use of the newly-instituted MLB replay system at Nationals Park was underway.
There was a long delay before the decision was made that Desmond would only be awarded a double, what he most likely would have gotten in the first place if Upton had simply picked up the ball. Boos rained from the crowd, of course with no effect, and the game resumed. Desmond was promptly tagged out in a pickle, and looking back, that sequence proved to be one of the most important sequences of the game.
The Nationals added a tying run in the sixth but after Tyler Clippard surrendered a leadoff walk to the Braves in the eighth inning, that walk proved to be the deciding factor after the runner came around to score. The Nats could not muster another rally and they fell to the Braves in new-Manager Matt Williams’ home debut by a score of 2-1.
Regardless of the outcome, the day was truly a memorable experience. Being the baseball fan that I am, especially of the Nationals, it was a unique chance to see first hand the festivites of Opening Day. Here are some more pictures capturing the day.