Last night was Ian Desmond bobblehead night at Nationals Park. As I stated in my post about the Jayson Werth Garden Gnome, I’m not one of those crazy, die-hard bobblehead fans. However, that Garden Gnome may have converted me. I found myself desiring a bobblehead of my favorite baseball player, which lead me to 1500 South Capitol Street on Thursday afternoon. While I was not first in line for this one, I did receive one nonetheless.
In deciding whether to attend the game or not, I was slightly hesitant. I had not seen a win at Nationals Park since Jordan Zimmermann’s complete game two hitter against the Marlins last season, and the Nationals were in the midst of an outstanding nine game winning streak. I figured my presence at the game obviously wasn’t going to affect on-field performance and I thought it would be pretty neat to say I was at the Nats’ 10th win in a row.
Gio Gonzalez pitched the last game I attended but had a much more solid outing this time around. He threw 7 full innings while not allowing a run and striking out six along the way. He only yielded four hits and three walks, an encouraging sign of hopefully similar outings to come in the near future.
The story of the game early and throughout the entire contest for the Nationals was runners left on base. It seemed that everytime the Nats would find themselves with an opportunity to score, they would also find a way not to score. In fact, as Adam Kilgore tweeted, through 7 innings the Nats had eight hits and six walks (i.e. lots of baserunners). However, at that same point in time they were 0 for 11 with Runners in Scoring Position, and had left eight runners stranded. Had the Nats gone on to lose the game, I’m sure that would have been a more prevalent topic in Matt Williams’ post-game press conference.
The Nationals’ defense though backed up their pitching. Behind multiple double plays, the game was scoreless entering the 9th inning. If the Nationals were to extend their winning streak it would come via the walk off. But what’s new? The Nats had walked off four of the last five days, so why not make it five of the past six?
A side-note, I had never seen a Major League walk-off in person before even after all my years of attending games. I guess it was the magic in the air, but I could sense something was brewing in the bottom of the ninth that might put that streak to an end.
With one out in the bottom of the ninth inning, Denard Span notched his second hit of the ballgame. Upon reaching first base, Mark Trumbo, the Diamondbacks’ first baseman, said to Span, “Just how you guys like it (referring to now possibly winning on a walk-off).” After waiting patiently and analyzing the quick-delivery of Arizona’s pitcher, Evan Marshall, Span stole second base. He picked a perfect pitch to steal too; a slider, giving him that extra time to slide in and beat the tag.
Span was now in scoring position and it was a question of whether Rendon would come through. I had my camera recording for what I hoped would be that elusive walk-off I had yet to see in person. Rendon connected and hit a ground ball to the third basemen, and it’s Arizona’s third basemen Jordan Pacheco whom Nats fans should thank. He made an errant throw to first, and when Trumbo failed to scoop it, the ball bounced into the Nationals dugout. The ball was out of play and by rule Denard Span was allowed to score. The Nationals were now the owners of a 10 game winning streak; only the second time they have accomplished this since returning to the District in 2005.
The Nationals had walked off for the fifth time in six days. I had witnessed my first Major League walk-off. My losing streak at Nationals Park was over. I got my favorite player’s bobblehead. I captured the walk-off on video, which you can see below. Needless to say, it was a good day.
Almost two years ago, I created my Twitter account (@PaulFritschner) and began to follow an account called Jayson Werth’s Beard (@JWerthsBeard). The real-life owner of this account remains anonymous, so we simply refer to it as the Beard. It posts creative photoshops relating to the Washington Nationals, possibly it’s most famous of which is a picture of Jayson Werth’s face photoshopped onto the face of a garden gnome.
Back in February, the Nationals announced the promotional schedule, and wouldn’t ya know: August 5th was the Jayson Werth Garden Gnome. Bobbleheads do not usually matter much to me as far as a must-have giveaway, but after seeing all those crazy photoshops, I knew I had to get myself a gnome. You may ask, what’s the craze? It’s just a plastic garden gnome of a player. Maybe to you it’s a plastic garden gnome, but to the Nationals community it is a fantastic piece of baseball memorabilia.
The day was getting closer and after seeing the lines for the Bryce Harper Bobblehead, along with all the promotion the Nationals were doing on social media for this gnome (also here), I knew the lines were going to be incredible. I thought to myself, well, if I’m going to get there so early to be able to get one, I might as well be first, right? In order to be first would mean a long wait. To aid in my relief from boredom, I asked my friend from school, Francis Bright, if he would attend the game with me and wait in line. He was all for it, and Gnome Gnight was set.
We arrived downtown around 1:15 and when we couldn’t see a line at the gates forming yet, so we walked down the street to grab some lunch at Potbelly. We figured it would be a long, hot couple of hours, so we made sure we were adequately prepared.
To my surprise, nobody was in line yet, and we walked up simultaneously with one other man to take our spot in a line. This was right around 2:10, and the gates opened at 4:30, so we now had about 2 hours and 20 minutes before we could receive our gnome.
