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Play Ball! First View of Opening Day

On a sparkling and suddenly warm April afternoon, the Nationals opened their third campaign a few minutes ago amid signs both encouraging and ominous.

A strangely sparse crowd welcomed the team to the last season at RFK Stadium--the centerfield stands looked almost entirely empty on the homescreen, and while the announcers on Orioles-owned MASN touted the 37,000-plus advance sales for the home opener, it looked as if many of those folks had decided not to play hooky after all. But it's still early and D.C. crowds are notoriously late arriving.

Those who were there on time got to see a quintet of luminaries replacing the president to throw out the first ball: In addition to Washington Senators all-stars Mickey Vernon and Chuck Hinton, there was Hank Thomas, the grandson of Walter Johnson himself. And to represent the future, new Nats manager Manny Acta joined the oldtimers on the mound, as did D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, clad in new red W cap and a blue suit. Fenty's pitch looked strong but faltered, taking a slight skip in the dirt before catcher Brian Schneider swept it up.

Nats starter John Patterson got things off on the right foot with a strike, but the second pitch was hit hard, looped into the right field corner for a ground rule double by Florida Marlins hotshot sophomore Hanley Ramirez. Patterson remained shaky throughout the first, giving up another hit and a run before whiffing Joe Borchard.

MASN today launches its first season of carrying both the Nats and the Orioles, and sadly, their promotional efforts seem egregiously slanted toward the O's--their radio ads feature Baltimore fans discussing their superstitions about the Orioles, and outside RFK at Saturday's exhibition game, MASN hawkers greeted fans with free fridge magnets featuring the season schedules won't believe it--the Orioles. (Nats schedules were also available, but you had to ask for them, at least where we were walking in.)

The MASN coverage, however, seems to be in fine shape. TV play by play man Bob Carpenter is back--he's the consummate pro, knowledgeable, funny, with just the right tempo and tone. He's joined this season by color man Don Sutton, freshly arrived from Atlanta, replacing Tom Paciorek, and already, Sutton is a strong improvement, adding smart analysis and considerably more of a presence than Paciorek provided last season.

Now, back to the game....

By Marc Fisher |  April 2, 2007; 1:21 PM ET
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Peter Angelos is a hate filled pustule; a pox not only on the face of baseball but on that of the Earth as well. He seems devoid of any human sense except of self.

Posted by: Stick | April 2, 2007 3:08 PM

I think fans stayed away because they are saving their money to go to DC United games. Did you ever go to one, btw?

Posted by: dc | April 2, 2007 3:57 PM

"A strangely sparse crowd welcomed the team to the last season at RFK Stadium--"

What is so strange about a strangely sparse crowd showing up for a Nationals game? Turnout was strangely sparse all last year. I guess it is strange considering you would have expected a sellout for the season opener. Baseball is long past its prime in the eyes of most people.

Posted by: Nathan Boggs | April 2, 2007 4:10 PM

Did fans stay away because they thought Bush might be there? They should have known he wouldn't show.
What "schedule conflict" did he have that he couldn't show up? Looking for the WMD or OBL ? Or was he afraid to be greeted by a whole host of fans wondering why he is threatening to veto full voting rights for DC residents ? What a wimp !!

Posted by: jmsbh | April 2, 2007 4:48 PM

"Strangely sparse"? Marc, you haven't been paying attention (as usual). The Nats gutted a pitching staff that was already one of the worst in the majors. Their best hitter is out until who-knows-when. Does that sound like a competitive team to you? Maybe it does, since you thought everything was Frank Robinson's fault . . . Everyone not drinking Kasten's Kool-Aid knows that the Nats are going to be historically bad, and people in DC know the difference between a sow's ear and a silk purse. Season ticket sales are off by over 5K. This team will be bad until the ownership is forced to pay for hitters who can hit and pitchers who can pitch, and THAT won't happen until the novelty factor of the new stadium wears off. Oh, and Bowden is fired.

Posted by: RL | April 2, 2007 5:11 PM

Can we just stop with the negativity? DC has a baseball team. We have an owner, we have "baseball people" in the front office (I hope you are reading Daniel Snyder, how about some football people in the front office?). We have a new stadium opening up next year. If you don't want to go, don't go. I'm just happy we have baseball and can go see a game. Take all the negativity to the 'Skins blog.......

