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Three Days in the Life of a Nats Fan

I was at my sister and brother-in-law's house for the weekend, sitting for their dog Honey, who is the greatest dog in the history of the world. Only one thing was powerful enough to drag me away from her loving presence: Nationals games, a neat 15-minute walk away from their front door. I decided to write down my reactions to each game and see if any themes developed. Three thousand words later, the answer is: Yeah, maybe. Also I enjoyed the prose that resulted, so here you go.

 

Game 1 – Tampa Bay Devil Rays at Our Nats, 7/1/06, 7:05 pm

 

The game itself: Starter Livan Hernandez had as ugly a first inning as you can have while giving up only 2 runs, loading the bases before getting the final out, throwing first-pitch ball after first-pitch ball, and looking tired already after throwing 40 pitches to get the three outs. He had 78 pitches through 2 innings! Meanwhile, James Shields, Tampa Bay’s starter, looked not quite as bad but still pretty incompetent in his own first inning, also giving up two runs despite Frank’s highly questionable sac-bunt instructions. (We needed three runs, not one!)

Then: goose eggs. Livan kept getting into and then out of trouble, continuing to throw those damn first-pitch balls but always getting the Tampa hitters to ground out meekly on his well-located 85 mph fastball or that devilish 64-mph curve. Well, except Carl Crawford, who hit two deep hits to the gap in left-center (one a triple, one a single) before we started playing him to hit there. Then he got another single through the right side of the infield. That kid can run, too.

In the bottom of the sixth, Jose Guillen hit a homer into the second row of section 452 in the upper deck, which is a long way away. Livan had thrown over 100 pitches at that point, and he was allowed to hit for himself. In the top of the seventh, of course, he gave up a less mammoth but just as deadly homer to Aubrey Huff, and the score was once again tied, this time at 3.

Then more goose eggs. Majewski came in for the eighth and held it down for two innings. Tampa had brought in someone for the seventh, who yielded to Brian “Whiplash” Meadows in the ninth. I said to myself, “We have a chance to win this game.” This was proven true, but the proof had to wait until the tenth inning, when Nick Johnson came up with two out and cranked one to the clock beyond the right-center-field fence. Walkoff! Jubilation, celebration, vindication after the 11-1 loss the night before.

It was enough to make one forget the incredibly ugly at-bats by Alfonso Soriano occasioned by his first appearance hitting third (rather than leading off) in a while. So much flailing. And Royce was only the tip of an iceberg of cold situational hitting that left so many runs unscored it hurt. Meanwhile, Livan made every single batter into an adventure, going to a 3-2 count so many times it seemed intentional. Even having seen it happen, I have no idea how we won the game.

Fan notes: Attended alone. I sat in section 318B, having bought a ticket from someone standing outside the shipping-container box office set up near the main gate. That section sucks. It’s under the overhang, so when a ball goes up, that’s the last you see of it; I waited a few portentous seconds for Guillen’s homer to come down before realizing that it wasn’t going to. There is also no air circulation at all. And you can’t hear anything the PA announcer says. And the TVs they put up to make up for the complete invisibility of the scoreboard are not a good substitute for the actual scoreboard, since they show the MASN game feed, but without audio. I’m glad I sat there just to know that I should never do it again.

I was also the only person in my section cheering at all. At all. There were some little kids and older men who would clap along with me, but nothing in the department of people “yelling in enthusiasm when something good happened,” which to me is part of the point of attending a baseball game. It was of a lameness.

The woman next to me was good about tolerating my ongoing narrative to myself about the game’s events (“Why are you bunting, Frank? Why?”). She even asked me occasional questions, like why Tampa walked Jose Vidro to load the bases with one out for Royce Clayton. “To set it up so they can get a double play,” I said. “Then they could get out of the inning.” Two pitches later, that’s exactly what happened. “As I said,” I moaned. “As I said.” As Royce failed on one other occasion to score the runner from third with less than 2 out and also made a couple heinous defensive plays, I began to really dislike the Kayne song “Touch the Sky,” which plays for Royce’s at-bats.

When we went into extras, I took the opportunity to move down. An usher was merrily evicting everyone he could, but somehow didn’t notice me. Down farther, there was a pretty older woman who laughed extremely hard when I did my “LET’S GO, BIG JOHNSON!” joke when Nick came up. Then, when Nick jacked his pitch 415 feet, I was able to watch every foot of it. Take that.

 

Game 2: Tampa at Deez Nats, 7/2/06, 1:05 pm

 

The game itself: Ryan Zimmerman jacked a 2-run homer to cap a 3-run first, which was more than enough for Ramon Ortiz. Ortiz certainly stank to begin the year, but now he’s getting it done, throwing fastballs in the low 90s with good location, mixing in just-good-enough breaking stuff, and working quickly and purposefully. He gave up 1 run in 7 innings.

