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Tuesday, July 26, 2005  

Right, so, RFK Stadium!

I had heard that the park was awful, just a complete dump, in a completely awful section of town. I'll admit that the guys peddling 'Nats hats' on the walk between the subway station and the stadium looked like they could have been peddling illegal powdered substances on nights when there were no games, and I'll admit that the concourses of RFK, with their dirty off-white concrete and generally crumbly appearance, are not particularly welcoming and/or charming.

I'll admit that the National Guard Armory right next to the stadium doesn't really do much for the ambiance.

But the park itself... well, I had been expecting something more along the lines of US Cellular in Chicago. Completely soulless building, random and gimmicky stuff tacked up all over the place, half the fans apathetic and the other half rooting for the opposing team*.

RFK doesn't look like a baseball park. It doesn't look like an old baseball park, like Fenway, and it doesn't look like a new baseball park, like Comerica. It looks like, well, like a stadium, like something you'd play football or soccer in, which is appropriate because it basically is something you play soccer in. Baseball is still so relatively new to the venue that if you're looking to get there from the highway you're directed to the DC United logo, with no reference to the Nationals. The weirdly undulating roof is kind of interesting though, once you get over the fact that it doesn't look like baseball should be played inside it.

The concourses, as I said, were pretty depressing, but the field at least looked nice as we ran around trying to find our seats. We weren't expecting much from them, since they were way out in left field, but as it turned out they were really close to the field itself so they ended up being pretty good. It was kind of a neat perspective, that far out and that low down. The seats were roomy and the aisles between the seats were ridiculously wide, but that may just be because I'm used to Fenway, where you couldn't squeeze a heron with an eating disorder between some of those rows. We were also extremely close to the Nats bullpen, and if you stood up and went to the railing you were basically right on top of whichever reliever would come out between innings to toss a ball around with the left fielder. More on that later, though.

The problem with seating in RFK is that if you're not on the lower deck you're really, really far removed from the field. The uppermost seats in dead center especially looked bad... I can't imagine how you'd be able to see anything from out there, unless you had good binoculars or a high-powered telescope or eyeballs on 100-foot-long stalks you could lower down.

Despite that, and despite the blistering heat in which I suffered mightily, the crowd was huge and it looked like most of the stadium was full. Most of the fans were rooting for the Nats, and I saw a few hats that looked kind of beat-up, even, although that was most likely a carefully crafted effect, what with the whole 'team not existing before this year' bit.

There were a few Astros hats in the place but to be honest I think I actually saw more Red Sox hats there. I was surprised at the number of Sox fans present... I was expecting maybe a few, but I saw at least 20, and there were undoubtedly more. It might have been because Clemens was on the mound, but then again it might have been because there were just a lot of Sox fans in the area who like going to baseball games. There was a lot of kind of random stuff, much more than you'll see in Fenway... a kid sitting in front of us was wearing Cardinals gear, and I saw a Jeter tshirt, and there was a little kid on the subway in full Pirates gear, black tshirt and black hat and all. My mother pointed out that DC is sort of a place where people often come to live after growing up somewhere else, so I suppose it all made sense in a way.

I saw exactly one Expos hat, although maybe there were more floating around somewhere. On a side note, I wonder if Montreal newspapers carry Nats news now.

When the fans were psyching themselves up into a frenzy, they would stamp on the ground. Since the stadium is basically made out of some kind of hollow vibration-conducting concrete, this meant that the entire place would start to shake and you'd feel your seat moving and it basically would seem as though the entire place was about to collapse in on itself. I wavered between being impressed by this and being utterly terrified by it throughout the game.

Ah, the game.

Clemens threw 102 pitches in 6 innings, which may not sound too impressive. He issued a few walks and, early on, seemed to be laboring a bit more than you would expect from the Rocket.

But I was scoring the game** and I have never seen a tidier-looking scorecard at the end of a game. Part of it was that the Nats made hardly any substitutions at all, since they were trying so desperately to score right up until the very end and had to keep all their big bats (such as they are) in the lineup, but part of it was also the fact that Roger Clemens had 10 strikeouts in his outing, so most of the little boxes, instead of being filled with lines and numbers and notations, just had great big single Ks in them.

Let me repeat that.


Only 3 hits, and not a single run off of him.

