Opening Night has many perspectives
A brief look at what happened in and around Nationals Park
WASHINGTON -- This was the day that Washington baseball fans have dreamed of since the Senators left town 37 years ago. They finally have their own baseball stadium, and the Nationals christened it against the Braves on Sunday night. Here's a brief look at what happened in and around Nationals Park on the special day.4:06 p.m. ET -- Earnestine Jackson bounded onto the shuttle bus that carries people from the RFK Stadium parking lot over to Nationals Park -- about seven minutes away -- smiling and waving. "Hi, everybody, how are you?" she asked. "Let's go Nationals. We're going to win tonight, right? Yes!" Jackson is one of the many fan ambassadors that was doing all kinds of little things to help fans on this day. She's from the District and came into work around 1:45 p.m., prepared to stay at her site until at least 90 minutes after the game. Jackson was walking all around near the intersection of 3rd and M Streets, just a few minutes from the stadium, telling fans how to get to Nationals Park. She knew it would be a long day, especially since the first pitch was still more than four hours away, but that couldn't wipe the smile off of her face. "I'll be here until we get you all home," she said with a grin. "Go Nationals." 5:41 p.m. -- There's more than 2 1/2 hours until the first pitch, but David Vincent already is busy. The official scorer sits on the last seat in the first row of the press box. He's all the way on the left, the opposite of RFK Stadium, when Vincent sat in the final seat on the right side in the first row. A computer programmer by day, he handles the official scoring for about 55 Nationals games and 25 more for the team's affiliate in the Carolina League. Vincent is getting ready to fill out the Braves' and Nationals' lineup sheets, which have room for nearly every statistic a baseball fan can imagine. He's got to make tough decisions each night, calls that influence players' statistics, which can affect many other things down the line. Vincent is a huge baseball fan and was delighted to be a part of the first night at Nationals Park. "It's fun to be here the first night, because it's sort of a historical moment," Vincent said. "Opening a new park, the first game of the season, and all the ceremonies around it, it's kind of fun to watch." 6:00 p.m. -- The stadium was starting to get crowded, but 10-year old Jack Jackson from Centreville, Va. didn't notice. Or care, for that matter. He was too interested in getting as many views of the new stadium as possible. Jack and his mom, Susan, were walking around the concourse, looking at and even taking pictures from different angles. Jack and his mother were standing near their season-ticket seats down the third-base line when the fourth-grader was looking for the best angle to take a picture of the field. "It's pretty cool," he said. "The outfield, all the seats are lower here. It's pretty cool to be [here]. I went to the last game at RFK, which was more crowded than this. But I know it's going to get more crowded in a little bit."
6:20 p.m. -- ESPN broadcaster Jon Miller enjoyed getting a chance to see Nationals Park. He's been at the openings of a few new baseball stadiums and took a good look around. Talking on the field during batting practice, Miller gave a few opinions, in his signature style. "It's a beautiful looking ballpark," Miller said. "And of course, we'll have to wait and see how it plays. That's the ultimate test, I think, for a ballpark. Does it favor the hitter? Does it favor the pitcher? And we won't know really the answer to those questions for a long, long time yet. It looks like it's a great fans park. When you stand behind home plate during batting practice and you look back at the stands, you get the lower deck and then you got several layers of small decks after that, it puts me in mind of the famed Italian opera house, La Scala. And, as you know, in opera, there are tragedies, there's redemption, there's great happiness. All of these things happen, and, of course, that is also what could happen here in Washington at this beautiful new yard. From tragic circumstances, losing streaks to redemption to an ultimate championship, it will all play out here. Opera, in the big ballpark along the Anacostia [River]."6:30 p.m. -- The Secret Service prepares for Presdident George W. Bush's visit to Nationals Park. They were checking out everything everywhere. Media members were getting their bags and computers sniffed by a dog and checked. Now, as game time drew closer, Secret Service agents were all over the place on the first floor of the stadium, checking and rechecking everything. Several of them were in the tunnel/pathway that leads from the field to the first floor -- where the elevators are that lead to other parts of the ballpark and the locker rooms. Later on, the building's elevators will be locked down because the president is in the building.
