A BLAST ON OPEN­ING DAY

42,744 fans, two home runs, one happy town

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY NORA PRINCIOTTI

Washington Na­tion­als Man­ager Dusty Baker was up be­fore the sun on Mon­day morn­ing. His alarm was set for 6:30 a.m., but Baker was awake by 4. He was a bit rest­less.

“I wasn’t ex­cited but some­thing was hap­pen­ing, some­thing woke me up,” Baker said.

It was Open­ing Day.

By 11 a.m. down at Na­tion­als Park by the South­west wa­ter­front, lines stretched out from the gates along South Capi­tol and M streets. Some dou­bled back on them­selves un­til they were no longer lines but amor­phous blobs of peo­ple. Some dal­lied, ogling the stilt-walk­ers in red, white and blue dol­ing out high fives, while others pushed for pole po­si­tion to pass through the turn­stiles once they opened for a new year’s busi­ness.

“There’s noth­ing like Open­ing Day,” Baker said.

Baker would know. On Mon­day, when his Na­tion­als and the Mi­ami Mar­lins trot­ted onto the freshly man­i­cured grounds for the first game of the 2017 sea­son, Baker suited up for the 22nd Open­ing Day of his man­age­rial ca­reer. They don’t blend to­gether, he said, but they evoke

sim­i­lar feel­ings.

“You think about what the sea­son will bring and the chal­lenges that you’ve had in past years and ev­ery year is dif­fer­ent,” Baker said. “The chal­lenges are dif­fer­ent. You think about the race. It’s the great race. It’s a race of en­durance, it’s a race that only the strong, men­tally and phys­i­cally, you can sur­vive this race. This is the marathon of all marathons.”

By 12:30, the open­ing cer­e­monies were un­der­way. Pitcher Max Scherzer and sec­ond base­man Daniel Mur­phy were awarded their Cy Young and Sil­ver Slug­ger awards from last sea­son in front of all the fans.

There were five cer­e­mo­nial first pitches, each one thrown by a mem­ber of a dif­fer­ent branch of the U.S. mil­i­tary. The U.S. Army Brass Quin­tet per­formed the Na­tional An­them and Amer­ica The Beau­ti­ful while the U.S. Armed Forces Color Guard un­furled the col­ors in cen­ter field. The U.S. Navy VFA-143 Pukin’ Dogs per­formed a fly­over in their F/A-18E Su­per Hor­nets.

“The first pitch I thought was pretty cool, the fly­over was awe­some. Just that Pa­tri­otic feel­ing I think is as­so­ci­ated with base­ball, it’s even more mag­ni­fied on Open­ing Day,” said short­stop Trea Turner, whose un­cle helped or­ga­nize the fly­over.

While all this was go­ing on, start­ing pitcher Stephen Stras­burg was get­ting rest­less, too. Awards and pleas­antries can in­ter­fere with a starter’s rou­tine, and Stras­burg waited over half an hour be­tween his warm-up and when he ac­tu­ally took the mound.

“I think I went out there a lit­tle early and then ended up be­ing ready well be­fore the start of the game so I had to shut it down a cou­ple of times in the bullpen, but that’s al­right,” Stras­burg said.

The game it­self started right on time — Mi­ami’s Edin­son Volquez threw the first pitch at ex­actly 1:05 p.m. It was a nice day, a lit­tle over­cast, but 66 de­grees at the time of the first pitch.

Many had skipped work, or school, to be there, even though there will be plenty of hot sum­mer nights spent here in the com­ing months.

“Ev­ery­body com­plains about the sea­son be­ing too long, some­times the play­ers, most of the time, some­times the fans, and yet still when it’s over within a month they can’t wait un­til base­ball starts again, you know what I mean?” Baker said. “Like, hey, give us some time!”

“And you know, when you think about the chal­lenges of the sea­son that you’re go­ing to have to deal with, and there’s only go­ing to be one win­ner, and you al­ways think it’s go­ing to be you. And you know, you run the race ac­cord­ingly to how your lord wants the race to be run. You run it for a cause and a pur­pose and you play it for the peo­ple. The peo­ple of our coun­try, the peo­ple of D.C. and this is what you’re play­ing for.”

The peo­ple — a sell­out crowd of 42,744 — came out to watch them.

Be­fore the game, Gen­eral Man­ager Mike Rizzo walked around the tun­nels un­der­neath the sta­dium. He wore a navy suit and pur­ple tie, greeted sea­son ticket hold­ers and hugged many of the sta­dium work­ers clad in team-is­sue jack­ets with the words “Ask Me!” printed on the back.

Dur­ing the mid­dle in­nings, a group of con­struc­tion work­ers perched on the con­crete frame­work and scaf­fold­ing atop an of­fice build­ing go­ing up across the street took a break from their work to watch, dan­gling their legs off the edge of the build­ing and look­ing down into the park.

Shortly be­fore 4 p.m., the game was over. The Na­tion­als won, Bryce Harper home­red, and a lovely af­ter­noon was de­liv­ered with base­ball’s usual sto­ry­book flair. Soon will come a long sum­mer, with hopes of a long au­tumn to fol­low, and the pomp and cir­cum­stance will have to be doled out more ju­di­ciously as the fresh start gives way to the 162-game slog.

Baker knows this as well, which means he knows to enjoy the mo­ment while he can.

“It’s a beau­ti­ful game,” Baker said. “Ask me about it in Au­gust and, you know what I mean, it’ll be a lit­tle dif­fer­ent. But to me, it’s Open­ing Day.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

OPEN FOR BUSI­NESS: Washington Na­tion­als out­fielder Bryce Harper de­liv­ered sto­ry­book flair for the 42,744 fans on Open­ing Day at Na­tion­als Park on Mon­day with a sixth-in­ning home run in a 4-2 vic­tory over the Mi­ami Mar­lins.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Five mem­bers of the United States Armed Forces throw the cer­e­mo­nial first pitches dur­ing the Open­ing Day fes­tiv­i­ties prior at the Washington Na­tion­als win on Mon­day.

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