Wednesday, October 24, 2012

My Baseball Journey

As you know, I grew up in Hong Kong. That means, among other things, that I did not grow up with baseball as a ubiquitous part of my life like most American kids. My parents are from Georgia so I did grow up hearing about baseball – it was “Braves, Braves, Braves” all the time which led to me really detesting the Braves but baseball was just not something that I cared about.

I came back to the States permanently when I went to college, and I think the first baseball game I went to was a Nashville Sounds game. It was raining like crazy, so about seven of us huddled together under a tarp behind home plate with the beer guy on one side and the hot dog guy on the other. We drank a “perfect game” (a beer an inning) so I don’t remember much else, but I did learn that actually GOING to a baseball game could be a lot of fun! So, I went to a few more baseball games over the years, and enjoyed actually being there even if I didn’t really understand what was going on. But watching baseball on TV? Um, no. Boooooring!

Fast forward a few years (decades), the Nationals moved to DC and I named myself a Nationals fan because I'm a DC girl, but especially when I found out they were in the same division as the Braves. Yay! I can cheer against the Braves!

My Nationals started off well, but then seemed to live in the “cellar” (the bottom of the ranks) for the next few years.  I went to the very first game the Nationals played in DC, at RFK Stadium, with M & G, M’s parents, CaptAnne, and another great friend, Snuggie. It was the last pre-season game and Mayor Anthony Williams threw out the first ball, instead of the first “real” game with G.W. Bush throwing out the first ball, but I thought it was better and more important anyway, because it was the FIRST GAME IN DC!!!  It was a cold, rainy day in April, so I bought a hooded sweatshirt. I got back to the seat and explained that I had to get one with a hood to keep my head warm, and Snuggie goggled at me and said, “You do realize you are also wearing a zip hoodie and a windbreaker – both of which have hoods!” *facepalm* Doh!

Anyway – over the years, I went to a couple of games here and there, usually with people who wanted to see the other team, but we had fun! I still didn’t "get" the game, but I enjoyed having a beer and a hot dog, and sitting in the sun and cheering on a team. The Nationals moved from RFK to the brand new Nationals Park in the Navy Yard. I had been to Camden Yards in Baltimore, so I knew how gorgeous a baseball park could be, but I really liked this one! 

The first time I went to the new park was when my company gave us a half-day off and tickets to an afternoon game. We were sitting in the nosebleed seats, but you could see everything and it all seemed so close! I walked all the way around the stadium… er, park, and thought it was great. And the VIEW! You could see all the way to the Capitol! Well, wait, except for that building being built DIRECTLY in the way. OH well, best laid plans and all that, I guess.

Back in 2008, I was officially a “Nats fan” but I really wasn’t making much of an effort to go to games, and I still really hated watching them on TV. Then I met a guy nicknamed “Red Sox Mike” because he always wears a Red Sox hat. We became fast friends and trivia partners, but he could not understand how I could not love baseball.

So I gave him a challenge: explain to me how watching baseball is better than watching grass grow.  And he did a dang good job!

The Red Sox were in the playoffs that year, so we sat at the bar and he told me about the different pitches and why a batter would swing or not and how baseball is the only game that gives the defense the ball – and of course, the infield fly rule. I learned a lot – and suddenly it all made sense! It was more interesting and enjoyable because I knew what they were doing! And I loved how you didn’t have to be a ginormous freak of nature to be a great player. Dustin Pedroia, for example. He is a little guy but is SUCH a big hitter. That was the year he was named MVP and he became my new favorite player. 
Exactly how Dustin Pedroia seems! (From Brent Mayne's blog, see link above)
(The next year, I saw a show about Dusty being MVP and they had all of these life-size cut-outs of previous MVPs and the camera panned their faces - left, left, left and… down to Pedroia. It was hilarious!)

