The Washington Nationals just sort of exist. They are a team, not a franchise. As the eloquent Greg Prince of the Mets blog Faith and Fear in Flushing asked himself after watching a recent Nationals home game: “The Expos left Montreal for this?”
I saw “this” for myself last weekend, making the trip to D.C. with my friend Seth and my girlfriend Megan to visit another friend (Eric) and attend Saturday night’s Mets-Nats game. Years from now I’m confident I won’t be remembering the trip for my first ever visit to Nationals Park, though that is due to my great company and the Newseum’s awesomeness as much as anything else.*
We took the Metro to the ballpark, arriving at 5:30 (first pitch was scheduled for 7:05). We ran into Teddy Roosevelt and he was nice enough to pose for a picture. Like a true journalist, I asked him why he always lost the Presidents’ Race. He didn’t answer or gesture in any way, but given that it was 100 degrees I was impressed he was still standing.
We made our way to The Bullpen, a tent-covered area where fans can drink, play bean bag toss, and chill out in the mist zone. This atmosphere would prove to be far more lively than inside the ballpark.
The lack of energy could not be attributed to a lack of fans—attendance was announced as more than 35,000 and it sure looked more full than most Nats home games I’d seen on TV. The fact that it was a sunny summer Saturday certainly contributed to the strong turnout, but never underestimate the power of the bobblehead.** The first 15,000 fans that night received a Jayson Werth bobblehead. Unlike the real Jayson Werth, the bobblehead did not cost $126 million nor was it batting .219.
My plans for sadistic bobblehead voodoo vanished into thin air just like the mist in The Bullpen because, well, we spent too much time standing in the mist in The Bullpen and were not among the first 15,000 fans.
So of course I blamed myself when Werth was rounding the bases after his first-inning three-run home run, likely thinking to himself, I’d like to see a bobblehead do THAT. The blast, off an R.A. Dickey knuckleball that, replays showed, didn’t knuckle, started and ended the scoring for the evening.
The bobblehead may have lured more Nats fans than usual to the park, but there were plenty of Mets fans as well. I would’ve been able to make a more accurate estimate but we had nothing to cheer about. The Mets offense went 1-2-3 in the first and second innings and didn’t get a hit until David Wright’s two-out single in the fourth. Keep in mind Yuniesky Maya, not Stephen Strasburg or even the scheduled Jason Marquis (who was traded earlier that day), was the Washington starter.***
Yet it was not until the ninth that the Mets got a runner past second base, but Willie Harris ended the game looking at a breaking ball with the bases loaded. The final score was 3-0 and the final hit tally for New York was eight, all singles.
As for the stadium itself: meh. It is very new and there are nice views and it’s clean and…you probably shouldn’t listen to me because I prefer Shea Stadium over Citi Field. In fact, Nats Park is very similar to Citi Field, right down to the food selections: Shake Shack, Blue Smoke, and El Taqueria. The lines are just as long and the ordering process just as maddening. Somehow, in an attempt to avoid a 45-minute wait, I ended up with an $8 grilled cheese. Don’t ask.
While I don’t think the Washington Nationals are, to put it bluntly, necessary—the Orioles snatched up any local baseball fans long ago—there are probably a handful of other franchises that are, currently, just as uninspiring. But at least people like my pal Eric, a New York transplant, have more opportunities to see the Mets in person. And that—Saturday night’s lackluster performance aside—is a good thing.
*During my last trip to D.C. I didn’t make it to the Newseum and I was determined not to leave town this time without seeing it. It was certainly worth it, as aside from the regular exhibits—which included a 25-minute documentary on the history of sports journalism—we saw legendary CBS newsman Bob Schieffer.
**The last bobblehead I got was at a Mets game last year. It was Jason Bay’s, and Bay didn’t even play that afternoon, which was upsetting at the time but in hindsight was probably a good thing. Earlier this season the Mets had an Ike Davis bobblehead night but of course he was injured and didn’t play either.
***Strasburg is scheduled to make a rehab start this weekend and could return to the Nats in September. I don’t understand the point of this. I realize he had his surgery last September and a return later this season would be a typical amount of rehab time, but what is the upside of bringing him back to a last-place team so he can make a few starts?