Posted by: NatMan | April 2, 2007 5:24 PM

It's great baseball is back in DC. Too bad that baseball is not the nation's pastime anymore. stop living in the past. Baseball is done being the nation's favorite sport. Football reign's supreme!

Posted by: Nathan | April 2, 2007 5:30 PM

Who's living in the past? I have never had baseball, I've lived in the DC area since '72. I love the 'Skins as much as the next person, but if you have beefs, let's look at Mr. Snyder's track record.

I'm a sports fan, so I have no problem with what the Nats are doing, building from the farm system on up. That should make people kind of excited to watch the team grow.

I guess I am living in the past in that I am not in the current, "what have you done for me lately stage" that ruins the sporting world today.

Posted by: NatMan | April 2, 2007 5:37 PM

Everything looked rosy until they picked the new owner, who seemed like a smart and rich-enough choice. So far, though, he is not showing ANY sense ... or even respect for his audience.

Posted by: gitarre | April 2, 2007 7:29 PM

I'll take baseball over football any day. Less thugs to have to deal with at a game.

Posted by: Light | April 2, 2007 8:38 PM

Ok, because of the atrocious sound system, I have no idea what the "What's your DC IQ" question was, but the answers were rhinoceros, hippopotamus, something else, and "dogg." Umm, not to put too fine a point on it, but dogg is only spelled with ONE 'G', even in the DC city skools!

I was impressed that they spelled out rhino and hippo until that point.....

Posted by: Bob | April 3, 2007 9:26 AM

Baseball stinks. BOOOOOOOOOORRRING. Who watches this stuff? I'd rather watch paint dry on walls or a Cricket match.

Baseball stinks!

Posted by: Chuck | April 3, 2007 10:10 AM

Light:I'll take baseball over football any day. Less thugs to have to deal with at a game.

Really? Let's see Pete Rose admits to gambling on his own team. Bonds is going to break the game's hallowed record artificially by using steroids. Steroids are illegal by the way. Mcgwire did the same thing. Sosa. Canseco. Some of the biggest names in the game of baseball today are suspected drug users. This would classify as thug behavior if they were football players I assume. If baseball players were in the spotlight the same way as football and nba players, maybe we would hear even more of their indiscretions. But baseball players are virtually unknown. The retire to Guatemala and other Caribean islands during the offseason. Outside of Jeter and Bonds, hardly any baseball players would even be recognized by the general populace. I saw Big Papi (I guess that is his name) in Pearl nighclub downtown about two years ao at Happy Hour. Noone even knew who he was.

Posted by: Nathan | April 3, 2007 10:20 AM

The upper deck in center field actually filled in pretty well as the game went on. From that I thought there might be well over 40,000. It was a great day to be out -- the problems with the concessions and traffic really didn't bother me.

Posted by: Cosmo | April 3, 2007 10:35 AM

Nathan, I was talking about the fans.

Posted by: Light | April 3, 2007 11:28 AM

The Nats are going to suck, attendance will decline all year, just sit back, let the sun hit your face, and enjoy some Dippin' Dots!

Posted by: Tomcat | April 3, 2007 11:55 AM

Is it just me, or has anyone else notices commercials for the ORIOLES on Nats'radio broadcasts? IT's bad enough that our television rights are held hostage by MASN (Mr. Angelos's Sports Network), but I almost drove off the road yesterday when I heard an ORIOLES commercial during the Nats game.

Posted by: leetee1955 | April 3, 2007 5:28 PM

Plenty of those fans were (like me) coming in via Benning road where there was no I mean zero attempt at helping fans get into the parking lots so to see the pregame festivities. NATS management had better improve the overall game experience if we're going to have to watch a team like the one that was on the field yesterday all season. The weather was nice, though and the giveaway hat was a good idea on opening day.

Posted by: 20782 | April 3, 2007 5:36 PM

Hey Nathan,

Shawne Merriman

Rae Carruth

Pacman Jones

Chris Henry

Tank Johnson

Nate Newton

Any questions?

Posted by: Rudy and Blitz | April 4, 2007 10:16 AM

Rudy and Blitz:
Pete Rose
Caminiti-- Caminiti acknowledged "dabbling" in steroids; he said he began taking them in 1996 for medicinal purposes (coincidentally or not, the year he won the MVP).