So, armed with my new knowledge, I started making an effort to support my Nats a little more. Sadly, Mike moved back to New Hampshire shortly after our lessons so he has not been able to enjoy my new-found baseball fan-itude, but the last few seasons I’ve gotten the five-game package: four reserved games and then vouchers for another game, and the price is about 70% of the single-game ticket price. I started sitting in the “Outfield Reserved” which was fun, but I switched this year to the Center Field seats under the Red Porch because I wanted to be able to watch the President’s Race. (I can hear true baseball fans groaning because I obviously don’t know anything about watching baseball!) But those seats are awesome! You can see everything, you’re sitting right behind Bryce Harper (this year), and they have seat service! Also, the bathroom at the restaurant is much nicer than the other ones in the park. (Priorities!) 

The view from Section 100


The Nationals had been building up a team of young up-and-comers, and this year those players showed why Davey Johnson should get coach of the year. We had Strasburg, the pitching phenom, and Jayson Werth, the former Phillies guy with a big contract and bigger beard, who took Bryce Harper, the young brash Mormon boy, and showed him how to play in “The Bigs.” Something just clicked this year, and the Nationals ended up with the best record in the MLB! 

I had gotten my five-game package deal again, and started off with the last pre-season game against the Red Sox with my friend, Richard, who is another huge Red Sox fan but also a Nationals fan. We both showed up with Red Sox t-shirts and Nationals hats. It was a great game, and I honestly can’t remember who won! Didn’t matter, it was pre-season and it was just a fun game. 

In addition, I got tickets for the Phillies game in May which was billed as the “Take Back the Park” game because Phillies fans had dominated our park in previous seasons. The tickets were half-price so I got four of them after checking with everybody that they could come.  But, a few weeks before the game, two of my friends had to back out. We were still going to go, but then my other friend backed out. I had some other friends, but then they backed out too! My Orioles fan friend R said she’d go with me, but then… My friend Binky texted me the night before that she had free tickets to the Capitals (hockey) playoff game at the same time! So, after all that frustration, *I* backed out! LOL  (Caps AND Nationals won, btw, and metro was a NIGHTMARE!)

I took R to the Orioles game, Kay to the Yankees game, and my sister, CSC, to the Braves game. And then another Braves game. And the San Francisco Giants “throw-back” game. And then there was that day when I had had the worst week ever – and it was only Wednesday! So I went to the last Braves game at the park by myself. And had a GREAT TIME!  Even funnier was that I started watching every game on TV. I even started watching the Orioles with R! It was a great summer and I loved being able to spend so much time with my sister.

(Yes, when my sister and I have “girls’ day out” it’s generally to a sporting event. Although one time we did spend the morning at the cherry blossoms in the Tidal Basin… before going to a baseball game.)

Of course, you can't see the Red Sox t-shirt I have on...

And the Nationals started doing the highly improbable – they started leading the league! They had never had a winning season in the six years leading up to 2012, although they came REAL close in 2011, and suddenly, they made it to the Playoffs! They clinched the division! Wooohoooo! 

As the season was wrapping up, I remembered that I still had those vouchers. You had to actually go to the Box Office to redeem them, so I had completely forgotten about them – even though I had gone to many more games than my initial four games. So, it’s the week before the last three games of the season, at home, and I asked my boss if I could take a half-day on Wednesday. No questions, he just said “Sure!” So, I took my voucher in and got a ticket to the last game of the season. I had already tried to get post-season tickets with no luck, so I figured that would just have to be my last game. 

And WHAT a game! Teddy finally won the President’s Race, and then Ryan Zimmerman dinged one out of the park (at my command), followed by Michael Morse batting in Adam La Roche. Then Harper came in to pinch-run for Zim after the seventh inning stretch when Morse was back up to bat so the entire park was singing “Take On Me” at the top of their lungs. The crowd went nuts! It was kind of a continual standing ovation through the rest of the game, which we won of course. The game ended at around 4pm, but people didn’t start leaving the park until almost 5pm. The team came out and cheered at the crowd and the crowd cheered back. It was a mutual love-fest, and it was such a blast!