6:41 p.m. -- The Nationals get an ovation from the crowd when finishing batting practice and coming off the field.7:55 p.m. -- Hall of Fame pitcher Don Sutton, who is a former Braves broadcaster and now an announcer on the Nationals' TV broadcasts, handles the opening ceremonies from the field wearing a chic black tuxedo. He introduces the Braves first. When finished with them, Sutton says: "And now, ladies and gentlemen, it's time to meet your 2008 Washington Nationals" The last part of Sutton's sentence was drowned out by the roar from the sellout crowd. The Braves' and Nationals' non-starters and coaches all run out over red carpets in front of their dugouts. Starters for Washington get different treatment, however, as they run in over a red carpet at the center-field fence between two huge American flags unfurled in right and left field before joining their teammates on the first-base line. 8:15 p.m. -- President Bush comes out to throw the ceremonial first pitch. He gets a good mix of cheers and boos when walking out onto the field wearing a red Nationals jacket. Bush then gets a roar from the sellout crowd when throwing the pitch to Nats manager Manny Acta, a little high, but a good fastball nonetheless. 8:19 p.m. -- The Nationals get a standing ovation when taking the field for the top of the first inning. 8:21 p.m. -- Washington starter Odalis Perez throws the first pitch in the new stadium. Atlanta's Kelly Johnson fouls it off as thousands of flashes go off in the stands. The crowd roars. And a new era in Washington baseball begins. 8:35 p.m. -- Cristian Guzman draws a huge ovation when lining a single to right on the first pitch from Tim Hudson. It's the first hit in the new ballpark. Guzman later scores the stadium's first run on Nick Johnson's two-out double.
9:32 p.m. -- Fans are looking at everything throughout the main concourse. Many are simply walking around and checking out everything and not even paying much attention to the game, which the Nats lead, 2-1. One of the more popular areas is the open-air plaza behind left and center fields. It's also a spot where you can feel the cool temperature, now in the high 40s. The wind started to swirl -- not as bad as in Saturday's exhibition game with Baltimore, but still making it cold enough. Michelle Bates, selling programs at a stand behind the left-field foul pole, certainly felt it. She was dancing perfectly to "Whoop, There It Is" during the fifth inning. When asked if she was dancing because she liked the music, she smiled. "Nope," Bates said. "I'm just trying to stay warm."9:48 p.m. -- The Strike Zone, an area filled with things to delight children, is doing just that during the sixth inning. Kids are playing all of the interactive video games, including "Guitar Hero 3," and doing very well. A lot of the kids are walking in to take a break from the game for a moment and to just look around. Robert Beckwith of Washington brought his son, Gene, in after they went to the bathroom and to look at something else. Gene seemed entranced by the games, but Dad said they'd be going back to their seats momentarily. 9:54 p.m. -- Food lines are very long throughout the ballpark. A sold-out crowd will often do that. But there are so many types of food, something that's likely going to be very popular in the coming years. One of the more interesting places is the Kosher food stand right by the Strike Zone. They have one of the more unusual items to buy -- a kosher spicy Italian sausage. Hmmm.
10:45 p.m. -- The stadium erupts when Washington's Ryan Zimmerman blasts a walk-off homer to give the Nats a 3-2 victory. The roar began the moment the ball left the bat and just grew louder until it cleared the fence in left-center field, just over the sign that says "Welcome Home!" The Nationals streamed out of the dugout to greet Zimmerman, who's made quite a habit of doing this in his young career. They all celebrated as Zimmerman touched home plate to give Washington its first victory in the first game at its new home. The fans gave Zimmerman another ovation when the replay was showed on the video board in right-center.
11:06 p.m. -- Kevin Allen is a local photographer who lives in Herndon, Va., and has been affiliated with sports for many years. He worked with the Orioles, was there for the final game at Memorial Stadium and for the first game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. He had a long friendship with Frank Robinson and missed his first Orioles opener in many, many years to find his way to Philadelphia to see the first game in Nationals history in 2005. That's why Allen didn't want to miss this game. He had problems finding tickets and finally called in a favor from a well-connected friend, which is why he was standing in the main concourse and smiling about 20 minutes after Zimmerman's game-winning blast. Allen watched the crowd slowly filing out and said this wasn't just another opener. "This was an event," he said. "This was definitely an event, and as Camden Yards was for about two years, it was not so much the ballgame, but the event."
Jeff Seidel is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.