September 23, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Au revoir, RFK Stadium
History will record the fact that the Washington Nationals came from behind to win the last baseball game ever played in Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, which "retired" today, 45 years after the umpire first bellowed "Play ball!" In only 13 of those years was real major league baseball actually played there, however. After losing three straight games to the Phillies, the Nats came out on top, 5-3, thus averting a four-game sweep. (See MLB.com.) This will at least be of some consolation as the Nationals / ex-Expos bid adieu to the grungy old stadium they have called home since moving to Washington from Montreal three years ago. Paid attendance today was 40,519, the first time the 40K threshold had been surpassed since Opening Day this year.
History will certainly overlook the fact that Jacqueline and I were among those who attended the next-to-last game yesterday. While the final results of the game we saw were melancholy (the Phillies beat the Nats 4-1 in ten innings), for the first nine innings we enjoyed a dramatic neck-and-neck contest in pleasant weather conditions. Tim Redding had an excellent performance, giving up only one run to the Phillies before he was relieved in the sixth inning. He even hit a double, but it didn't lead to any runs scored. The Phillies' Ryan Howard struck out in his first four at-bats last night, and we were hoping he would repeat the feat in the top of the tenth inning, but instead he hit a two-run single that ended up winning the game. In today's game Howard struck out again, tying the season record at 195, and with another week to go, he is in position to become the all-time leader in that category.
We had good seats in Section 433, near the front of the upper deck on the third base side. It was the first time I had seen a ball game from that side of the stadium, but at night it really doesn't matter which side you sit on. Some guy sitting to our left was asked by the usher to show his tickets after some late arriving fans claimed their rightful seats, and the jerk made a big scene about it. What an awful example for the kids who were with him!
Before the game, I made a few measurements and inspections to nail down a few uncertainties, and will probably revise the RFK Stadium diagrams one last time before long. At the request of Bruce Orser, who does a lot of research on home runs, I pinpointed the location of three of the white-painted seats where former Washington Senator Frank Howard's longest upper-deck blasts landed. One thing that struck me as I was strolling through the main concourse behind home plate was how close the street traffic is to the back row of seats in the lower deck.
Jacqueline didn't have any special impression of RFK Stadium in her first visit there, though she did notice the occasional whiff of sewage odor that Nationals' General Manager Jim Bowden has often complained about. She did have a good time, though, and I was delighted that she finally found the time to join me at RFK. We have seen ball games together before in Atlanta, Denver, New York, and Baltimore.
After the game, I made a point to snoop in the elite mezzanine level for the first time. Then I looked back at the field one last time, said goodbye and left.
Season winds down
Bostonians are beginning to perspire heavily as the despised Yankees close in on the Red Sox. This is exactly how Septembers are supposed to end! The Indians clinched the AL Central Division today, and the Angels are on the verge of doing so in the AL West. In the National League, the Mets, Cubs, and Diamondbacks have built [on] their slim leads over the Phillies, Brewers, and Padres, [while] the Rockies are making a strong push for the wild card spot. Now, there's a pleasant surprise!
As for the team in Washington, not much besides pride is at stake in the Nationals' final six games, which will be on the road. Obviously, they want to maintain their fourth-place position, which shouldn't be hard since they are three games ahead of the Marlins in the NL East. In terms of symbolism, I would say that finishing the season with fewer than 90 losses is a reasonable goal to shoot for. Since they are presently 69-87 for the season (.442), that means they must win four of their final six games.