6:10 PM - We opt to walk the concourse and, not surprisingly (yet, still depressingly) the most opulent sight is the HEE-YUGE Playstation 3 area and adjacent Build-A-Bear tent. Whoops, sorry…that's actually a "Build-A-Screech" tent. "Screech" being the mascot for the Nats. Yes, I made the obligatory Dustin Diamond joke to Josh. Timely!
6:20 PM - The names of several of the food stands are not-so-clever political plays on words that would only be funny to the paunchy marketing guys who thought them up. For example, "Steak of the Union" (cheesesteaks), "Red, Hot & Blue" (barbecue) and "The Scapegoat Grill" (Mexican). I opt for the first of four $7.50 Blue Moons. Thanks, doctored expense report!
6:30 PM - Lots of famous local eats to be had (Five Guys Burgers n' Dogs, Gifford's Ice Cream and the like), but I follow Josh's artery-clogged recommendation and hit up Ben's Chili Bowl – "an institution since 1958". When was MLK's "I Have a Dream" speech here? Around that time, right? Give or take five years? That's a good sign.
6:35 PM - My "half-smoke" is a gloriously engorged sausage topped with a small pond of chili, mustard and onions. This baby dropped my life expectancy into the late 50s and shaved at least 20 beats per minute off my heart rate.
6:50 PM - Our seats were in section 404 and cost me $20 for the pair on eBay. The only seats higher up had to be in heaven. Quick aside: I make a pretty decent living and I'm really not one to bitch about the cost of anything. If I can't afford it, I just don't buy it. But, have you seen the Nats' ticket prices?
7:00 PM - Look, it's the peanut vendor who hawks his sodium-in-a-shell through double-entendres ("Hey, who wants my salty nuts?!") Never can get enough of him or his repetitive material. I bought a sack and, truth be told, his nuts were saltier than the ones I usually put in my mouth. Sh*t, I should've sold that one to him.
7:05 PM - At first pitch, there are large swaths of empty seats. I'd read that attendance and enthusiasm hadn't come close to matching the Nats' home opener this season, but there can't be 10,000 here. It's also getting really chilly as a consistent breeze has blown in. My windbreaker isn't breaking any wind, at all. (I can't stop!)
7:45 PM - On my way to obtain beer #3, Nationals' 3B Ryan Zimmerman homers over the left field wall. I didn't see it and, judging from the inexplicably quiet reaction, the home crowd didn't, either. No exaggeration, I've never heard such a muted response to a home run hit by the home team.
7:47 PM - I'm almost back in my seat when the next hitter, 1B Nick Johnson goes yard. The polite cheers and disinterested golf claps are slightly louder than the last one, but it's no less disconcerting. Say what you want about the miniscule crowds in Oakland, but they're at least loud when they're supposed to be. I know some of you will be heading out to Nationals Park later this year, so I'm genuinely curious to know if the audience is more enthusiastic by then. Anyways, it's now 2-1, Nats.
8:45 PM - I've finished my fourth beer and I'm frickin' freezing as the temperatures have dipped deep into the 50s. Before I left San Diego, weather.com told me it'd be 64 for the low on Tuesday. It lied. So, imagine my surprise when I discovered that you can buy hard liquor and mixed drinks here! I've seen enough cartoon St. Bernard's in the snow with that little barrel of booze on their collars to know that Jack Daniels is the K-Y warming lotion of cocktails. Here's my conversation with the
Me: "Can I get a Jack & Coke?"
Her: "Yes, you can! And, I'mma take care of you, too. They told us to only put a little bit of Jack in the cup, but I'mma take care of you."
8:50 PM - Despite being bloated with unidentifiable animal parts, hops and barley, I figure I need one more meal to get the complete baseball-in-DC experience. Now, I have no idea why chili cheese fries sounded appealing, but they didn't disappoint. Here, they hit 'em with that liquid cheese goo that's usually only on nachos. Only downside was the length of the line (I finished my drink before I even ordered), but after gleefully wolfing down 90% of the cholesterol, I tapped out with a few bites to go.
9:30 PM - Ballgame! The Nationals win, 6-3, with a 4-run seventh inning. Announced attendance was a little over 25,000, but there is no way there was even half that here. My take on Nationals Park: It's a lot like San Diego's Petco Park in that its sole redeeming quality is, uhh, "new". If you've been to one of the swanky new mall-parks, you seen them all and this one lacks the spectacular views of San Francisco's AT&T Park, the passionate fandom of new Busch Stadium in St. Louis or the "part of the neighborhood" feel of Coors Field in Denver.
I'd be grotesquely remiss if I didn't thank m'man Josh for the hospitality, conversation and directions that got me around his town and through some always exciting JV National League baseball.
Next: Why Will Smith is sooooooo overrated…