‘People are really scared’: Some fans brave pandemic and DC storm to celebrate MLB season start

25
0
‘People are really scared’: Some fans brave pandemic and DC storm to celebrate MLB season start

CLOSE

SportsPulse: It’s opening week in baseball and yet we already have our eyes set on October. Our MLB experts predict who’s going to make the playoffs and win it all.

USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — When the Washington Nationals won the franchise’s first World Series title last October, fans imagined being inside Nationals Park on Opening Day to watch the championship pennant raised into the sky.

Present circumstances obviously prevented that from being reality Thursday, when the Nationals fell to the New York Yankees 6-1 in the rain-shortened MLB season opener. But that didn’t stop a small crowd of (mostly masked) Nats fans from congregating in a parking lot across the street from the stadium to watch the pennant take flight.

And once the flag caught the wind just right at the top of the pole, a bearded, Nationals Hawaiian-shirt-wearing fan dropped to one knee for the first proposal of the baseball season.

“I’d been planning that since the original Opening Day,” he exclaimed.

“I thought we were like five years away,” she said, but only after saying yes.

First ballpark engagement of the year??? This happened right after the World Series pennant (far left) went up pic.twitter.com/3xO87WizwQ

— Chris Bumbaca (@BOOMbaca) July 23, 2020

Getting engaged was one of the many reasons fans trekked toward D.C.’s Navy Yard district, even though entry to the stadium was prohibited. Nearby bars and restaurants, usually packed on game days, turned away customers who did not have reservations to control capacity and keep parties separate.

Another couple ate Chipotle bowls behind home plate. Joggers ran up the steps leading to field level Rocky-style. The parking garages sat eerily empty. The pregame moments of silence and national anthem were only audible if paying attention. Social distance was made easy for the curious who milled around the surrounding blocks.

Outside of bars along the Anacostia River, Matt Winkler sported a “Dr. Fauci” No. 19 Nationals jersey — honoring director of the national institute of allergy and infectious diseases Anthony Fauci. The number 19 represents COVID-19, said Winkler, a sports management professor at American University who requested the jersey through Fanatics and had a mutual friend give another one to Fauci.

Winkler posted up at an outdoor table of a bar with his son and said the pair had been there “every step of the way” in 2019. Being there for the first game of 2020 — or at least as close as possible — felt only right.

“There’s something about these guys,” he said.

Plus, he wanted to see how the stadium neighborhood had changed over the extended offseason.

“I mean, who’s been out?” he said.

Supporting the Nationals is exactly what Lisa Taylor, who lives around the block from the field, wanted to do Thursday.

FIRST PITCH: Dr. Fauci’s offering was juuuuust a bit outside

PREDICTIONS: Are the Dodger the World Series favorites?

Opening Day in non-pandemic times would have been another memorable day for a neighborhood that did plenty of celebrating nine months ago, Taylor said.

“It would have been amazing,” she said. “It’s really sad. I think people are really scared, that’s why you don’t really see people outside.”

Taylor, holding a sign that read “Make 2020 Great/Nats Repeat/COVID Retreat/Trump Defeat,” thinks there is a way to admit fans into the stadium safely. She suggested selling seats in blocks of 10 or less, with distance, but pointed out logistical issues, such as navigating concessions.

“It’s outdoors,” she said. “They could figure out a way to get fans in there and have it be safe. This isn’t rocket science.”

Taylor wasn’t the only one making a political statement or advocating for fan admission, albeit less passionately than Hayden Bluth.

In defiance of D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser’s order to wear masks at public indoor and outdoor spaces, Bluth stood at the gates of the outfield entrance and chanted “Sell us tickets!” for more than an hour prior to the game.

“I want to buy a ticket. I love baseball. I want to watch baseball in person,” said Bluth, a self-proclaimed “diehard (New York) Mets fan.”

“I want to see the first World Series banner in D.C. in my lifetime being raised with me in the building.”

On the other side of the stadium, Natalie “Nat” McCormick and her mom Amy sat outside the players’ parking entrance with a small cardboard sign that read, “Thank you, Dr. Fauci!”

At the first base side entrance, the proper neck angle can give spectators views of the infield’s left side and some of the outfield. That’s where a pair of 19-year-olds stationed at the nearby Marine Barracks, Alex Asbery and Ruben Carrillo, caught a glimpse of Adam Eaton running the bases after his solo home run in the bottom of the first inning.

For a better vantage point, there’s an elevator ride 11 stories to the still-under-construction roof of The Kelvin. The apartment building across N Street welcomed its first residents June 1, and a studio unit with windows facing the stadium starts at $1,825 a month.

Even high above the playing surface, the middle of the field remains obstructed by the “Bud Light Loft.” Maybe the best view belonged to the brave soul who gained access to the parking garage beyond center field.

For the spectators atop The Kelvin, though, the view was just fine. And nobody up there could say they didn’t see the storms coming.

Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.

Autoplay

Show Thumbnails

Show Captions

Find New & Used Cars

of

Powered by Cars.com

Read More

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here