There are only two things more American than going to a Washington Nationals game the day before the Fourth of July, watching the home team win and sticking around for a fireworks display after the game.
One of those two things would be obvious: going to a Washington Nationals game on the Fourth of July, watching the home team win and sticking around for a fireworks display after the game. The second thing?
We’ll get to that in a minute.
First, some context. I’ve accidentally become a Washington Nationals fan. I don’t know why. Perhaps it was working as a bartender and having my customers request Nats games over Orioles games for the television. Perhaps it’s because Max Scherzer has sneakily become my favorite athlete today. Perhaps it’s Tony Kornheiser’s podcast’s fault. Perhaps it’s because I went to college and shared a dorm with Nats first baseman Matt Adams a thousand years ago. I don’t know. There’s just something about the team that I like.
So when my dear friends Mike and Corey asked me if I’d like to go to a game with them — despite their being die-hard Baltimore Orioles fans — I couldn’t say no. Not only do I love those two guys, but I’m at least in lust with the team we were going to see. Plus, the Nats are surging after a slow start and they were set to take on the Miami Marlins, a franchise that should be relegated to the Carolina League.
And so it went. I found myself scurrying toward the Red Line’s Shady Grove stop on Wednesday to try to make the park for a 6:05 p.m. first pitch. It was an early start, yes, but it seemed doable, as long as I didn’t hit traffic.
Little did I know that traffic wouldn’t be the problem.
Instead, it was the switch from the Red Line to the Green Line, which ... I guess is also the Yellow Line? I don’t know. But before I could say “Cracker Jack,” I found myself mistakenly on a train toward Reagan National Airport.
“Oh, no,” I thought. “I’m not going to make it on time, they won’t shut up about it, and this whole thing is going to be a mess. Plus, Strasburg better go eight because that bullpen is a joke.”
After correcting a mistake that continues to be beyond my comprehension (come on, Metro — stop catching on fire and make your maps just a little simpler for us morons who want to catch a baseball game), I eventually arrived at the gate of Nationals Park. The problem?
Mike and Corey weren’t as lucky.
Turns out, not only did they nearly fall victim to the Wrong Train Syndrome as well, but they also got a late start. So, thanks to modern technology (thanks, Al Gore!), Mike texted me my ticket, I went through the entrance and found my way to my seat.
There is one thing that must be said about going to a baseball game — even if it’s at the minor league level — and it’s that there’s nothing else like it in sports. Detractors can talk about attendance being down, and sure, the league can try to do what it can to speed up the game, but going to a baseball game in the heart of the summer continues to be the purest example of family-friendly live sport.
Football games can be flooded with bros doing bro things (and if you live in Buffalo, it can also mean people get slammed through tables in parking lots). Basketball games can be so intimate because the fans sit so close to the action that players are sometimes subjected to unspeakable slurs and fistfights occasionally break out (what’s up, Detroit?). Hockey is a world of fun, but who’s kidding whom: You put on a sweater, you drink six light beers and you bang on whatever is around you. Not quite a reasonable idea of “family-friendly.”
Baseball, though? Take the kids. Take the family. Root for the home team. Boo the away team (respectfully). Take a walk around the park during the fifth inning. Enjoy the weather. Get a little sunburn. Have a hot dog. Shoot. Leave early if you want to — there are 161 more of these things that need to be played anyway.
Besides, very little in life compares to a humid summer night under the lights with people you love and a strange optimism that haunts even the most cynical of fans. It’s the most American thing about America’s pastime: hope. Who cares if your team is 10 games out of first place this far into the season? Maybe tonight can be the win that sparks a turnaround.
And be honest: Wasn’t the mere notion of hope a fundamental impulse on which this country was founded in the first place?
So, well, with all that said, Mike and Corey eventually showed up, I tweeted about Matt Adams a few times and the Nats won. Naturally, that doesn’t bring us to the end of the night, though. That, instead, came when we watched as the crowd dispersed and we remained seated, waiting for the smoke and colors to light up the sky.
Which, of course, brings me back to the second thing more American than going to a Washington Nationals game the day before the Fourth of July, watching the home team win and sticking around for a fireworks display after the game. And what is it?
Well, it’s going to a Washington Nationals game the day before the Fourth of July, watching the home team win and actually seeing the fireworks display after the game.
Indeed, we heard booms. We heard bangs. We even once saw some smoke. But from our seats, the fireworks were nearly impossible to see. Who knew that they wouldn’t just, you know, shoot off fireworks behind the center field wall? “Not us” is the answer. Not us. Instead, they were blasted from behind the right side of the stadium, where they barely reached a height eclipsing the ballpark’s ceiling, obstructing the view of the show almost all the way down the third base line.
Still, in a weird way, it allowed Mike and Corey to bask in something as we left the ballpark, and it turned out to be the one thing at which the O’s could beat the Nats.
“You’ll have to come out for an O’s game this summer,” Corey told me as we walked.
“At least there, you’ll be able to see the fireworks.”