Preview: the new home team
the new home team
the journal of a red sox fan who happens to live in a city given the gift of a major league baseball team for the first time in 34 years.
As the Nats are battling the Dodgers in LA, here's a quick update:
Baseball denies Mets' rain protest
NEW YORK (AP) -- Major League Baseball denied Wednesday a protest by the New York Mets, who felt the grounds crew at RFK Stadium performed poorly during a rain-shortened loss to the Washington Nationals.
Mets manager Willie Randolph protested Saturday's 5-3 loss based on Rule 4.16, which reads: "A game shall be forfeited to the visiting team if, after it has been suspended, the orders of the umpire to groundskeepers respecting preparation of the field for resumption of play are not complied with."
Rain fell steadily from the fifth inning on, and there were two rain delays before the game was called in the eighth inning. In the eighth, the grounds crew took about half an hour to fully cover the infield because the tarp had been folded improperly. The team brought in people working in the stadium's parking lots to help.
"We never said that they did anything intentionally. We felt that the grounds crew was trying its best," Mets general manager Omar Minaya said. "You never know when you file a protest."
Watergate and the Big Stage
Aside from the Nationals surprising start and the general hoopla surrounding the return of baseball to the District of Columbia the biggest story in this Washington baseball season is the conditions of the playing field at RFK Stadium.
The Nats loss to the Braves a couple of Thursdays ago on Christian Guzman's error was blamed by many on the rain and the abysmal field conditions with water collecting on the infield dirt. Mets manager Willie Randolph protested Saturday night's game on based on Rule 4.16 stating: "A game shall be forfeited to the visiting team if, after it has been suspended, the orders of the umpire to groundskeepers respecting preparation of the field for resumption of play are not complied with." Randolph concedes that he doesn't expect to win the protest but wanted to take the chance and, apparently, make a point about poor field conditions. Now Nats president Tony Tavares is defending the playing surface while Frank Robinson, who played at RFK before managing there, questions RFK's suitability for baseball.
Robinson: "Water doesn't drain out of here as well as it should," because the stadium sits lower than the Anicostia River.
Tavares: "The field's fine. Any field at any ballpark that would take as much rain as that field took both times would have been just as flooded. In fact, this field drains extremely well compared to a lot of other fields I've seen."
Meanwhile it was great to see RFK and enthusiastic fans on ESPN's Sunday night baseball. John Miller and Joe Morgan seemed absolutely giddy in the broadcast booth with Miller saying several times that this was the first broadcast from Washington in the 16 years that he and Morgan have been doing the Sunday night telecast. Miller, a former Orioles radio broadcaster, has ties to the area. Unfortunately, the stadium wasn't as full as it could have been. The Nats drew less than 30,000 for the prime time game after drawing more than 40,000 on Saturday. The Post reports
today that the Nats rank 13th in the league in attendance to this point.
Nats on the Map
In the Post
today, Tom Boswell writes
about the Wilkerson and Vidro learning the DC map. And John Patterson is the second coming of Greg Maddox. Nats win, 3-1. (image)
Nats Speak the Truth
Not all of what I love about baseball happens on the field. To a life long baseball fan like me, the regular quotes and cliches after games are as comforting as a home cooked meal. If I didn't regularly hear or read that a player was "just trying to make good contact," after a games winning home run; if a pitcher didn't admit that he "actually felt terrible in the bullpen" before pitching a three-hit shutout; if the manager didn't allow that "this kid is a good hitter and he's going to come around" after his starting shortstop starts the year in a 6 for 52 slump I'd take it as a sign that something was terribly wrong in the universe.
After Nats fans were treated to an uplifting 11-4 win against the Mets yesterday here are a few truths spoken by our local heroes:
"It wasn't a must-win games." - Frank Robinson. That's right, skip, you're not in the playoffs yet.
"For any pitcher, when the team makes some runs the game's more easy." - Livan Hernandez, who understands that the team with the most runs after 9 innings wins.
Brad Wilkerson noted that "when you score early it just carries throughout the whole game," aware that hard as Christian Guzman tries, nothing he does at the plate will cost his teams runs that they have already scored.
And our favorite leadoff hitter also reminds us that "now we're going home." That's right, Brad. The homestand begins tonight with the Phillies.
