I’m always extremely excited to attend my first regular season game of the year, and I was scared that this trip wouldn’t be possible due to bad weather expected this weekend in the capital. But Friday’s baseball practice was graciously cut short by my coach, so my dad, brother, and I made the drive up to see the Miami Marlins at Nationals Park.
My main goal for this game was to snag a Marlins Park commemorative baseball, which do indeed have this logo on them, and my main concern was that the Fish wouldn’t bring the special balls on the road. In order to focus on snagging a ball, I wasn’t going to get worked up about getting signatures from the new Marlins, and nobody really signed anyways. I was very happy to see Randy Choate holding a commemorative ball when the Marlins pitchers came out to throw during batting practice.
The ball snagging on Friday was not as easy as it was last September when both the Marlins and Nationals were out of the playoff race and literally five people showed up to ballhawk during batting practice. Instead, fans piled into the left field bleachers on Friday and screamed at Marlins pitchers for toss-ups anytime they fielded a hit ball. Even my knowledge of everybody’s name on the team would not have helped as I could not have been heard over the deafening fans in the front rows. So my only hope was to go to the Red Porch and catch a home run like I did in September, but nothing was reaching the seats. The only one that came close was a Giancarlo Stanton blast that hit the batter’s eye in center. But Stanton only took about 3 or 4 swings each time up, and didn’t stick around to hit for too long. The bullpen swallowed up 4 or 5 home runs in left field, and I didn’t want to run around to right field, despite it being less crowded, because Logan Morrison is Miami’s only power-lefty, and he was working the opposite field during BP. But…funny story about batting practice: Anibal Sanchez, who went 1-for-5 with a triple in his first three starts, hit in the first round of BP. He knocked a few liners to center and right field, but it was peculiar to see a pitcher hit pre-game at all.
I was out of luck as BP started winding down, so I chose to go down toward the Marlins dugout, get an autograph if I was lucky, and wait until July or September to snag a commemorative ball. The section behind the dugout was crowded, but only with autograph hopefuls, not fans with advanced knowledge of players’ names, so I had a decent chance for a toss up when the Marlins players cleared the field. As the turtle cage was being folded by ballpark staff, I looked to see if any of Miami’s players had balls as they jogged off. Sure enough, Steve Cishek was fiddling around with one. As he entered the dugout, a simple, “Steve!” with my arms raised was enough to coax the ball from him. I was thrilled when I caught it, and I immediately studied each panel for the logo…but nothing! It was just a regular old Selig, nothing special.
I was disappointed the ball wasn’t of the preferred variety, but I have at least two more chances to snag one this season when the Marlins come to town. After that, I decided to park myself in our seats in straight-away left field. At first I was excited when I saw the location of section 106: prime home-run territory. But remembering how well the Nats pitchers are throwing this year, I figured my chances would be slim. The only one that came close was in the first inning when Danny Espinosa flew out to the track in straight-away left. It was on a line right toward me, and had the ball carried 20 more feet, I would have caught a home run.
I wondered what uniforms the Marlins would be wearing because they have been weird about fashion this year. In November, Jeffrey Loria unveiled gray uniforms as their primary roads, and then black as alternates. But in the first six road games the team had this season, they wore black in every single one. Also, when I saw the Fish play at Marlins Park in Spring Training, they wore black jerseys and orange hats as opposed to the black with black hats so far in the regular season. To my surprise, Miami wore the gray-on-gray. The writing on those jerseys is white, which is hard to read on the light gray. I still wish the team had stuck with teal and silver, but I’m getting used to the new scheme.
With the Marlins’ mediocre offense, and the Nationals’ great pitching, the game would be a defensive struggle, and if not for Rick Ankiel (3-for-3, HR, 2 runs), it might still be going. Emilio Bonifacio was the only Marlin who elongated the game offensively when Miami tried to get going in the eighth. With a runner on first and two outs, Bonifacio went down 1-2, but worked the count full by fouling off the next two and taking two balls. With a full count, Bonifacio fouled off six straight pitches on his way to a 14-pitch walk engaging Nationals Park, who cheered on the pitcher Tyler Clippard during the at bat that lasted probably seven minutes. Clip threw 25 pitches that inning, using the last five to strike out Hanley Ramirez to end the threat.
Miami’s best offensive chance actually came in the second inning when Giancarlo Stanton led off with a single, and Austin Kearns followed with a one-out double to left. With runners on second and third and one out, John Buck skied to center, but Joe Espada didn’t test the laser arm of pitcher-turned-centerfielder, Rick Ankiel. And with two outs, Donnie Murphy couldn’t collect an RBI.
Carlos Zambrano did not pitch a bad game for Miami, going seven strong innings, allowing the two runs (both scored by Ankiel), and striking out six. Rick Ankiel did not just provide the offense for the Nationals, he saved a few runs on defense. In addition to firing home to prevent Stanton from scoring in the second, he tracked down fly balls by Jose Reyes and Chris Coghlan to the warning track in left-center.
The Marlins ran out of luck in their series opener in D.C., and I ran out of luck by snagging only one ball at the game. The Fish are .500 (7-7) after Friday night’s loss, but Washington has its best start since moving to D.C., and are currently 11-4, leading the N.L. East.