The Washington Nationals‘ fan appreciation night - the final home game in the inaugural season at Nationals Park - was rained out Thursday night, an appropriate close to a season that started with so much promise yet ended in gloom and doom.
The game will not be rescheduled - a favor for the Nationals because it means Washington will be saved several embarrassments.
With a record of 59-99, hometown fans were spared the indignity of watching their team lose its 100th game this season. Now they can watch it on television this weekend as the team travels to Philadelphia for the three-game series season finale.
If the Nationals lose two of three against the contending Phillies, Washington will have suffered more losses than any team in a new ballpark since Camden Yards opened in 1992. The Pittsburgh Pirates hold that mark with a 62-100 record in their first season at PNC Park in 2001.
Also, with the cancellation of the final home game, the Nationals will finish with the lowest attendance of any team in a new ballpark since Camden Yards opened. The official count for the Nationals this season is 2,321,988, barely more than 29,000 a game.
The Cincinnati Reds drew just 2,355,259 when Great American Park opened in 2003. However, the rainout may allow the Nationals an asterisk next to that attendance mark since it was for 80 home games, not 81. Technically, they could make the case that if they had drawn 33,272 fans for Thursday night’s game against the Florida Marlins, they would have outdrawn the 2003 Reds.
Of course, they could have thrown open the ballpark for free last night and not drawn 33,000 for a Marlins game.
One more indignity spared - canceling the game means the Marlins (team payroll of $22 million) will have beaten the Nationals ($55 million) only 14 out of 17 times this season.
Yes, it has been raining a long time at Nationals Park.
But the Washington baseball fans who showed up deserve credit. They made the best of a bad situation and enjoyed a ballpark that for the most part was well received.
And there were moments of sunshine, moments that will resonate during a cold winter.
Of course, in the cold of Opening Night on March 30 before a national television audience, no one will forget Ryan Zimmerman’s ninth-inning home run to beat the Atlanta Braves 3-2, sending nearly 40,000 fans home to savor one of the biggest nights in Washington sports history.
And then there was the Wil Nieves’ ninth-inning shot against the Chicago Cubs a few weeks later on a Friday night for a 5-3 Nationals victory that stunned the Cubs fans who filled up Nationals Park. It gave Washington fans a chance to gloat at the opposing fans who made their presence felt.
But when it comes to gloating and special moments, the best came on a hot, sunny afternoon - June 29 - when Ronnie Belliard blasted the game-winning home run off closer George Sherrill to defeat the rival Baltimore Orioles 3-2. Baltimore led 2-1 with two outs and two strikes on Belliard when he sent a shot into the left-field seats. The scene was memorable - thousands of Orioles fans had been on their feet cheering for a third strike, while thousands of Nationals fans sat in their seats dejected. When the ball left Belliard’s bat, the two teams’ fans changed places.
“The Opening Night one was awesome because we were opening the ballpark, but we had the lead in the ninth and then blew it,” Nationals manager Manny Acta said. “The game against the Orioles, we were so down that day, it was so hot, and we felt so hopeless with George Sherrill in there and two outs, and then we get a single and a walk-off. That game I’ve had in my mind the whole season. That sticks in my mind. We drew very well for that series. It was a very special moment.”
Nationals Park hosted more than 115,000 fans for those three games that weekend. It was the best of times at the new ballpark.
Washington baseball fans will demand better times ahead as the attraction of the new ballpark diminishes. The good and bad times begin again April 13, 2009, against the Phillies.
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