Sunday, June 18, 2006

A Long Day's Journey Into Nats, Part 1

Every once in awhile, fortune smiles upon the meek who inhabit this cruel Earth. There are times, like yesterday, where trying your best really does bring success against incalculable odds. The ragtag Washington Nationals defeated the greatest baseball team in history yesterday 11-9. If you weren't there, watching on TV or listening on the radio, a glance at the box score won't do the game justice. Let me tell you the story of the greatest baseball day of my life.

I had been determined to go to one of the Nats-Yankees game all week. None of my usual game-mates could attend, and I thought about just staying home and watching the game on TV. But it is summertime, a time when I always took my greatest boyhood adventures, and I'm not old enough to give up on adventures just yet. I decided to go to the game Han Solo. I simply could not resist the pull of attending a sellout game at RFK against a Yankees team that, to me, represents all that is wrong and grotesque about Major League Baseball.

I was also determined to tailgate before the game. For me, tailgating for an hour or more in Lot 8 has become a key part of the Nationals experience. The wide, tree-shaded expanse of grass by the Anacostia is filled with picnicking, partying Nationals fans for hours before each game. The tailgating somehow adds an authenticity to being a Nats fan that was completely absent during my previous life as a Reds fan. People would drive downtown to Riverfront Stadium for the start of the game and then flee to the suburbs immediately after the game ended. In Washington, people arrive hours early to barbecue, toss the baseball around, and spend time together. I'll really miss tailgating when the new stadium arrives.

I donned my Nationals jersey and cap and stopped in my local Subway to grab a pre-game turkey sub for consumption in Lot 8. Then I headed up to Capitol Hill with my wife and daughter, who were meeting a friend to go to Eastern Market. I had planned to grab some beverages on the way to RFK, but it turns out that my wife's friend had a fridge full of Corona that she was desperate to get rid of. I was more than happy to liberate some of the beer, so I put five of them in a bag along with my sub. She even cut me some limes and supplied a bottle opener! I knew this was going to be a great tailgate, even if I was by myself.

I walked with the ladies as far as Lincoln Park and then took my leave, heading due east along sunny East Capitol Street NE. It was now almost noon and the humidity was picking up. I slogged along the sidewalks; the sweat from my arms and the beers soaking the paper bag. As I approached the stadium a DCPD helicopter swooped down overhead and landed in the green expanse in front of RFK. Neato.

I was nearly set. I had beer and food, but I just needed to find a ticket. I headed toward Scalper's Alley by the bus stops in front of the Metro station. A scalper approached me dodgily, wary of the many surrounding police officers. We began the time-honored exchange:

Scalper #1: "How many you need?"
Me: "One."

Scalper #1: "How much you lookin' to spend?"
Me: "Whatcha got?"

Scalper #1: (Shows me a ticket in section 531, high row, face value $12) "Seventy-five dollars."
Me: "Ha! No."

Scalper #2: (Approaches) "Hey man how much you lookin' to spend?"
Me: "About $40."

Scalper #2: (Hands me a ticket in section 301, row 5, face value $44) "Gimme sixty."
Me: "I'll give you forty."

Scalper #2: (Looks like he's about to punch me) "C'mon man, gimme sixty, the game's sold out."
Me: (Hands ticket back to him, smiles) "No thanks."

Scalper #2: (Nervous, looking all over for cops) "A'ight man, meet me halfway, gimme fifty."
Me: (Giving him $50) "Okay, thanks!"

The scalpers slunk away and I headed toward the stadium with ticket, beer, and food in hand. I was set. This was going to be a great day, I could feel it.

Continued in Part 2...