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Midnight Baseball in D.C.

The view from our free seats.

As the Nats have filled their savings account with losses in recent years, a few undying optimists, like this author, have suggested that having a baseball team is kind of cool, even if it's a mostly stinky baseball team. Other ice-hearted cynics have countered that having the team isn't enough, and that you wouldn't celebrate a new restaurant's opening on your block if the restaurant only sold deep-fried spoiled cabbage and pretzels made out of caramel-covered calf tendon.

Whatever. A fellow sportswriter and I went down to Nats Ark sometime around 11 p.m. on Saturday. What followed was a two-hour tutorial on why it's generally a good thing to spend 18 trillion dollars to bring a baseball team to town: because it's fun, sometimes, and because you can see stuff that you wouldn't otherwise see on the Anacostia waterfront at 1 in the morning. Here, check out this partial list:

1) We parked directly in front of the stadium, for free. Literally, we could not have parked closer to the stadium entrance unless we drove through the gates and over the many-limbed baseball statues. I used my credential to get in for free, but my chauffeur needed a ticket. He was directed to the office of ticket services, where the woman there just handed him a ticket from Sect. 114 for free. Let's play two!

2) Almost all the concessionaires were closed, though there were plenty of available napkins to towel off the soaking wet seats. But there was at least one open Ben's Chili Bowl stand, with at least three employees and no line to speak of. And when walking to get my bag of peanuts, I saw two people who were legitimately asleep. I might never again in my life walk to get a bag of ballpark peanuts and see two sleeping fans.

3) Fun with stats: The 13 runs were the most the Nats have scored at home since moving to D.C. The few thousand people has to have been one of the 10 or 20 smallest crowds to have watched a game. That means, on a runs-per-capita basis, this game was truly special.

4) When Wil Nieves came up in the bottom of the seventh, his night had consisted of a struck out swinging, a struck out swinging and a struck out swinging. The fans rallied behind him. "Let's Go Wil!" they chanted. "Let's Go Wil!" It's past midnight, the two worst teams in the Majors are playing in front of a thousand or so fans, and the part-time catcher is getting serenaded by the fans. So what if he struck out swinging again? We all have bad days.

5) The fans sitting a few rows in front of us included two Red Sox shirts, a Yankees jersey, a Rangers jersey, a Mets shirt, and not a trace of Nats fandom. But there they were, as midnight came and went.

6) Batista was there. I mentioned this earlier, but the WWE star and Northern Virginia native had brought his almost-two-year-old son Oliver to his first baseball game, and three hours of rain wasn't going to dampen that lifetime moment. Plus, Batista wanted him to get to experience the seventh-inning stretch.

"It was his first game -- I didn't want to leave," Batista told me. "Then they started playing again. So I figured, you know, he's having such a good time, his spirits are up, he didn't crash on us, so we figured we'd just stay."

Batista lives in the Tampa area now, and is technically a Yankees fan, "but if I'm in D.C., I come and support the Nationals," he said. "Every time I'm in town I try to catch an event, whether it be a Bullets game--or what are they, the Wizards now? I refuse to call them the Wizards--or a baseball game or whatever, just enjoy the atmosphere and come out and support D.C. teams."

7) There were free gifts. Harris Teeter bags. The ground was thick with the discarded bags, which helpfully carried a $1.99 price tag, so you knew exactly how valuable a gift it was. Who says you can't put a price on freedom.

8) More fun with stats: the Nats have experienced more hours of rain delays this season (33+) than wins (30).

9) Within six minutes of entering the statement, I saw one guy with a Jose Vidro jersey, one guy with a Vinny Castilla jersey, and one guy with a custom-made "Reefer" jersey. He said it was his longtime nickname. He appeared to be with his daughter, so I let the explanation remain a bit hazy.

10) Maybe it was the eighth or ninth inning when these chaps out in the left field bleachers started rattling around some bottles in the railing at the bottom of the stands. It was as if a full brass band suddenly invaded the MLK Library. I mean, it was loud. I mention this merely to reinforce how intimate the night was.

11) As I was leaving, I saw a man in a 44 World Baseball Classic jersey. Initially I was hoping it was Adam Dunn's dad. Instead it turned out to be a guy who carries a vanity baseball card identifying himself as Rubber Chicken Man.

You might remember Hugh Kaufman from such stunts as the 2005 Bag of Peanuts routine, where he bought a bag of peanuts for a peckish Carlos Baerga, whose run-scoring single in the bottom of the eighth started a rally from three down. The team promptly won 10 straight games, with Hugh buying Baerga peanuts each night, and then delivering him a backpack of the nuts for the ensuing road trip. Nine games later, the team came home, still in first place.

Since then, Kaufman has moved on from peanuts to rubber chickens. He would sacrifice the poor critters whenever the team seemed to be slumping, as kind of a lift-the-mood kind of deal. I pointed out that there have been a lot of slumps; "I've been killing a lot of chickens," he agreed.

Anyhow, about a week ago, Kaufman realized that maybe the problem was this was a treyf chicken. (Google it.) And, coincidentally, a big Macher (Google it) from Empire (Google it) was at a Nats game, and helped Kaufman procure an Empire label, which he promptly affixed to his rubber chicken.

"Well, they've played better since we sacrificed the Kosher chicken," Kaufman said. "The treyf chicken did nothing this year. The treyf chicken, they got creamed."

So now, we march forward into the future, with our $18 trillion baseball team and our newly Koshered rubber chicken and four wins in six games. Break up the Nats, with a side of Tzimmes! See, you can't say that if you don't have a team.

By Dan Steinberg  |  July 27, 2009; 2:21 PM ET
Categories:  Nats  
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actually dan, the harris teeter bag costs 2.49 since you aren't a VIC card member. haha

Posted by: mja712 | July 27, 2009 2:51 PM | Report abuse

Dan, you should have mentioned that the guy with the 'Reefer' jersey had these obscenely short shorts.

Posted by: truthaboutit | July 27, 2009 4:09 PM | Report abuse

So disappointed my peeps made us leave about 90 minutes into the rain delay. Sounds like we missed the game of the year.

Posted by: Barno1 | July 27, 2009 4:21 PM | Report abuse

Yes, but who won the Presidents' Race? I'm getting tired of bandwagoning Abe fans.

Posted by: FlyersSuck | July 27, 2009 4:28 PM | Report abuse

I just got to reading this. Bwhahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha! My husband and I especially love Hugh and the chicken (and no, I didn't have to google any of it).

Posted by: LurkerNowPoster | July 27, 2009 7:01 PM | Report abuse

When the Bog announced it was going to look for a new house, I was impressed by the coinage such basement dwelling was apparently pulling down.

Seeing the stylin' 1990s ride outside Nats Park, I've had to reconsider.

Posted by: WorstSeat | July 27, 2009 9:00 PM | Report abuse

Rain delays are the best games.

I love hearing the Milwaukee fans boo after that grand slam.

Posted by: sitruc | July 27, 2009 9:38 PM | Report abuse

Hilarious. I read this in the mornings hard copy of the Post and laughed my a$s off.


Posted by: GoingGoingGone | July 28, 2009 10:20 AM | Report abuse

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