Thursday at the ballparks
I'm kind of jittery because I haven't seen a single pitch of major league baseball in about 18 hours after seeing exactly 599 of them from Nationals, Braves, Orioles, and Red Sox pitchers yesterday in games both at RFK and Camden Yards. It was 5 hours and 35 minutes of baseball all told.
Come to think of it, I've probably have seen about that many pitches thrown in a single game -- I remember going to Tiger Stadium a number of years ago and seeing a 16-10 affair (or something like that) between the Tigers and the Royals.
Yesterday's games were both pitching duels. All four starters -- Patterson, Smoltz, Lopez, and Clement -- were fantastic. Hitters were off balance all day and the starters were hitting their spots. It was a happy diversion from the steroid/andro/supplement/expansion-bloated scores of, say, the past decade.
I took the train out to RFK, walked up to the gate and bought a $7 ticket to sit in upper left field bleachers. The announced crowd was over 30,000 but the park looked fairly empty, though not terribly so for a weekday afternoon with rainy weather. The crowd was enthusiastic and knowledgeable enough it seemed and the much maligned food service at RFK was fine. As for the game, the weather played a serious factor. I was sitting under the overhang and was dry for the duration, but the infield collected puddles from about the fourth inning on. The funny thing was that the rain didn't appear to be coming down too hard. The infield dirt, however, looked as hard as clay and post game reports indicate that there have been a lot of complaints about the condition of the infield.
Patterson took a 1-0 lead through seven and Hector Carrasco pitched a scoreless eighth before Frank Robinson brought in closer Chad Cordero in the ninth. Cordero promptly loaded the bases with no outs but then struck out the next two batters. He then induced a hard grounder to short which Christian Guzman fielded awkwardly to his right and threw away into the first base dugout for a two-run error. Dan Kolb retired the Nats in the bottom of the ninth. Final score: 2-1.
Guzman looked confused at the plate all day as he has all year. He swings late, weekly, and looks uncomfortable in the box. And he didn't make himself available to the press after the game -- not a great way to endear yourself to fans in your team's first homestand in a new city. How long is Frank going to stick with him?
Going to Camden Yards after an afternoon at RFK is like watching HD TV at my parents house after watching games on my 13-inch RCA at home. The seats were better for one thing, and the field was in spectacular shape. I've been to see the Sox play the O's on their first home stand each of the last four years and am always reminded why the Boston Dirtdogs
call the place "Fenway South". When the usher showed us to our seats he said to our section, "Sorry guys, more Sox fans".
Despite the park and the general knowledge and passion of Orioles fans, yesterday, at least, I preferred the crowd at RFK. Seven games into the first homestand and the passion for the Nats, as expected, is still there.
The next opportunity for an afternoon evening two city double header is May 1. Who's going?
Let's play two!
I've been to a double header before, but never one like today. Yes, today I attended two major league baseball games in two cities.
This afternoon I took the metro over to RFK for the Nationals-Braves match-up, a 2-1 loss for the Nats.
This evening I saw the Red Sox blank the Orioles 1-0 at Camden Yards.
More details and observations to follow. Needless to say, it's been a very good day.
This time of year we should all play ball
It was sunny and cool when I woke up this morning, but it will warm up later. Highs should be in the mid-70s in Washington by this afternoon and, of course, my allergies are acting up. I'll go look for my baseball glove this morning -- all it's going to take is a whiff of leather and neatsfoot oil for my thoughts to turn to little league baseball.
I played youth baseball in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts on fields at Dean Park, Edgemere Park, a small sliver of earth near the legendary Spags wholesale store on Route 9, and when we made the playoffs, at a few parks in Worcester. At one of these fields I remember pitching with a large tree to my back in fairly shallow right field. Driving to the other side of town for a game was like going on a road trip and part of the allure of going to a new venue was finding a new pizza joint for the post game meal. When I started playing on the high school team we actually got to take buses and went on real road trips, sometimes to other states. It felt like being a minor leaguer traveling by bus from Trenton to Wilmington.