When I heard that Clemens was going to be pitching, I was excited and was looking forward to some pretty good baseball, but holy freaking cats, I wasn't expecting him to be that good. Maybe if I'd been watching the Astros all year I would have been, but still, sheeeee-it. After a while all we could do was shake our heads in amused amazement at each K as it happened. Even the Nats fans seemed quietly stunned by it.

Of course it probably didn't help that Ryan Drese got touched up for quite a few runs, and poor Sunny Kim got absolutely hung out to dry by Frank Robinson, who recognized a lost cause when he saw one and basically conceded the game.

Before the game started and before the ushers came around to shoo people away, I was standing over by the railing looking into the Nats bullpen. A reliever came out and started long-tossing casually with Ryan Church. He was really close to where I was standing, so I snapped a few shots of him. I am never close enough to the players to get good shots of them, and the zoom on my camera may as well not exist, so the fact that I was close enough to even this anonymous player to get a good shot of him excited me beyond measure.

After seeing that the guy whose photo I snapped was named 'Kim' I had the obligatory, "ha ha BHK ow it hurts to think of it" memories, then I sat down and forgot about him while the game started.

That is, until Kim came running out of the bullpen in the 7th. 'Cool!' I thought. 'I have a photo of that guy!'

Kim proceeded to give up 10 hits and 8 earned runs over 1.2 innings. There were many times when Robinson could have probably pulled Kim and put in a not-bombing reliever, but he appears to have fully realized how out of reach this game was and, opting to save his bullpen, left Kim out there to get shelled. Ouch. Hard to tell from my distant outpost in the field, but it looked like Kim was about to start sobbing freely on the mound at points, and that of course brought back those fond BHK memories all the more.

Late in the game I saw another pitcher get up to toss a ball around with Church between innings. I casually glanced over, then whipped my head around and stared. I jumped out of my seat, and dashed over to the railing, because, kids, it was CHAD CORDERO, closer extraordinaire. I started snapping away in a frenzy of joy and as such only really got one photo that came out sharply but dudes! Chad Cordero! Right near me!

There were some other people arrayed along the railing, yelling for Cordero to throw them up a ball or, in certain cases, heckling him. He was literally mere feet away from us, he could probably hear everything we were saying. It was a golden opportunity to shout something that the best closer in the game could ignore, and I was not one to squander such an opportunity.


Of course he didn't even look 'round, but maybe he heard it and has been thinking about it and has been thinking about asking his agent if Boston is looking for a closer these days. Hey, a gal can dream, right?


There was a Nats fan screaming, "Its! Not Oh-Ver!" in the 9th inning, but the margin was something like 11 runs by that point, and he seemed much more sarcastically humorous than actually hopeful. Although, to give them credit, the crowd did in fact get terribly excited when the Nats scored their one run of the game (very late, off of Wheeler) and clapped their little hearts out, like they thought a comeback was actually possible.

Jason Lane and Willy Taveres were both impressive at the plate, but the story was really in the pitching. RFK is a big field, too... despite the heat (which, I repeat, was immense and painful) there were only 2 homeruns in the entire 14-run offering by the 'Stros. A lot of balls kind of died in center field.

Photos from the event can be viewed here if you should so desire. Sunny Kim! Chad Cordero! Photos of RFK looking like a giant off-white UFO!

My final impression of RFK was a tolerably good one, despite the multiply-mentioned SEARING HEAT OF WOE that made us melt painfully into our seats. I really was surprised by it, and by how dedicated and numerous the fans were. Of course it didn't hurt that I got to see Roger Clemens absolute dominate the fuck out of the game of baseball on the mound.

So good for you, Washington DC. Looks like you do deserve baseball after all.

Now please get rid of all the DC United stuff.

This haiku is all I'm going to say about today's game.

Aubrey Huff: silly
name. Sounds like a movie star,
Not walk-off hitter.

*Look, I was at a ChiSux/Tigers game last year, and I'm sorry, I'm sure there were some actual Chicago fans there, but at least a third of the already-sparse crowd were Tigers fans, and most everyone else seemed to just be there for the beer. Maybe things have changed now. I don't know, I haven't been back. And after being subjected to computerized food-item races every half inning, I'm not real sure I want to watch baseball there again.

**In the scorecard that came with the Nats program... I've now used three different program scorecards: Tigers, Red Sox, and Nats. The Tigers and Nats both have pretty pisspoor scorecards... no diamonds in the boxes, no room to write in anything other than starters, etc. The Red Sox, probably unsurprisingly, have the most detailed and useful scorecard.

5:35 AM

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