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.
Thursday gave me an excuse to leave my house that I haven’t had since 2018: a ticket to a Washington Nationals home opener. But instead of a sunny daytime game, hours of rain pushed a 4:05 p.m. start against the Mets back to 7:05 and then further to 8:20 p.m.
I’m already in baseball mourning over the obsolescence of my rough understanding of double switches. I trust I have plenty of company in National League cities.
The game itself, however, fit into a familiar pattern of early-season mediocrity. The Nats lost to the Mets 5-1, with the highlights being some precision throwing by catcher Keibert Ruiz and shortstop Alcides Escobar to catch runners at first and home in the first and fourth innings, plus Juan Soto’s solo shot to right in the sixth.
I watched the Nationals lose a winnable baseball game Thursday. I’ve done that a lot since 2005, but this 8-2 defeat wasn’t just any home game. It was the Nats’ home opener–as far as I can figure out, the 13th that I’ve seen in person, starting with our team’s debut at RFK in 2005.
(The exception was 2007. According to an e-mail I sent to my wife, I listened to the game on the radio from home.)
That also makes this spring pastime one of the few consistent examples of me taking advantage of the flexible scheduling that I should theoretically enjoy as a work-from-home freelancer.
As in: When I wandered into this lifestyle, I had delusions of being able to devote the occasional morning or afternoon to a movie or a museum. Nope!
The reality has been one of compressed chores. My schedule affords enough idle time to let me get in some gardening or expedite a Costco run, but tearing myself away from other obligations for a few hours in a row seems impossible… except for this one rite of spring. I should not complain about that, even when the game in question has us getting lit up by the Mets.