The sights of the Washington Nationals’ home opener Thursday treated me to a form of time travel: Like in the Before Times, I took crowded Metro trains to an Opening Day game, walked under a giant American flag suspended from the ladders of two D.C. fire trucks, and waited longer than usual to get a beer in the sunny yet chilly stands.
It felt like it had been a while because it had: The last home opener I watched in person in the Before Times was in 2018. 2019’s Opening Day wasn’t in our partial season-ticket package, 2020 was a spectator-free season, my first home game in 2021 didn’t happen until late May, and 2022’s home opener was rain-delayed into the night and marred by dsyfunctional Metro service.
It felt great to see this rite of spring properly renewed after a few hard years. Just seeing subway cars filled with people wearing Nats gear put a smile on my face (it also helped that Metro did its job right, running trains about every two minutes from L’Enfant to Navy Yard). And then I got to Nats Park in plenty of time for Opening Day pageantry like D.C. Washington belting out the National Anthem, a flyover of four F-16s from the D.C. Air National Guard, and the ceremonial first pitch featuring Ukrainian ambassador Oksana Markarova putting the ball over the plate better than some U.S. politicians.
And then I watched the Nats throw away–literally, in the case of a few errors–a possibly winnable game. Although the 2019 World Series pennant flying above the scoreboard reminds everybody that we really did win it all, this year’s trade-reduced team provided one more form of time travel by reminding me of how bad the Nats were in their first few years in my city. And yet: An afternoon at the ballpark beats an afternoon in front of a keyboard.