It was even more clear that Ramon’s efforts would be adequate after the Nats tacked on one more run in the fourth and two in the sixth, the latter on comical misplays by the Tampa defense. Reliever John Switzer gave up a leadoff single to Marlon Anderson. After yet another Brian Schneider out, Ramon attempted to sacrifice him over. It wasn’t a great bunt, but it was adequate. Switzer, thinking the bunt was worse than it was, threw to second, way too late to get Schneider. Then Tampa second baseman Jorge Cantu threw to the spot where first baseman Greg Norton may have been standing in some parallel universe, but instead it went sailing past Norton (who ducked for cover rather than extending his glove) and to the fence. Second and third. A few pitches later, Switzer served up a wild pitch, on which Schneider scored easily. Ramon came around third hard, then accelerated as catcher Dioner Navarro executed an exceptionally ill-advised backhand no-look flip to a fourteen-foot-tall version of Switzer that he apparently thought was standing on home plate. The ball dribbled up the first base line, and Ramon scored easily.

Catcher Brian Schneider looked terrible for the entire game, flailing in the same ineffectual way that Soriano had the previous evening. (To spare us all and give Alfonso a break, Frank Robinson kept him on the bench.) The afternoon for Schneider was capped by a third strike that rolled almost all the way to the backstop; he didn’t run at all, just dejectedly walking back to the dugout to a chorus of boos from the well-informed, small crowd.

As if to make up for this disappointment, Marlon A(nderson) had a great game, celebrating his first game in centerfield by making a couple pretty plays involving long runs and acute angles and by bopping two singles.

Fan notes: Sat with three awesome gentlemen who, while not old as such, are substantially older than me. Sitting with baseball fans whose memories go back farther than yours do is awesome. They kept the commentary spirited and the mood light. I was in section 511, a lovely section a little to the right of home plate and up high. The day was hot and humid and sweat-inducing – a typical Washington day. Everything can’t be perfect.

I remarked at one point at how there was no chanting at all of phrases like “Let’s go Nats!” The gentleman sitting next to me (who I knew prior to the game; these were his group’s season tickets) agreed. I wish there were more chanting.

At another point, I mentioned that it might be a good idea to report to the Maryland Department of Agriculture that Screech was showing clinical signs of H5N1, which would force them to depopulate him. I’m getting sick of that eagle-that-looks-more-like-a-chicken and the pornographic swaying of its distended belly.

The Washington trivia question today was about the inscription on the Korean War Memorial (correct answer: B, "Freedom is not free"). While this was appropriate for Armed Services Appreciation Day, it was a bit awkward considering that Tampa Bay's starting pitcher, Jae Seo, hails from Kwangju, South Korea. I speculated that they might ask a question about the Spanish-American War when Orlando Hernandez pitched.

 

Game 3: Florida Marlins at Our Beloved Nats, 7/3/06, 7:05 pm

 

The game itself: THWACK came the home run off Alfonso Soriano’s bat to start the game. Apparently yesterday’s rest was exactly what he needed: Besides that one, he cleared the bases after a Damian Jackson pinch-hit HBP (“Avenge Damian!” I shouted) and delivered a sac fly en route to a 4-RBI night. In the same inning as Soriano’s second homer, Jose Guillen jacked a three-run blast that put the game at 9-1 and thus removed all doubt. Florida is not good enough to come back from an eight-run deficit to anyone; they have Miguel Cabrera and eight okay players. I guess Dan Uggla is good, but still, no one other than Miggy scares me.

Nevertheless, for this one game, Florida’s Reggie Abercrombie looked like Tris Speaker, making three outstanding defensive plays in centerfield and cranking a homer to a couple sections left of where I was in the upper deck. It’s becoming extremely vivid to me how you can get a bad impression of a player from one game. Soriano couldn’t have looked worse on Friday, and today looked like he was taking BP against the hapless Florida pitchers. (He even threw in an outfield assist, denying Miguel Olivo’s attempt to stretch a single into a double.) Royce Clayton had two good games after his abomination on Friday (I’m fine with “Touch the Sky” again), and Nick Johnson did very little Saturday and Sunday. They definitely did what they did, but maybe my observations of 81 outs don’t mean much in terms of long-term evaluations.

This was Pedro Astacio’s first start coming back from his various injuries, and he looked good, giving up nothing apart from Abercrombie’s homer, mixing his pitches like a veteran, and in general looking how you want a pitcher coming back from surgery to look. He pitched five and turned it over to Saul Rivera, who took it to the ninth, where Jason Bergmann had an absolutely horrible time getting three outs but managed to do it eventually.

After Sunday’s game, I mentioned to one of my fellow attendees, "I disagree with virtually every tactical decision Frank makes, but I love him because I know he will tear Brian Schneider a new one. And [as a two-time MVP, Triple Crown winner, and slammer of 586 home runs as a player] he has the best possible rhetorical position to do so!" On Monday, every single ball was run out, and run hard, by everyone on the team. Who knows what transpired? But I have a pretty good guess.

