Baseball – week one! This is my favorite time of the year. I am a baseball fan, specifically a Washington Nationals supporter, and for the next 6 months I will be cheering for a great team that just keeps getting better. We have visited 23 major league ballparks over the past several years and have never run across the spirit that we see sitting in Nationals Park with our home team. This spectator friendly field is new enough that it is still developing it’s own history and traditions, but old enough to have created a loyal fan base. We have a beautiful park that has everything from awesome food and happy crowds to great player intro songs at every at bat. Our announcer Bob Carpenter may not be Harry Carey, but he offers solid play-by-play action during the game. Every game shows military support as the fans stand during the 4th inning to a patriotic song and wave their hats as a to salute to honor our troops. The Presidents mascot race adds some humor as five of our past presidents compete to run around the field. Everyone loves Washington, Lincoln and Jefferson, and while Taft was a big supporter of baseball having been known as the first president to throw out an opening day pitch and the creator of the 7th inning stretch, I still favor the underdog, Teddy. Some compare this run to the battling sausages in Milwaukee, but do sausages really race? Our 7th inning stretch consists of the entire stadium singing God Bless America, Take Me Out to the Ballpark and then we roll into Take On Me, a song by A-ha that is probably older than most of the players. I feel at home in this park and as I sat in the stadium this weekend it felt like spring has finally arrived, baseball has knocked winter out of the ballpark. Or as Bob says, See. You. Later. I love baseball season!
Watching preseason baseball this year I realized that spring training would also become Papa training; I had six weeks to pull him away from the Diamondbacks and turn him on to our team. We watched games, read articles and studied the players. We showed him statistics and explained that Matt Williams traded his Diamondbacks jersey for a National’s uniform and has promised a great season. I showed Papa where I worked and how close it was to the stadium and explained we would go to quite a few games. We were ready for Nats baseball!
Last Monday our Nats opened at Citi Field playing the Mets. I arrived home just before the end of the game and together Papa and I watched the Nats take their first win of the season. It was a great start! When I arrived home from work on Tuesday he said the Nats were doing great again. He noticed my confused look and quickly turned back to the game. I laughed and explained they were off today and he was watching the re-televised game from the day before. Papa smiled and continued watching; while his memory recalled a game from the day before he did not remember any game specifics to know it was the same game. In his mind Papa was watching a new game and by the end of the 10th inning he was certain their record was 2-0. I didn’t see a problem with this until I arrived home from work on Wednesday afternoon to hear grumbling as I walked in the door. Papa was watching another Nats game. The team is disgusting today; the Orioles beat them badly. Again I explained that he was watching a re-televised game, this time from a previous season, and reminded him the team was currently in New York. No, Papa was adamant, I never heard of them reshowing a baseball game, it was on today, it happened today, I saw it! That evening we watched the Nats defeat the Mets in game two, but at the end of the evening Papa was still certain that the extra games he watched were legit and the Nats had a 3-1 record. At this rate I was concerned that in Papas eyes the Nats would play three times as many games as every other team so I put a framed schedule on his side table and explained to always check the schedule before watching any more games on TV.
Friday we brought Papa to the Nats home opener to experience a little Natitude in our sold out stadium. Doug parked nearby and the two of them walked a quick two blocks to my office to pick me up on the way to the stadium. Papa was decked out in red, white and blue and ready for the game. Today was hat day, and Papa wanted to make sure we got there in plenty of time pick up his new Nationals cap. We could see him start getting nervous as we walked the last two blocks when he saw the crowds pick up and he frequently looked around to make sure he had both Doug and I in his view. Keeping him close we watched his smile grow as he saw the outside vendors selling food. We started wondering if was excited about watching the game or was he secretly planning his menu for the next nine innings. WOW! Don’t those W shaped pretzels look good?
We walked in the center field gate and after Papa proudly put on his new Nats cap we made our way through the crowd to find our seats in left field. The Nats were in the middle of batting practice and within several minutes a ball was hit up to us.
Papa grinned like a 10 year old when Doug handed him the ball. Great! I never got a ball before! What do I do with it? Can I keep it? Can we get some food now? We took a quick picture with Flat Stanley and packed the ball away before discussing food. Every night at dinner we hear Papa say I am not hungry, I don’t eat like I used to. While he may not consume as much as in the past he is not fooling us, Papa likes to eat. He snacked through every inning saving only his Cracker Jacks until after singing during the 7th inning break. It is a good thing he got some exercise in walking to the stadium!
Sadly the Nat’s lost and we were all a bit down as we walked the mile long walk back to the car. We reminded Papa that the season has just started; there are a lot of games between now and the pennant. Twice on the way home we heard, tomorrow night is T-Shirt night, are we coming back? I am not sure if his enthusiasm is for the stadium food, a promotional give away, or if he really enjoys the excitement of sitting in a full stadium watching our team play. No matter what the reason is, I think Papa already has Natitude and he will fit right in.