We brought our gloves for batting practice, and I had brought a ball, so we played catch for about a half hour until we decided we should sit at the gate so as to secure our place in line. This meant that we were relegated to finding a way to pass about two more hours.
At 3:30, with exactly one hour left to go, I got a Direct Message on Twitter from Scott Allen, a sports writer for the Washington Post. He asked if he could interview me about waiting in the line. I was ecstatic, and did the interview over the phone a few minutes later.
Around that same time was when the line began to take shape. I took this picture right before the interview:
I relayed the message to many people I knew about what had just happened, including podcast co-host Steve Miller. he was the first one to send me the link to the article after it was posted within minutes. I will include all the links to the article later in this post.
The interview excitement helped the next few minutes go very quickly. All of a sudden there was less than a half hour to go, and the excitement was building. Throngs of people made their way down Half-Street from the Metro, anxious to take their place in line.
The ushers began to prepare for the onslaught of gnome-hungry fans. After all the time waiting, I was beginning to get somewhat anxious for the gates to finally open. With seven minutes to go, it was now a sea of red down Half-Street and around the gates.
Then at 4:30, after nearly two years of photoshops, six months of waiting for this game, and almost two and a half hours at the gate, I had my hands on a Jayson Werth Garden Gnome.
As an added benefit to being in the front of the line, this meant prime position in the Red Porch to take in batting practice. Francis got a ball right after we had gotten ourselves situated when, who I believe was, Tanner Roark launched a ball that bounced off the field and up into the seats. It was now my turn for a ball of my own.
Since I was little, I have attended Potomac Nationals games, as I wrote about in my very first post. I have collected dozens of baseballs from those games and many baseballs from Major League games, but even after all these years, I have never caught a ball on the fly. As in, catch a foul ball or a home run before it hits the ground. I’m always having to chase after them. I made it my goal to catch at least one before I go off to college next year, and I thought that maybe after all the good things that happened, today would be the day.
Sure enough, Danny Espinosa (99% positive it was him) launched a home run right to where I was standing. It was only a matter of whether I or the few other people standing around me would get it. I stuck my glove way up (shades of The Sandlot), and the ball smacked right into my glove. I had finally been in the right place at the right time.
The day was now on another level. Francis and I watched the Nationals finish up batting practice and proceeded to watch the Mets. We didn’t catch any more baseballs, but I was plenty satisfied. I had my gnome, a baseball, and an interview. Now all we needed was a Curly W.
Francis and I made our way to the other side of the stadium to begin our ascent to our seats in Section 226. My dad was already sitting up there, and when we arrived he had just had a conversation with the couple behind him. Apparently they were already aware of the interview article and confirmed I was the one who was in it. It’s amazing how quickly information spreads
Lefty Gio Gonzalez started for the Nats, opposed by Zach Wheeler for the Mets. Gio gave up a triple in the first inning to Daniel Murphy, who later came in to score to make it 1-0. The Mets added another run in the top of the second before the Nats answered with a run of their own in the bottom of the second on a wild pitch to make it 2-1.
Both pitchers began to settle into a groove, but the groove for Gio would only last so long. The Nats could not provide him with much run support, even squandering a scoring opportunity when a groundball hit Asdrubal Cabrera. Ian Desmond had to return to third base and did not end up scoring, thus leaving the Nationals still at a deficit.
Gio began to struggle in the 7th inning with the Nats still trailing 2-1. Drew Storen replaced him with men on first and second, both of whom came in to score after a sacrifice bunt by Wheeler and a single by Daniel Murphy.
The Nats gave up one more run in the 8th inning to make it 6-1, the eventual final score. They could not muster much of a rally in the game’s final two innings, leading to a defeat on Gnome Gnight. A Curly W was not in the books after all. Jayson Werth himself did not get a gnome, and said post-game of the 15,000+ who didn’t receive one, “I know how they feel.” Also an interesting statistic I read from Scott Allen today. This season, the Nats are 1-6 when playing in front of 40,000+ people and 2-10 when playing in front of that many since 2013.
However, while the actual game may not have been fantastic, basically everything else about the day was.
The interview took off and was posted in various articles across many different websites.
The original article, written by Scott Allen of the Washington Post, can be found by clicking here.
A section of USA Today called For the Win picked it up, the article for which can be found here.
The website Deadspin also did a piece of their own on the line for the Gnomes and their article can be found here.
We were hyperlinked in an article on the NBC Washington website and that can be found here.
Finally, for those curious, the gnome is being sold on eBay for over 150$. So if you think its just a cheap giveaway, it’s a giveaway that could earn you some money if you wanted to sell it. Check out the bids here. I for one will be keeping my gnome.
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Here are some more pictures from the rest of Gnome Gnight. It was really a fun day; a day I will not forget for a long time.
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.