Monday, March 31, 2008

Opening Night in Nationals Park

This isn't a live-blog, because (1) I had to DVR the game and watch it on about a two-hour delay due to some pesky chores I had to attend to, so there was nothing "live" about it for me; and (2) I wasn't paying close enough attention to get the silly amount of detail captured by your typical live-blog. Let's just call it observations:

I know people paid for their tickets and didn't surrender their free speech rights at the stadium turnstiles, but President Bush being loudly booed as he made his way to the mound for the first pitch was, I dunno, strange. I mean, I've been done with the guy since he decided to pander to the religious right on stem cells back in the summer of 2001, but I still think there's something to be said for being judicious with one's jeers in these situations. He wasn't there to flog his agenda. We can never be sure with him, but I'm fairly certain that he wasn't there to start any wars with anyone. He was doing one of those nice stately functions presidents do, and to that end I considered it a non-partisan act. Give the guy some polite applause for crying out loud. It's not like 95% of the world hasn't been politicized already. Let's try to protect what's left of non-partisan baseball.

First pitch was to Acta, not Lo Duca, thereby diffusing the steroid stigma thing. I wonder who brokered that political compromise?

This may be the season when I finally start to look around at other teams, because I just don't know who my Braves are anymore. Blue alternate uniforms? One of the things I have always loved about Atlanta was that, for the last 20 years at least, they had kept it classic. No softball shirts, vests, or or other wackiness for them. But then a couple of years ago they adopted those ugly reds for Sunday. Now it's blues. I feel like I've been dating the prom queen for the past 20 years only to have her show up at my house one day in hot pants, platform shoes, and teased hair. Wait, what am I saying? That would be kind of cool, actually. The blue uniforms, on the other hand, suck.

Odalis Perez is the opening day starter? It seems that the reports of the Nationals' dark horse status are greatly exaggerated.

Joe Morgan is pretending that the A's-Red Sox games from last week didn't count ("I only recognize tonight as opening day"). Thanks for sharing, Joe.

I really like the stone walls behind the plate. Great color. The whole stadium looks pretty nice, actually.

It seems that reports of Nick Johnson's weight problem were greatly exaggerated, because he looks just fine. Reports of Dimitri Young's weight problem, however, were grossly underestimated. He looks like Cedric the Entertainer. Actually, he looks like he ate Cedric the Entertainer.

President Bush in the booth. OK, it's getting a little more appropriate to jeer now. Very uncomfortable all around. Unlike the state of our Republic, this is not all Bush's fault, though. Miller and Morgan aren't sure where to take the conversation, and miss a great opportunity to follow up when Bush mentions that he warmed up with Jose Rijo before the ceremonial pitch. Really? Jose Rijo? Update: OK, I see that Rijo works for the Nats. I was sort of hoping that there was some odd Rijo-Bush connection going back 20 years, because I find those sorts of random connection fascinating.

The Braves look awful. Bad base running. Clueless hacks at middling stuff from Perez. Throwing the ball all over the diamond. Ugh.

Bush says he recently saw Nolan Ryan "on another matter." Maybe it's related to national security. Has Robin Ventura been making provocative diplomatic moves or massing troops on anyone's border lately? In other Bush news, I can't decide if I am really impressed or really terrified that Bush seems to know more about Jeff Francoeur's beaning in spring training than he does about matters of state.

Yuks at Bush's expense aside, I will say that the worst part about these guest-in-the-booth things are that they make it so easy to lose track of the game. I probably depend more on the announcers than I should, so when they're not focusing I tend not to focus. I feel like two innings have vanished in the ether.

After a shaky first inning, Tim Hudson looks sharp. Given how this night is going, though -- quick and relatively punchless -- that first inning is looking like it will be enough to sink him.

Peter Gammons is openly reading when they throw it down to him. The content was all good, but the fact that he has to (or at least feels he has to) read from a script is worrisome. He's simply the best, and I don't want to think that he's off his game, even though anyone who has had the health issues he's had in the past couple of years is bound to be.

Reports of Ray King's offseason weight loss were greatly exaggerated.

