Get To Know Our Newest Writer! Matt Shalbrack reflects on his first Opening Day ever, and what going to Nationals Park was like for relative outsider to the Washington D.C. area.
Baseball is back and for the first time in my 23 years, I finally took in Opening Day live at a Major League ballpark. It was magnificent and I can’t wait to continue the tradition again next year and for many, many years after that.
Even though this was my first Opening Day, it wasn’t my first time at Nationals Park. That time came on June 21, 2013 when the Nationals took on the Colorado Rockies. Stephen Strasburg took the mound for the Nats, throwing seven strong innings while striking out nine. Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano recorded the final six outs, securing a 3-2 win. My second time at Nationals Park came on Sept. 14, 2013 against the Philadelphia Phillies, except this time, the Nats lost by a final score of 5-4.
On my first trip to Nationals Park, the experience at the ballpark was great. One interesting thing I noticed was the fact that the ushers make you wait for a stop in play before allowing you to walk down the aisle to your seat. At first, I thought this was silly, but the more and more people walked in front of me during the action, I got frustrated. I didn’t like the rule at first, but now I wish every ballpark did that. The ushers and vendors that I’ve worked with all have very friendly personalities. It’s always simple and easy purchasing something from one of them.
This Opening Day trip was very special to me. Not only was it my inaugural Opening Day game, it was the first baseball game that I’ve attended since my Dad passed away in January. He was the one who got me into baseball, not just as a fan, but as a player too. He coached me growing up and taught me to have a passion for the game. En route to the game, I came up with a way to honor my Dad at every game I attend – buy a beer for not just me, but for him too. My Dad was a big fan of the three B’s at baseball games – beer, brats and baseball (brats and beer, especially since I grew up in Wisconsin) – making this new tradition something special for me to remember him by.
You might be thinking, “Why would you waste $9 on a beer at the stadium and not even drink it?” Well, obviously drank the beer. My Dad would have been upset with me if I let good beer go to waste. It was a nice little treat at the beginning of the fifth inning for me to enjoy while watching the game and honoring my Dad.
Aesthetically, the ballpark is beautiful on the inside and outside. The white façade mixed with the red accent throughout the stadium is perfect in my opinion, especially since these colors match the team colors. The seats are quite comfortable and there isn’t a bad seat in the ballpark—at least from where I have sat so far. The big screen in the outfield is crystal clear and beautiful to look at. The graphics and videos displayed on the big screen are fantastically done and I always find myself staring at the screen while the game was happening in front of me. My favorite part about Nationals Park is the view that you get from inside the stadium. At night, all of the buildings in the distance are illuminated, which makes for such a pretty view. The dome of the United States Capitol can be seen in the distance depending on where you sit.
When my girlfriend and I first got to the ballpark, we entered through the centerfield gate and made our way up to the Red Loft for a beer and some batting practice. Each of the three times I’ve been to the ballpark, this is what has happened when first entering the game – another tradition of sorts. Personally, I love going up to the Red Loft to watch batting practice before games. It’s a great way to see the whole ballpark, enjoy a refreshing beer and mingle with friends while waiting for the game to start.
Opening Day was everything I thought it would be and more. Now that baseball is back and I live in a city that has a Major League team with somewhat cheap tickets, I will be attending games on a regular basis. I can’t wait to be a part of the Nationals fan base, meet great people and learn even more about this beautiful game we call baseball.