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April 7 - The Beltway to Broadway: From Spring Training to the “Post-Season” All in the Same Day

It’s Sunday, April 3. We’re leaving the Washington Nationals’ debut at RFK Stadium en route to the Bronx
for the 2005 Opening Day salvo of Yankees-Red Sox when my brother blurts out, “I feel like the Joel
Youngblood of baseball fans today.”

Let me explain… On the morning of August 4, 1982, Youngblood donned his New York Met togs and
went one-for-two against the Cubs’ Fergie Jenkins at a Wrigley Field day game. That same day, the
Mets traded him to the Montreal Expos. Youngblood flew directly to Philadelphia where Montreal was
playing the Phillies at Veterans Stadium. He entered the game in the sixth inning wearing his new Expo
uniform and smacked a hit off Steve Carlton. Youngblood thereby became the first Major League player
to get a hit for two different major league teams in two different cities on the same day (and off of two
eventual Hall of Famers, no less).

So when my brother made the Youngblood comment, the quote crystallized for me what this
untraditional doubleheader I had planned was all about. In a nutshell, that my brother would say such a
thing and have him instinctively understand I knew exactly what he was talking about confirmed to me
why it was perfectly normal to trek 240 miles to see a glorified exhibition at RFK only to drive back
another 240 miles for the big game that night at Yankee Stadium. It was our own little piece of baseball
history.

So, in honor of Joel Youngblood who owns a little piece of baseball history, here’s one fan’s impression
of two very different major league games in two major league cities on the same day – each game
historic in its own way.

Nationals-Mets: RFK Today
Pulling up to RFK for the first time was strangely like pulling up to Montreal’s Olympic Stadium for the
first time. RFK’s white concrete contours are vaguely reminiscent of the Canadian UFO the Expos called
home (minus the weird inclined building holding up the “retractable” roof) and it’s hard not to think,
“Here we go again. Poor Expos/Nationals.”

My brother said, “It’s hard to imagine this was ever considered ‘state-of-the-art.’”

Yeah. It’s old, outdated and ready for the same scrapheap that swallowed its all-purpose brethren, the
Vet, Three Rivers and Riverfront. But, in fairness, the interior was much more inviting than both the
outside of RFK and the entirety of Olympic Stadium. A large DC Nationals logo above the right-center
field wall doubles as a clock and more colorful graphics above the leftfield wall dress up the old
stadium's otherwise drabness. The natural grass looked lush and playable despite the 36-hour
soaking it had just absorbed.

As the Mets took BP, the PA announcer sprang to life and the Nationals ran through team calisthenics
straight out of some 1930s spring training newsreels. Baseball was very much in evidence on this
damp, chilly morning of a 12:05 PM start.

Then the 25,543 fans (a little less than half-capacity) got vocal - the Mets lineup booed vigorously to the
man as if the Mets had somehow done this “new” franchise some past injustice. When the Nationals
were announced, roars of glee bounced around RFK’s peeling rafters and faded plastic seats -
breathing life into the behemoth. At that point, baseball sounded very much at home at RFK. There’s still
more work to be done - heck, the stadium crew didn’t even get on-deck circles down until the third inning
- but it looked and felt like a Major League ballpark.

As all of this was happening, various District dignitaries who helped bring the national pastime back to
the nation’s capital were milling around the field. Mayor Anthony Williams, scheduled to throw out the
first pitch, decided to practice up a bit. He heaved the five-ounce sphere with a labored technique only a
skilled shot-putter could intelligently critique. Whether the righty Williams is all-glove, no-arm is yet to be
determined as the mayor had an aide fielding the soft tosses back.

For the record, Mayor Williams scored twice, once less than the Nationals. When introduced, he was
cheered loudly, happily and pretty near unanimously with many fans shouting, “Thank you.” I have never
heard any politician get such a positive crowd response. He capped this off by reaching home plate with
his ceremonial first pitch and triumphantly walking off the field to more applause.

The New Yorkers claimed a 4-3 win in a game that was typical spring training fare -- including the use of
two Mets both wearing the number 20 in the lineup at the same time (Victor Diaz and Prentice Redman).
Even Joel Youngblood would’ve been impressed with that.