Baseball reveals its beauty in many forms, athletic, aesthetic, situational. I love the fields where it's played where nothing is uniform from park to park, save for the distance between the bases, the mound and the plate, and the point where the foul lines start. When I was growing up I knew there would always be a field on which to play organized ball. We never played under the lights and we never, as far as I can remember, had trouble finding a place to play our league games.
So this morning I'm thinking about the Courtland Milloy column
I read a couple of weeks ago in the Post
Metro section. Milloy wrote that this season, the first in 34 years with big league baseball in DC, the Department of Parks and Recreation is strictly enforcing pay to play rules for night games in District parks. Milloy introduces us to Mason Clark, a community icon who has coached youth baseball in Northeast Washington since 1963. Clark explains that this year his organization will be billed to the tune of $400 per week for evening games.
That's real money and a real obstacle for kids playing for the love of the game and the coaches who are volunteering their time for the love of the community. While district taxpayers are handing over money to fund a permanent home for the Nationals and related infrastructure development, the District government can do better than potentially shut out our little leaguers.
I'll look for updates on this story. Meanwhile, I'm going to look for my glove.
Fun. Not Fun.
: "Breaking out with a big seventh inning for the second game in a row, the Nationals extended their winning streak to five by completing a sweep of the Arizona Diamondbacks with a 7-3 comeback victory before 35,463 on Sunday." (AP)
Not bad for a team with few expectations other than to have a nice home in Washington.
: "Enough is enough. I am bitterly disappointed as I'm sure all Yankee fans are by the lack of performance by our team. It is unbelievable to me that the highest-paid team in baseball would start the season in such a deep funk. They are not playing like true Yankees. They have the talent to win and they are not winning. I expect Joe Torre, his complete coaching staff and the team to turn this around." Yankees owner George Steinbrenner in a statement following his team's 8-4 loss in Baltimore.
And so it goes with the team with the highest expectations in baseball.
For a DC-based Red Sox fan (and a Nationals admirer) it's a pretty good day.
I'm reluctant to gush because everyone is gushing
. Still, the park looked beautiful, the players looked like winners, and the fans were excited and appreciative.
The Post has great coverage of the game. Be sure to check out the first pitch panorama in the online edition
I wasn't able to get tickets for last night but I'll be at the park in the next few days. I'm sure the energy from last night won't be matched but I have a good feeling that the Nationals will remain a hot ticket. Today marks the real start of the baseball season for the Washington nine. The celebrations and firsts are over, the national spotlight lifted. It's time for this team to build from their great start and strive for consistency. If that happens, there will be meaningful games throughout the season and maybe a bit of energy at the park that matches last night come the dog days of summer.
You've Gotta Root, Root, Root. Seriously, guys.
reports today that up to five DC Councilmembers are skipping opening day with the Nats. Adrian Fenty (D-Ward 4) and Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) blame scheduling conflicts. Others are skipping on "principle".
I opposed much of the courtship of the major leagues because it was so tied to building a publicly financed stadium, but I always wished for a team in DC because I love the game and because the game can
be a good financial investment for the city and will
be great for the District's kids.
Oh, and in case you missed it, home games -- that's games in Washington, DC -- start tomorrow.
Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) who opposed the deal has the right attitude -- "Who could be opposed to baseball," he said. David Catania (I-At Large), on the other hand, says "At this point, it's hard to get enthusiastic about baseball." Really? That's too bad. Then perhaps I'll see you at an major league soccer game or something instead, Mr. Catania. And if you need to get rid of your tickets tomorrow or in the coming months and years, just give me a call.
Why I Love the Game - Part I
I stumbled upon the Angels-Rangers game for about half an inning last night and saw something that reminded me (as if I really need to be reminded) why I love baseball.
With no outs and Richard Hidalgo on first base for the Rangers, talented Texas rookie Adrian Gonzalez faced off against Angels pitcher John Lackey. Hidalgo was standing on first by way of the first hit given up by Lackey on the night, but the at bat by Gonzalez altered the tenor of the game. The Texas designated hitter fouled off six straight two strike pitches before working a walk on the fifteenth pitch of the at bat. Hidalgo, incidentally, was on the move to second on five straight 3-2 pitches before not running on ball four. He was so winded at one point that the first base umpire Bill Welke gave him a chance to catch his breath.