These are the stars of baseball. But who really cares? Rudy and Blitz, baseball is way past its prime. They have been losing the prime talent to other sports for years. That is baseball's problem. 20 years ago, baseball could lure talent like Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders to play the sport. Now those players are going exclusively to other sports. And that leaves baseball in the unenviable position to market a BORING game with mainly non English speaking Hispanics. Good luck with that one. For every scofflaw you mentioned that played football, I can point to legends past and present that are bigger stars than anything baseball has to offer. Reggie Bush, a rookie last year, is just as well known as Ryan Howard. I'd say much more. Shall I mention Peyton, Brady, McNabb, Ladainian, Tiki Barber. Mcnabb's mom is more well known than most baseball players. That says alot!

Posted by: Nathan | April 4, 2007 11:29 AM

Oops, forgot Joey Porter.

Nathan, baseball is the highest grossing sport in the United States. Interestingly, only three of the players you have mentioned can concretely be tied to illegal activity (Caminiti, Rose, and Canseco). The others may have done steriods, but unlike Shawne Merriman, we don't know for sure.

By the way, Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders were not fantastic baseball players. Deion Sanders won't even make the football hall of fame.

If baseball is past his prime, how come you can recognize David Oritz out in public, and bother to post in a baseball related thread? Same goes for the borderline racist comment about hispanics.

Posted by: Rudy and Blitz | April 4, 2007 12:57 PM

By the way, try naming a football star, past or present, bigger than Babe Ruth, even today. So much for your past stars argument, if one can call it that...

Posted by: Rudy and Blitz | April 4, 2007 12:59 PM

"Deion Sanders won't even make the football hall of fame."

Are you serious? He is a first ballot HOF'er
I can name plenty of stars bigger than Ruth. But the bigger issue is that baseball is STILL hanging on to Ruth-a vile racist figure. It is not cultivating any new stars. Name one NATIONALLY known star from the KC Royals. Or a star from the Devil Rays. Or a star from the Braves, Mariners, A's, Mets, Padres, Brewers.

As for Ortiz, I didn't recognize him. I assume this is Big Papa you are referring to. Anyway, a friend of mine from Boston recognized him. He was virtually anonymous otherwise.
Baseball is a a dead sport walking. Don't take my comment about hispanics as racist. Take it as the truth. Any sport trying to market itself in the US with stars that don't speak English as their first language has a monumental problem. Wouldn't you agree?
I'm not a big basketball fan. Not at all to be honest. But I recognize that a popular NBA player trumps a popular baseball player anyday in terms of popularity, etc. Same goes for football. You keep hanging on to Ruth while the other sports create new stars everyday. From Lebron in the NBA, to Brady in the NFL, baseball has no player in their league in terms of popularity.
I would even argue that the most popular college athlete in bball (Greg Oden or Joakim Noah) has more name recognition than almost ALL professional baseball players. Can you even name a college baseball player?

Posted by: Nathan | April 4, 2007 2:54 PM

Nathan - you're a moron. Who care's if a sport is "past its prime" or not? If you like it you like it, if you don't you don't. Why is it so important for you to only be interested in a sport that is "in it's prime"? People aren't wrong if they like baseball - they just appreciate a sport that you don't. I hope you're under 20 because then you're just being a dumb kid.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 4, 2007 2:57 PM

Nathan - how can baseball be a dead sport when there are tens of thousands of fans that show up for 162 games a year? I like all sports, but that's the dumbest thing I've ever heard - I wouldn't recommend going into business if I were you.

I used to love football the most, but the super bowl has become an over-blown, overhyped, over-excess Disneyfied spectacle that basically symbolizes everything that is wrong with sports.

The day when baseball sells-out to every male's inner 15-year old and players start doing a dance every time they make a play and they start the world series with players running on to the field while flames shoot out of the bases while the over-rated popstar of the day lip-syncs through a performance is the day I'll lose interest in that as well.

Posted by: Arlington | April 4, 2007 3:26 PM

The mere fact you need to call names validates my point. Football is the number one sport. Hands down. Now there are a myriad of reasons why. Part of the heavy lifting is done by the NCAA and high school. Most NFL stars are stars before they even make it to the NFL. Only basketball can rival that.

When I speak of baseball being a dead sport, I point to the lack of stars in the sport. Donovan Mcnabb is a star. Big Papi isn't. Mcnabb is a big enough star that his mom can be on a nationwide ad campaign. Can you say the same about a hispanic born baseball player? Probably not. Most are still living in the DR.

Football has not sold out to anyone. No moreso than baseball has sold its soul to corporate interests at the expense of fans.

