March 30, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Opening Night* at Nationals Park
The first-ever pitch at Nationals Park (in a real game) was a foul tip by Kelly Johnson, pitched by Odalis Perez. The first-ever hit at said ballpark was by shortstop Cristian Guzman, on the first pitch in the bottom of the first inning. The first run was scored two batters later when Nick Johnson hit a double to right field, and Guzman was first to cross the plate. Austin Kearns followed up immediately thereafter with an RBI base hit. What a fanstastic way to inaugurate the new era of baseball in Our Nation's Capital. (For the next five innings, however, no Nats reached first base.) In the fourth inning, Chipper Jones hit the first home run, which just made it into the "Red Porch" seats in left center. Game updates to follow...
President Bush's ceremonial first pitch was way high, but it's hard to throw accurately when you're wearing a heavy vest. He seemed slightly uneasy in the press box with ESPN's Joe Morgan and Jon Miller, but still made a few insightful remarks. We at least have to give him credit for being ahead of the curve on the steroid/dope issue, which he raised in his 2004 State of the Union address. At the time, many people had no idea it was such a big deal.
My initial impressions of Nationals Park were very good (of course), and the first fly ball to the outfield in last night's exhibition game against the Orioles revealed how close the power alley fences are. (The Nats won the game, 3-0.) The corner in center field seemed sharper than I expected. The high-definition video screen / scoreboard looks great on definition TV!
* (Opening Day is pretty much a thing of the past, sadly.)
UPDATE: It was quite a pitcher's duel during the latter innings, with the score remaining 2-1 until the top of the ninth. Then Jon Rauch came in as closer instead of Chad Cordero (stiffness?), and [Mark Teixeira -- oops!] got a double off the top of the right field wall, advanced to third on a ground out, and a passed ball allowed him to tie the game. D'oh!
As for the ballpark, I've found the TV camera perspective of the infield from the high-altitude press box to be very interesting -- another aspect of the new stadium that will take some getting used to. I noticed that the official distance to center field is 402 feet, not 403 as previously indicated.
FINAL UPDATE: How's this for a storybook ending to the first-ever regulation game in Nationals Park: With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, future All Star Ryan Zimmerman hits a line-drive walk-off home run to the power alley in left center. And the crowd went wild!!! (Zimmerman's homer was even shorter than the one Chipper Jones hit.) And so, the Nationals win their first game in their new home, 3-2. Jon Rauch got credit as the winning pitcher, even though he blew the save. You know, sports fans, it just doesn't get any better than this!
The mail bag
A record baseball crowd of 115,300 saw the Red Sox beat Dodgers in the exhibition game at Memorial Coliseum last night. Given the extremely short left-field dimension (192 feet), I was surprised that the final score was only 7-4. See Yahoo Sports; hat tip to Bruce Orser.
Also from Bruce: All traces of Barry Bonds have been removed from AT&T Park, according to ESPN. The Giants' front office has indicated that there are no circumstances under which he will be brought back to San Francisco.
UPDATE: T.J. Zmina really likes Nationals Park, saying it's like a hybrid of Comerica and PNC Parks: "One thing I find interesting is the lighting, the lights are not mounted on towers like in most current stadiums, however they're not quite on the 'rim' either as is popular in many football venues. Also not an aberration like at RFK, where the lights almost appear as an afterthought." Indeed.