Decades with­out base­ball make Open­ing Day worth sa­vor­ing

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - THOM LOVERRO

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.

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