Nats have a one-run lead entering the ninth inning and there's no Chad Cordero? Uh-oh. Update: Gammons jumps in and mentions that Cordero was feeling some stiffness in the pen. I don't really care about Chad Cordero (that "uh-oh" was offered out of sympathy for Chris Needham) but I am happy to see that Gammons was quick and on the nose with it. Maybe the earlier reading was a function of opening night rustiness or jitters or something.

Bad night for Paul Lo Duca. First his pariah status bumps him from catching the first pitch, now his passed ball with two outs in the ninth has blown the win for his starter and risks the game for his team. I don't like Lo Duca much so this doesn't bother me, but in fairness, I think the passed ball was Rauch's fault. Lo Duca was set up outside and the ball went nowhere near the target.

Ryan Zimmerman walkoff homer!!

OK, the homer was impressive, but his interview with Gammons after the game was even more so. Very mature. Didn't duck the "are you this team's leader?" question. He says the Nats are tired of being mediocre, and even better than the words were the calm and confident manner in which he delivered them. He just put a dagger in my team's heart, but I'm sitting here nursing a man-crush.

Maybe it's the Zimmerman fairy dust talking, but it's only five minutes after the game ended and I am feeling way less upset that my team lost than I am pleased that the result -- exciting game-ender by the impressive young face of a historically downtrodden franchise on the biggest night in its history -- is both a good story for them and for the game as a whole.

This one game doesn't mean anything, but I've felt that vague feeling -- like I'm a bigger fan of the game than any one team -- for some time now. I'm still going to root for Atlanta, of course, but I'd be lying if I said I had the same passion for it that I did five or ten years ago.

Check back with me if they start off 35-7 or something, but it's certainly worth thinking about.


64cardinals said...

I'm glad to see I'm not the only one disturbed by the booing of the president. Whether anyone likes his policies or not, as the President of the United States, he deserves the respect that comes with the office. Having worked in the diplomatic world, and having the privilege of meeting some other world leaders, I can tell you I've never been in a country where citizens would boo their own chief of state at what was essentially a ceremonial situation. He didn't do anyhing to make it into a political statement. Doesn't make us look very good here in the ole U.S. of A. Seemed really inappropriate to me. Just my opinion.

I actually had a chance to briefly meet the president, and he's a pretty nice guy, in my opinion. Regardless of the politics.

Craig Calcaterra said...

Yeah, it just seems a bit much. Like I said above, they paid for their tickets and they can do what they want, but I just kind of find it sad that we find ourselves in state where we are unable to separate the personal and the political.

Shout your disaproval of his policies from the highest mountain. Publish a newspaper or mount a broadcast explaining the 172 ways in which you feel Bush has been bad for America, Democracy, peace, and good hygine.

But when the man is simply there to throw out a damn baseball? Just seems like folks should give it a rest. Even sitting on your hands would lodge a nice little protest that doesn't carry the churlishness the boos do.

As for Bush the nice guy: I don't doubt that, whatever his faults, he can be a pretty nice guy. When he wants to be anyway (but see, Karla Faye Tucker). People forget this after all of the water under the bridge, but that was basically what got him elected in 2000. People generally liked him and related to him. People generally were cold on Gore on a personal level.

Anonymous said...

Not to turn this into a political blog, but Bush has so insulated himself, appearing only before hand selected audiences and dramatically limiting access to anyone with opposing views, I thought it refreshing to hear more than just scattered boos.

Back to baseball ...

I'm with you Craig, on a slow distancing from any one team. Perhaps it is age, or maybe its having children whose episodes of Kim Possible or Hanah Montana may get in the way of the game, but while I still think often about the Braves, I no longer obsess about them. I enjoy a well played game; while I'd like the Braves to win, I can sleep just fine if they don't.

William said...

I wholeheartedly agree that the booing of the president was inappropriate. Regardless of your opinion of his politics, the man is still the President of the United States and deserves the respect of that office. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of Hillary Clinton, but if she were elected and I ever had the opportunity to meet her I would be there with a huge smile and my best suit. The office is bigger than any man who holds it.