One thing I am certain of is that Jose Guillen is getting it together. Three games putting up nothing but solidly hit balls, getting doubles and homers out of it. I knew his switch to John Barry’s James Bond theme for his at-bat music would pay off eventually. The Nats have also devised an awesome Bond-title-credits-esque video montage for Jose, complete with rifle-sight graphics, shattering-pane video effects and a femme fatale, and the scoreboard refers to him at 006. This segues nicely into the:

Fan notes: Overall, it appears that the Nats are playing lots more between-pitches music and giving more cues to people to cheer and stuff like that than they used to. While I have some kind of philosophical objection to this, they’re not overdoing it yet, so I will reserve judgment. They also have the video system operating a lot better, providing more timely replays and putting up the right graphics for each player and generally giving useful information in a fun manner. It’s like someone is in charge and able to demand quality service from the employees! And yes, the concessions lines are moving more snappily too.

Today’s personal fan experience was, as David Foster Wallace would say, complexly textured and ambiguous. First: I saw in Section 532 because I intended to check out what was billed on Deadspin.com as the Deadspin Field Trip. I think I had an idea that the section would be dominated by blog readers and we would all chat and root on the team and whatever. In the event, I definitely saw someone who was acting like he was Will Leitch, as he announced before the second inning that all the rows around him were filled with Deadspinners. (Google Images indicates that this was definitely Will Leitch.) He then left, coming back in the fourth inning holding a Miller Lite. After buying a stuffed bear from a strolling vendor with a flourish, he disappeared for the rest of the game. I mean, they were still playing baseball, even if it was less than dramatic at that point. (He may have been canoodling with one of the hot women in the Deadspin rows, a decision I would totally understand.)

Before the first inning, a guy wearing a “Free Darko” T-shirt had sat down next to me. I said to him, “I’ve never seen the hot dog vendor up this high,” when I saw said vendor scaling the Himalayan heights of section 532. (More Lerner influence?) Free Darko said nothing. Five minutes later, he went down to what appeared to be the Deadspinner rows, and then he left in a mass exodus that followed the presumptive Leitch’s exit. So this “Deadspin Field Trip” thing was total BS unless you were already part of the Deadspin clique, which was about what I had figured. Of course, things might have turned out differently if I had, you know, attempted to introduce myself to anyone. Or used Google Images before the game to figure out what Will Leitch looks like.

Anyway, my incredibly witty comments, boomed out at top volume, did not result in me being discovered by the sports-blogging community, which was slightly disappointing but fine. (What happens when the sports-blogging community discovers you?) I was there alone again, and kept up my running narrative just fine. I like going with other people better, but I like going alone way better than not going. This is useful information to have.

532 provided a fair vantage on all plays except those involving the left field wall, which subset of plays unfortunately included Soriano’s second homer. That thing looked gone when it came off his bat, though.

In the sixth, as in the other games, came that XM DJ Dance Cam thing, inviting spectators to move their bodies more or less rhythmically to an extremely popular song. No one was sitting within two seats of me on either side, and so I resolved when the Dance Cam appeared that, if I liked the song, I would be out of my seat and dancing, just to do it. The first couple notes of James Brown’s “Get Up Offa That Thing” played, and I sprang to life. (How can you not dance to that song? It begs you to dance! And it’s so damn easy to dance to!) I keep forgetting that people think I am a good dancer, and I attracted a lot of attention for my exuberance from the drunkish women who were a few rows behind me, which was fun. When I sat down after about a minute but continued dancing in my chair, they urged me back up, and I worked it out until the inning break was over, even throwing in a few bars’ worth of Running Man. Before sitting down, I tipped my cap. But then during the Fan of the Game contest, they urged me to dance again, and I felt really self-conscious. It felt like when you are in a conversation with someone you just met and reveal something about yourself more intimate than you meant to, and then that topic comes up again later in the conversation.

The people behind me kept getting their drunk on, though, which meant we could get some cheers going in the later innings, and I got the people in front of me going when the Nats’ Jason Bergmann began the ninth inning with four straight balls and went on from there. (“THROW A STRIKE!” “THROW ANOTHER ONE!” “I THOUGHT WE WENT THROUGH THIS ALREADY!” “DON’T MAKE ME COME DOWN THERE!”) Overall, the most exuberant fan experience of the three days, although Sunday’s was the best in terms of enjoying my compatriots. Of course, I had no compatriots as such on Saturday or today, but still.

BTW, the Nats are now 5-1 this year with me in attendance. Last year I went to nine games, in which they went 5-4. I still think the Nats should hire me in some capacity or another. I can write, I have all kinds of ideas about stadium entertainment, I think of new cheers every game (“It’s all for you, Damian Jackson!”, a la the “Omen” previews, was today’s favorite), and I’ll cut a rug for the Dance Cam. I even watch the games! What’s not to like?

 

All this tasty writing ©2002-11 by Andrew Lindemann Malone. All rights reserved.