Lackey was also winded. His command of the strike zone deteriorated after the battle with Gonzalez and he was visibly upset after losing such a hard fought battle. He only retired two outs in the inning and allowed four runs – relinquishing the lead – before being lifted.
While the Angels won on a ninth inning single by Steve Finley, the most important at bat aside from Finley’s decisive poke was the duel between Gonzalez and Lackey. It shows up only as a walk in the box score, but inside the game it was crucial.
With baseball back in Washington, casual fans will have the opportunity to pick up on these nuances and, I hope, become serious fans as a result.
How to become a fan favorite
Here’s how to become a fan favorite:
1) collect the first hit in the history of your baseball team Brad Wilkerson can check the first two off his list. Yesterday in Philadelphia he hit for the cycle – for the second time in his career – and the Nationals won their first game 7-3. Expect huge ovations for Wilkerson when he steps to the plate next week in DC -- and expect for him to deliver with a base hit or two.
2) hit for the cycle in your teams second game ever
3) get a hit in your home opener
It was, of course, a little anti-climactic. There was no over-hyped pre game coverage to watch on UPN-20, the Nat's Network
(besides, Pedro was pitching for the Mets up the dial). Still, I wonder how many bottles of Champaign were uncorked around the District when Brad Wilkerson stepped in against Jon Lieber and the drought was officially over.
The production of the television broadcast on Channel 20 was rudimentary. Apparently the Nats through together the broadcast team and pre-game show quickly that they forgot to teach color commentator Ron Darling the players names. I did, however, like Mel Proctor's play-by-play.
As for the game, Nats fall
Yesterday at RFK
Tom Boswell's typically great writing on yesterday's game is here
. It was cold, the game was slow, the line for an Italian sausage was slower. The best moment was turning around as I was riding up the escalator at the Stadium/Armory metro station and seeing a thousand Nationals fans streaming onto the platform. (image)
As an introduction let me be clear that I have no frame of reference for what will follow. I grew up a committed Red Sox fan exactly 42.1 miles from Fenway Park. I went to my first game in May of 1986, that glorious year of heartbreak. I watched the Red Sox clinch the World Series for the first time since 1918 alone in a dingy office on a 9 inch television in Spartanburg, South Carolina last October. When Keith Foulke ran half way to first and lobbed the ball, underhanded and uncertainly to first base for the final out I fell to my knees, wept, and then ran outside waiting for hoots and hollers from closeted southern Sox fans – I heard none, everyone was probably watching home watching highlights of the local high school football scrimmage – but soon after fielded congratulatory phone calls from five different New England states, New York City, Nevada, and Australia. Then I walked down to the bar and drank myself senseless. It was less than a week before the election that I had relocated for back in June and remains the most memorable moment of my time in South Carolina. I am a Red Sox fan and that will never change. Five years ago I made a permanent home in Washington, DC and that probably won’t change anytime soon either. Like seemingly every baseball fan in North America – with the exception of the Baltimore Orioles owner – I agreed that the lack of a major league team in DC was an injustice akin to Jose Cancaco winning the 1988 MVP. Back then optimism was growing about landing a team, quite possibly by 2001 or 2002. As I remember it, either the Expos or the Marlins would relocate to Washington. But there was also talk of league contraction. When I asked lifelong Washingtonians (who aren’t hard to find, contrary to popular opinion) they were pessimistic about ever seeing a team inhabit the District again but discussed the possibility whimsically. It was like Red Sox fans discussing the team’s chances of winning the World Series in February and March – hey, it could happen, but we don’t expect it and life will go on if it doesn’t. Of course, these discussions didn’t take on the same passion of a dialauge you strike up at O’Leary’s Pub on Beacon St. in Brookline, Mass. Still, baseball fans in DC, especially those who remember the Senators (in their last days managed by the greatest Red Sox ever, Ted Williams) were hopeful. It’s April of 2005 and it’s officially next year, the year it happened. The Red Sox are world champs and Washington has a ball team again. I’m a Red Sox fan and that will never change. To write about the Washington Nationals, to root for the Nationals, or to follow the Nationals with the same passion and precision that I would about the Red Sox is impossible. Still, what will follow are observations of the rare opportunity to be a baseball fan living in a baseball starved city that has just been given a bounty of big league baseball. [...]