Decades without baseball make Opening Day worth savoring
Scientists have predicted that babies born in the year 2000 and beyond have a better than 50 percent chance of living to be 100 years old. For children born in Washington then, that is the second-best thing about being growing up here in the 21st century.
The first? A baseball team to call their own.
Those born in and around the District in 2000 have had the pleasure of growing up in a world without the absence of a Washington baseball team. They’ll have memories and stories that their mothers and fathers don’t, moments that are indelible over a lifetime — even one that lasts 100 years.
The generation before? They had to borrow those memories and moments from Baltimore. It may have felt normal — just a young kid
watching Brady Anderson or Mike Mussina, childhood idols — but once the Montreal Expos moved to Washington and Major League Baseball returned in 2005 after more than three decades, they knew it wasn’t the same.
Brad Wilkerson was a Washington National. Livan Hernandez was a Washington Nationals. Chad Cordero was a Washington National.
If you don’t think that identity is a big difference — an important one — to a community, then you really weren’t paying attention to the 33 years Washington leaders spent with one failed campaign after another trying to get baseball back after the Senators left following the 1971 season.
The economic impact of the return of baseball to Washington has been a rousing success. But what can’t be quantified is the communal benefit of the identity of a team with the name “Washington” on the uniform. There will be those who dismiss such romanticism. But 40,000 people coming together in the city limits like they will Monday afternoon at Nationals Park against the Miami Marlins to celebrate another season — the 13th Opening Day in this city in the 21st century — is something that didn’t happen for those mothers and fathers who may have taken their children to RFK Stadium for that first home opener in 2005.
At a time when the sense of community is being disintegrated by the isolation of technology, a city coming together 81 times a year in one public place is something of value.
A young boy or girl born in the Washington area at the turn of the century might have been 5 years old on that April 14 day in 2005 when Hernandez pitched the Nationals to a 5-3 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks. If they were lucky enough to be among the 45,596 that day at RFK, they might remember years from now the day the stands shook for baseball. For some, it’s a story they’ll tell their children.
That baby born around the turn of the century would be almost 18 now. He or she might have a Ryan Zimmerman jersey at home that they’ve outgrown, or maybe a Nick Johnson T-shirt. Maybe they were wearing that Ryan Zimmerman jersey the night Nationals Park opened in 2008, a Sunday night when Zimmerman christened the park with a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth for a win over the Atlanta Braves.
And maybe they remember the next morning when Mom or Dad said they could stay home from school because they were out so late watching their baseball team win the first game in their new ballpark.
If they were one of the lucky ones, they were in the ballpark on that June 8, 2010, evening when a player that the city adopted as one of their legends before he ever took the mound — Stephen Strasburg — struck out 14 Pittsburgh Pirates in his major league debut.
Perhaps they weren’t lucky enough to get a playoff ticket for Game Four of the National League Division Series in 2012. But they stayed up that late that night, watching at home with their family, when Jayson Werth hit the dramatic walk-off home run over the left field wall against the St. Louis Cardinals for a 2-1 win. They may always remember jumping up out of their chair and celebrating in their living room with their family — like so many families around Washington did that night, sharing a moment that 12-yearold baseball fans in Washington quite frankly never had before.
And now, at 18, they may be going to their last Opening Day Monday before they head for college, when they’ll maybe meet Cubs fans or Yankee fans or Reds fans, all with their own memories of their hometown team. Now the Washington kid has his stories to tell.
And, for those lucky ones born in 2000, maybe when they are 99, they will still remember the time the stands shook when they were five years old, one of the generation that grew up again with baseball in Washington.
Those born in and around the District in 2000 will have grown up watching players like Ryan Zimmerman and without the absence of Washington baseball.