Teddy wins!
BTW, when I had changed into my Nationals shirt at the office, my boss looked at me and said, “You’re going to the game?!? I thought you had a doctor’s appointment!” I thought, “Yes, Dr. Werth, Dr. Harper, and Dr. Zimmerman!”  Just what the doctor ordered! ;-)

As NL East division champions, the Nats got a few days off, and then had to play away against whichever team won the wildcard game. The St. Louis Cardinals beat the Braves (yay!) in the wildcard game, so the Nats went to St. Louis for two days. They lost the first game, then won the second game and came back to play in DC. 

I had purchased the five-game package so I must have been considered an “insider” to the Nats, because I got the special super-secret password to try to order tickets online in advance. When the Nats came back to DC, they started pre-selling tickets for the Championship series (assuming the Nats won the divisional series). By the time I got through there weren’t any seats left for that, but when you cancelled the search, it went to a page that allowed you to buy standing-room only tickets to the NLDS. So I bought standing-room only tickets to games four and five of the series. When the Nats lost game three (by being pummeled severely about the face and neck), I was distraught, but hopeful that they would come back and win game four and force the fifth game.

And they did!

It was a taut, tense game but Jayson Werth’s walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth was a thing of beauty! I went by myself again and was standing behind Section 135 with a dad and his son, chatting with the person standing at the top of the aisle with a paddle to stop people from going in when the ball is in play. We had some outstanding pitching and we were tied going into the ninth inning. Someone got up and left after Drew Storen had struck out the Cards, so the paddle guy offered me their seat. I declined, saying, “Thanks, but … we only need one, right?”  After 13 pitches, I heard that distinctive pock! of bat hitting ball at just that right place, and it was…. OUTTA HERE! We just needed the one! I hugged the dad and son, the paddle guy, the four people standing next to us, and I high-fived half the stadium, screaming like a banshee all the while. And I was definitely NOT alone!

I took the metro back to Cleveland Park and the elevator doors were shutting to go up to street level when I heard a shout. I opened the doors again and my friend Connie burst in. As soon as the doors shut again, we screamed, hugged, and jumped up and down yelling “We won, we won, we won!” I’d love to see the face of the guy reviewing that security footage! Hahaha!

Jayson Werth
Obviously, Connie had been at the game as well, so we continued to Atomic and proceeded to rehash the whole thing, while watching the Orioles dismantle the Yankees (and the VP candidates debate). I cheered along with my Orioles friends and we all talked about the possibility of an Orioles/Nationals World Series. It was actually possible! All we had to do is win Game 5 of our respective serieseseses and then win the Championship series too! Nooooo problem! :-)

But wait. The Yankees and the Cardinals had something to say about that… and sadly, our season is over. (As is the Orioles’.)  But what a season! Somewhat appropriately, I went to the last game with Richard, but this time we both wore Nationals gear from head to toe. We had standing-room only tickets but he had some friends who had two seats available so we were able to sit in the second tier for the last half of the game. It was a great game until the top of the ninth inning. The score was 7-5 Nationals, two outs and two strikes. All we need was one strike and we were going to the Championship series. But sadly, this time we couldn’t get it done. Somehow, the Cards pulled out four runs before the end of their at-bat and then our bats stayed still.

The metro ride home was subdued, except for the obnoxious kid behind us who had to hear his own voice bemoaning his fate that made him a Nationals fan and doom doom doom (I hate people who think it’s all about them… when it’s obviously all about me!). Richard kept looking forward 115 days to when pitchers and catchers sign-in for training in 2013. And I just stayed quiet. Which is very unusual for me. (HA!)

And I started thinking about my baseball journey. Just a few years ago, I couldn’t have cared less about baseball. I thought that watching baseball on TV was worse than watching grass grow (second only to golf – which literally IS watching grass grow!), but I would cheer for the Nationals because a) they’re my hometown team and b) they are in the same division as the Braves.  I knew it was fun to go to the games, but I didn’t usually pay attention to the actual game going on.

And now?  Now, I’m a baseball fan. I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Nationals fan, because now I "get" it!  Thanks guys! I can not WAIT until next year!

Edited 10/02/14 to correct the picture link...


cc18 said...

Soooo much fun this year. Next year we will have Strasburg in the playoffs. :-)

Giggles said...

And we will. go. ALL. THE. WAAAY! ;-)