OK, so that didn't work. Never has a 1-0 game seemed so unclose. Never has a supposedly close game's ending with the wrong result felt so unsurprising. Nationals Park was, by my thoroughly unscientific estimate, about 30% to 35% Met fans. But we were a numb, hushed bunch from pillar to post, with only a few half-hearted Let's Go Mets chants to betray our presence. The sight of all those backs adorned with CARTER and DYKSTRA and STRAWBERRY and ALFONZO (invoking the angels of the past, or betraying discontent with the present?) would have been comforting, if the shoulders hadn't been slumped forward around misery. (There were sights of REYES and WRIGHT and SANTANA too, but the body language was about the same.)
The company, at least, was pennant-winning: I went with my old friend Megan, who very kindly put me up and even lent me this laptop, and we were joined by Liz (another old friend and longtime Met fan) and her friend Rob. In the middle innings I headed off to commiserate with Jeff, who'd been Greg's host here back in April. Whether I was in short left or the right-field corner, there was puzzlement and muted despair over the utter lack of offense on the field and the sickening see-saw between PHI/ATL. (And then MIL/CHI, which I belatedly realized was becoming very important.) When David Wright tipped a ball foul with two strikes in the ninth, my chin dropped to my chest before I realized he wasn't out. No matter; he was a minute later. Carlos Beltran rifled a liner to center that Lastings Milledge was playing deep enough to corral without incident. And then with two strikes, Carlos Delgado swung and missed at a ball that eluded Wil Nieves. I watched the ball spinning in the dirt and thought dully that we hadn't lost yet. But I knew and Nieves knew and Delgado knew and everybody else knew that was a formality, and I was already getting to my feet by the time ball was retrieved and quietly applied to slugger. Ugh. Waiting for the Metro, I grumbled to Megan that it was rarely a good sign to be able to recite your team's hits immediately from memory. Double ugh.
If you haven't been to Nationals Park, Greg's impressions from late April should be your first stop. I was too angst-ridden to take in much more than the slow throttling happening down on the field, so I'll limit myself to a couple of updates/first takes: The big, beautiful HD scoreboard now dispenses relevant info, as well as a-bit-too-excited exhortations to the crowd. (Strike two isn't consistently important enough to get agitated about, fellas.) Vendors and greeters and other folks were consistently friendly and more or less on the ball — as a Shea denizen, I stared in bemused disbelief when I was handed a Coke with the soda cap still attached.
As for Nationals fans, they're still a vaguely defined, placeholder kind of rooter — there are stalwarts (the guy in front of me in a VIDRO uniform shirt was raucous and worked up, as he should be), but most of them seem like they're still learning the ropes: They take way too many cues from whatever the scoreboard's suggesting they do, and embarrassingly few of them have figured out that the secret of not mistaking a pop to left-center for a home run is to look at the fielders, not the ball. Oh, and the Nats really need to find place for the outs on their otherwise-excellent out-of-town scoreboard.
Several folks have offered variants on Greg's observation that Nats Park feels like an overgrown minor-league park, with none of them meaning anything snide by that. I had the same impression, and I think maybe it's the breaks in the levels. If you were a young baseball fan between the late 1960s and the end of the 1980s, your first experiences of a baseball stadium almost certainly involved an all-purpose donut, with an unbroken ring of seats arcing from at least foul pole to foul pole. Things like that get into your head as a sort of Platonic reality (“ideal” seems too strong), and become the standard against which everything else is judged, whether you're conscious of it or not. Broken concourses seem off to us and unfinished, while younger fans may well praise them as allowing more of a connection between a stadium and the city surrounding it.
At least that's my half-assed theory. Regardless, Nationals Park is clean, bright and new. Great place to see a game. Even better place to see the Mets win a game, if that's possible right now. We'll try again tonight.