Since it is a dark, gray day, and Opening Day is later this week, allow me to share a memory.
It is of an Opening Day 9 years ago that had me filled with excitement. It later turned to one of my darkest memories, and something I think about every year. In light of what’s been going on with younger people during this year-plus of being out of school and staying at home due to COVID, I think about it even more this year.
I’ve been blessed with friends who are baseball fanatics. I like baseball, don’t get me wrong, but these friends absolutely love it. One friend, whose name was Paul, insisted that I always go with him to Opening Day. From the first year the Nationals came to DC until 2012, he never asked whether I wanted to go. He just said he’d gotten the tickets and what time he was coming by the house.
He was that way with the last game of the season, too. Missing either in a season was like a religious person missing church on Easter Sunday. It was important to him, and you had to be there.
Every year on the drive to at first RFK, then Nats Park, the conversation was the same. We’d ask each other if this year would be the season the Nationals finally broke through and made the playoffs, and despite evidence to the contrary, would convince ourselves the answer was “yes.”. We’d endured the beginning of some bad 100-loss seasons in the past, but we always rationalized about the next season and how changes made in the offseason would somehow mean this coming season was OUR year.
Thursday, April 12, 2012 was no different. We convinced ourselves this would be the year the Nats made the postseason, and like every year, we believed it. Because of traffic that day, we’d spend 7 hours together between riding in the car to the stadium and watching the game while debating all this.
It ended up being a very good game. Paul was not a fan of Jayson Werth, and after riding him all day every time he came to the plate, Werth repaid the criticism with a single in the bottom of the 10th to move Ryan Zimmerman to second. A ground out moved both over a base, and with two outs, Zimmerman would then score the winning run on a wild pitch.
We all went home happy.