Craig, you are dead-on about the 2000 election. The only thing that really differentiated the candidates at the time (remember, both campaigned at the center, were sons of political leaders, attended ivy league schools, etc...) was that Bush came off as a very personable guy that more people could relate to, while the Gore-bot never seemed to understand that being himself would be a good thing on the campaign trail. Again, politics aside, I still find him to be very personable and likable.

Kelly said...

I agree on the inappropriate Presidential welcome and that's a huge concession for me. But I couldn't agree with Shyster more -- it is excruciatingly irritating to have everything in this country politicized.

Oh, and I woke my significant other up when Zimmerman came to bat to tell her that he was going to homer. He is a stud and definitely worth anyone's crush, man or otherwise.

Baseball's back....'bout time.

Chris Needham said...

On Peter Gammons...

I had pretty good seats, and as soon as Zimmerman hit the homer, Gammons came out of the dugout to get ready for the interview, and what struck me was how morose or even angry he looked.

Here's a guy who's devoted himself to baseball, who loves the games, and loves moments. And here was a moment, even if it's a moment by a crappy team. And Peter stood there looking like he was in the midst of a lemon enema.

The contrast between the joy of the celebration behind him and his dead-faced glare was pretty striking.

Craig Calcaterra said...

This is like Rashomon, Chris. Obviously you had a better view, but on the broadcast, the camera went over and captured (from a distance) Gammons a few moments before Zimmerman actually got over to him (it was likely a director's glitch; Miller and Morgan were still talking). In those few seconds Gammons was smiling and laughing. Though I rarely wonder what the broadcast team is thinking, I thought to myself "well, Gammons seems to still enjoy the game."

If I had to guess I'd say that the sour-face you saw was the result of someone having to think very fast about what he was going to ask the game's hero. It seemed to be gone by the time RZ made his way over.

Chris Needham said...

That's quite possible. Getting up from the dugout, and trying to compose yourself before going on TV, and thinking of what to say/ask certainly has to be nerve-wracking.

Roger Moore said...

Maybe those fans weren't booing the President. Maybe they were booing the former owner of the Texas Rangers, who sat idly by while his team was a center of the steroids scandal. I doubt it, but there are valid baseball reasons for not liking Mr. Bush.

Will said...

Baseball is about cheering and jeering, no matter who is on the mound. Too many of our everyday events have become politicized, but when did that start, and who has made it even more prevalent recently? Given how the president has prevented anyone with nary a negative opinion from coming within a mile of him, it's about time that he got to hear what the rest of the country thinks of him.

As for myself, I limit my jeering to those people who truly deserve it. I'm an Oakland A's fan, so the two people at the top of the list are Jason Giambi for dissing his former team, and Derek Jeter for costing the A's the chance to play in the world series in 2001 with his spectacular play. When I boo Jeter, it's out of respect -- I hope he can hear the difference.

Will said...

One more thought. Was anyone else bothered by the introduction of the song "God Bless America" as the music of choice during the seventh inning stretch at many ballparks? That's when I thought the American image took a big hit.

Craig Calcaterra said...

I see what you're saying, Will, but the tit-for-tat game will just go on endlessly if no one takes the high road, because no one ever will admit that they started something. Those who dislike Bush accuse him of politicizing everything, and in turn politicize everything themselves. When the Dems take the presidency again they too will be demonized because, hey, look how shabbily Bush was treated.

I know I'm pissin' in the wind on this and things aren't likely to change, but I'd like to have a society in which policy differences are discussed in a rational manner, civility reigns, and no one believes they have a monopoly on righteousness.

Statistics Born said...

I wouldn't have booed most Presidents, but Bush is a special case. He never, ever appears in front of non-friendly audiences. From news accounts, it seems he handpicks his crowds, shields himself from critical aides, etc. If he isn't going to engage with us, or acknowledge the reality we all see in Iraq, with torture, in the economy, etc, we have to take our few opportunities to register discontent with him.

Anonymous said...

I thought they were saying Boo-urns.