As for the Super Bowl comment, how about that Roseanne rendition of the National Anthem. Now that was selling out. And awful!
I ask you to name 10 stars in baseball that are as popular and well known as the top 10 in football.

Posted by: Nathan | April 4, 2007 4:11 PM

That's the point Nathan - football has sold out. That's why stars are "more popular" as you claim - football has become all star-power and advertising.

Football today is about nothing more than big TV numbers. They have far less games, and the opportunities for advertising revenue are fewer and come at a higher premium, so football's biggest objective is to generate hype hype hype and make itself and its stars seem bigger than life itself. To quote from an article by Bill Reynolds:

You can't go to any game without quickly realizing that it's not just about the game anymore. It's about the music. It's about the halftime show. It's about the presentation. It's about all the things to attract the peripheral fan. The Super Bowl can't succeed without the peripheral fan. Not if you want big TV numbers.

It's the athletic equivalent of Elvis at the end of his career doing a Vegas lounge act, fat and bloated, the time when he had all but become a parody of himself.

As a football fan myself, I think it's sad. I almost need baseball as an anti-dote just so I can make it through all the bloated hype and bravado that the football season has become.

Posted by: Arlington | April 4, 2007 4:30 PM

Also, you seem to have this belief that a sport is better because it has "celebrity athletes" and I just don't understand that. The only reason football is "more popular" is because they've turned it into a party - where you don't have to be a fan to watch the games b/c of the commercials, non-football entertainment, and a reason to drink beer. I just don't see how that is a measure of whether football is better or worse than any other sport as you argue - it just means from a business standpoint the NFL has been successful at generating more fans by marketing that product and image, but at the expense of the game itself.

As a baseball fan I am glad all that emphasis and celebrity is not put on individual players. All I care about is who does what on the field - I couldn't care less about what player was on Letterman last night or who's mom was in a Chunky commercial.

Posted by: Arlington | April 4, 2007 4:56 PM

That's the point Nathan - football has sold out.

Really? Sold out to who? And what has baseball done? Just look at the satellite deal to tell you all you need to know. Hey you are losing sight of one thing. Sports is a business. The players aren't out there playing for your enjoyment. And the owners don't field teams to make you happy. That's why they CHARGE you to watch. They are in it to make money. So don't make too much of it. And stop making excuses for baseball's failure at making baseball as much of a commercial success as football. Believe me, they are trying. Look at the blind eye they paid to the steroid controversy when ratings were soaring during the homerun chase. It just isn't working.
I hear all the same comments about baseball being more than just the game. I have commented on these boards that baseball tries to sell everything except the sport. What team out west has a pool at the stadium? All the talk about hot dogs and beer and ice cream. When I go to a football game, I go to see the game. That is more than enough entertainment.
But baseball can't do that. You speak of football selling more than the game. Excuse me. You must be kidding. In fact, most people deride the NFL as being the No Fun League based upon the way the NFL has pared back to focus specifically on the game.

Baseball is nostalgia. It is primarily the bastion of 50+ y/o white men. Not that there is anything wrong with that. But baseball based on the nature of the game is a dying sport. At least here in the US. I base that on the top tier American talent don't even want to play it. Just look at college baseball for instance. College baseball is essentially nonexistent. High school baseball is an afterthought. Whereas basketball and football thrive on college campuses. Even high school football and basketball outshine major league baseball.

Posted by: nathan | April 4, 2007 5:17 PM

Nathan that's a shame if you can't appreciate a game of baseball or if your lack of attention span/need for constant action prevents that for you. But if you think baseball is "primarily the bastion of 50+ y/o white men" you are incredibly naive and haven't been to a game lately.

I like football for what it is, and I like baseball for what it is, but to compare the two or try to make judgements about which one is better based on commercial success is pure opinion and an exercise in pointlessness.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 4, 2007 5:51 PM

"bastion of 50+ y/o white men"

Nathan, can you clarify why you made that comment?

Posted by: Purple | April 4, 2007 8:12 PM

"bastion of 50+ y/o white men"
Yes, because baseball is primarily watched by middle aged white men. Now don't try and paint me as a racist for saying that. It is true. I've been to Nationals games. I know what I see. I've been to Braves, Marlins, and Mets games. The faces in the crowd bear that out. Now as I said, there is nothing wrong with that. But the sport just doesn't appeal to the majority of America like bball and football. This is my observation. I point to high school and college athletics as proof of that.

Posted by: Nathan | April 5, 2007 9:43 AM

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