The National runs were all driven in by the future answer of the trivia question, “Who hit the first
Washington Nationals home run at RFK Stadium?” That would be Ryan Church. Church clocked a Victor
Zambrano beach ball in the bottom of the second for the three-run dinger. So far, it doesn’t look like
Zambrano can get his fastball up in the mid to high 90s like he used to before his injuries. Scott Kazmir!
I know, I know…

As for fan amenities and creature comforts, other than a brew pub inside the stadium serving their own
beer, RFK doesn’t offer much in the way of food or drink outside of stadium staples like hot dogs,
chicken fingers and burgers. In fact, don’t get too excited for the enticingly named “Super Dog.” Super?
Super my butt. Maybe the RFK concessionaires thought “super” was synonymous with “hot” because
when the “Super Dog” gets served up to us mere mortals, it’s in the form of a simple, everyday “hot dog.”

Yankees-Red Sox: More of the War
Many a person dubbed this matchup ALCS Game 8. October in April. Crazy, right? Not for anyone that
was in Yankee Stadium that night.

This Opening Day game felt like October -- and I’m not talking about the low-40s temps and shredding
wind that permeated the place. From the fighter jet flyover to the ferocity Yankee fans leapt to their feet on
a two-strike count urging on a Randy Johnson strikeout -- the only thing missing at the end of this game
was a trip to the World Series.

If you thought the Red Sox beating the Yankees in the fashion they did last season had little effect on the
26-time champs, just take a look at the souvenir stands.

One t-shirt read, “Got Rings?” on the front. The back pictured the 26 Yankee world championship rings
side-by side with the Red Sox six. An Opening Day commemorative pin made the same point.
Personally, I don’t think the New York Yankees need to make such proclamations on officially licensed
merchandise as everyone who follows baseball knows the score. The “Got Rings?” shirt seemed
particularly bush and below the class and tradition the Yankees believe they exude.

So, with Johnson on the mound as Yankee for the first time, former Yankee David Wells donning enemy
colors and the Red Sox strutting into the House that Ruth Built as World Champions, Yankee Stadium
was at a rolling boil.

Any minor doubts the Yankee faithful aren’t happy to have the Big Unit were answered quickly. Johnson’
s first pinstripe pitch was greeted by thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of camera flashes. Every
pitch thereafter, thrown by both teams, seemed to have the weight of a whole season riding on it.

Signs in the stands ranged from Welcome Back Tino (later altered to “Welcome Back-Ache Boomer”) to
“Welcome to Day 1: Curse of the Bambino, Part II.” Many signs relegating the Red Sox to another 86-
year wait for a title – including that of the venerable Freddy Schuman, Yankee fan extraordinaire. As
Freddy toured the upper deck early in the game, fans were climbing over each other to tap Freddy’s pan
with his spoon for Yankee luck.

Well, the Freddy karma must have worked… In the second, David Ortiz scorched a double that made
Johnson seem human. Kevin Millar hitting next drives the ball deep to left. Hideki Matsui ranges far into
the corner, high up the wall and downright robs Millar of a two-run shot. Though, the Red Sox took a 1-0
lead on Jay Payton’s single, the energy was with the Yankees and Matsui’s monumental grab.

With the game tied 1-1 in the bottom of the third, Wells fell apart and felt the wrath of the Yankee faithful.
He was a full-fledged Red Sox now, despite his Yankee perfect game and love for all things Bambino.
When he balked in the fourth Yankee run of the night, Yankee Stadium erupted like it was midnight on
New Year’s Eve in Times Square. Jeering taunts of “BOO-mer” reached a crescendo.

His early departure the next inning was greeted with more sing-song “BOO-mers” and quite a few, “You
suck, Wells!”  He was a long way away from May 17, 1998 when he got carried off the hallowed ground
on the backs of his Yankee teammates post perfecto. Wells was now no more than a lowly Bostonian
and the Yankee who walked off the mound in Game 5 of the 2003 World Series with a backache.

Other interesting fan reaction moments involved the steroids-scandal beleaguered Jason Giambi – who
heard resoundingly positive and loud cheers. And, of course, “TI-NO, TI-NO, TI-NO,” Martinez. The
prodigal son and the holder of four-Yankee World Championship rings was, quite simply, showered
with love. When he came in to replace Giambi in the top of the seventh, the place rose to its feet and
chanted his name. Tino didn’t disappoint, either, making a brilliant stop on a Johnny Damon screamer
down the line for the third out of the inning. Another standing O ensued.

With the game slipping away from the Red Sox into an eventual 9-2 loss and the metaphor of this game
being a whole season, my brother turned to me and wondered, “Maybe Varitek should punch A-Rod
right now and get this season turned around.”

Hey, with the Yankees-Red Sox, it’s never too early.