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Man, that felt normal.
Tuesday’s season-opening 6-5 win over the Atlanta Braves wasn’t so much about the dramatic walk-off RBI by Juan Soto – although that didn’t hurt at all – but was more about how it didn’t feel a single bit like those 60 games last season.
In comparison, those contests were plastic. Today was fine Corinthian leather. Last year felt like spring training games that didn’t count, while today – from the minute Max Scherzer gave up the first of four solo home runs – it felt real. There was a tension, an excitement, a feeling that whatever happened today counted.
Most of it was having live fans in the stands, as you can tell yourself piped-in crowd noise is almost as good as the real thing until the cows come home. But it’s not until you hear the murmuring and crescendos of sound made by living, caring human beings, sitting in a stadium eating overpriced food and beverage, that you realize the difference.
The vibe extended to everyone. You could hear it in the voices of Bob Carpenter, FP Santangelo and Dan Kolko as they broadcast the game. They were as excited as we were, like kids opening their Christmas presents a few days late, but still just as giddy when Trea Turner hit a two-run homer to tie the game at 4-4.
For the first time since the World Series of 2019, you could also feel the rivalry. Last year each game was between two teams respecting each other’s social distance, worried more about both teams leaving the field as healthy as they entered. Today, that old feeling of “I really don’t like these guys” made a comeback, and it added an intensity that led grown men to moan “C’mon Suero, don’t throw the ball down the middle like that again” in the privacy of their own homes.
The atmosphere made you appreciate the play of Andrew Stevenson, who got on base 4 times. Last year, you’d have thought “if he keeps it up, maybe he’ll get a shot playing more.” Tuesday, it made you think “this guy needs to be playing in left field. Like now.” It made you forget Carter Kieboom had a bad spring and instead cheer him vociferously when he milked out a late-game walk.
It even made you think of Jonathan Lucroy as an old member of the family after he knocked in two runs, despite him only being on the roster long enough to have half a cup of coffee.
But in the end, Tuesday’s game made you remember what it felt like in 2019 when the team shocked the world and won it all. When Soto was indeed the “Chosen Juan” that you just knew when he came up to bat with the bases loaded and a 3-0 count, he was going to drill the ball back up the middle somewhere where a Braves outfielder wasn’t. And we’d all go home happy.
So yeah, it was a nice win. But that wasn’t what was so enjoyable this opening day.
It was the feeling we’ve had as baseball fans all of our lives. It was complaining Max was giving up too many home runs, that Freddie Freeman owns the Nationals and should be walked every game, hearing FP say “there goes the no-hitter” and Carp saying “See. You. Later.”
It was no longer this sterile, plastic, video game-like sport being televised in a studio.
It was real. And it was spectacular.