• April 5, 2010: It would not be an exaggeration to say that nearly half of the 41,290 fans in Nationals Park on Opening Day last April were Philadelphia Phillies fans. If it wasn't obvious from all the Philly t's, caps and jerseys around the park, it became clear in the top of the fourth when Ryan Howard launched a first-pitch curve from Nats' OD starter John Lannan deep into the right field seats in Nats Park for a two-run HR that put Philly up 2-1 over Washington to the roaring approval of the partisan out-of-town-crowd.
Lannan, making his second-straight Opening Day start after one each by Odalis Perez ('08) and John Patterson ('07) and two-in-a-row by today's starter Mr. National Himself Livan Hernandez ('05-'06), had walked the first batter he faced for the second straight inning. In the third inning, DC backstop Pudge Rodriguez had erased Lannan's leadoff walk when he cut Phils' catcher Carlos Ruiz down at second on a weak dribbler of an attempted sac bunt from career-American Leaguer and current Phils' starter, Roy Halladay, but in the fourth, the then-24-year-old Lannan had Howard to deal with instead of the opposing pitcher and Lannan paid for putting Phils' second baseman Chase Utley on in front of the Phillies' left-handed slugger.
After the HR, Jayson Werth, (who'll start in right for the Nats this afternoon), Raul Ibanez and Shane Victorino singled in succession, scoring another run, 3-1, and drawing DC Pitching Coach Steve McCatty out to the mound for a chat with Lannan, but the Nats' Opening Day lefty allowed a run-scoring, one-out single (on what looked like a suicide squeeze attempt by Halladay), a walk and a sac fly as the Phillies batted around. A two-out single by Utley loaded the bases and ended Lannan's day, with only a brave performance by left-hander Jesse English, in his MLB debut, keeping the game close at 5-1. English retired Ryan Howard after Philly had put together a 5-run fourth in what would end up an 11-1 Nats' loss.
All Nats fans could talk about after the game, however, was the Phillies fan invasion, a complaint that echoed throughout the 2010 season as fans in the nation's capital suffered through another losing season and the indignity of having the Phillies fans take over Opening Day and eventually clinch the division on the Nats' home field.
• April 6, 2009: Adam Dunn did not disappoint in his first regular season appearance with the Washington Nationals on Opening Day in 2009, in a game against the Marlins which took place in Florida. The Nats' big middle-of-the-order bat ended his Nats' debut 2 for 4 with 2 runs scored and 4 RBI's on a double and a HR the likes of which hadn't been seen by DC baseball fans since...Well...since Frank "Hondo" Howard donned the curly-W.
The Nats lost this Season Opener too, though, and they dropped the Home Opener to the Phillies a week later for the seventh-straight loss to start the 2009 season. The HR by Dunn overshadowed most of what happened that day in the Nats' 12-6 loss to the Marlins, however, and with good reason...well over 400ft, the 3-run blast Dunn hit off Florida starter Ricky Nolasco had fans 20 rows up in right ducking for cover...
• March 30, 2008: Who can forget this one? The Nationals Park nationally-televised Season and Park Opener against the Atlanta Braves:
Nats' lefty Odalis Perez provided exactly the calming influence on the mound that then-Manager Manny Acta was looking for when he chose his Opening Night starter in 2008. The veteran left-hander lasted 5.0 innings on a cold March night, allowing 4 hits, 1 ER, and 1 HR which was the first HR in the history of Nationals Park. Chipper Jones hit it...(ed. note - "BOOOOO!!!!") to make it 2-1 Nationals after four.
Saul "Sa-ool" Rivera, "Half-A" Ray King, and Luis "Set-up" Ayala held the lead through eight innings of play that night and the Nationals brought on The Flat-Brimme...Nope, the Nats didn't go with Chad Cordero, instead opting for the Tallest Pitcher in MLB History, Jon Rauch to close out the win. Rauch and the Nats blew the lead when a pitch got by new Nationals' catcher Paul Lo Duca allowing the tying run to score from third. 2-2 ballgame.
Jon Rauch got the last out of the top of the ninth. Cristian Guzman and Lastings Milledge went down in the Nats' ninth and then the whispers started in the crowd: "Ryan Zimmerm...Zimmer's up, it's Ryan Zimmer...THE KIDS CALL HIM ZIM!! THE KIDS CALL HIM ZIM!!! Ryan "Walk Off" Zimmerman sent the fans home happy with a walk-off home run off the Braves' side-winding reliever Peter Moylan, that everyone in the park knew was gone. THE KIDS CALL HIM ZIM!!! THE KIDS CALL HIM ZIM!!! Nationals win...Nationals WIN!!!! 3-2 final. The Nationals ended Opening Night 2008 in 1st Place in the NL East.
• Those are the only three Nats' Openers I've covered here at Federal Baseball.com after I took over in August of 2007, but I've been to every one. The 9-2 loss to the Marlins in the '07 Opener in RFK Stadium. The April 11, 2006 7-1 loss to the New York Mets and the April 14, 2005 5-3 win over Arizona in the first game played in the nation's capital after baseball's three-decade-plus absence from Washington, D.C. I'm already in Nats Park today, it's 8:58 am EDT as I write this, just four hours away from the 2011 Opener. Rain, or the forecast of nasty weather is the story thus far, but it likely won't be when this is over. Who'll make the headline on Opening Day 2011? Who will score the first run of the 2011 season? Who'll hit the first HR? Can Mr. National Livan Hernandez pick up where he left off last season? We're just a few hours away from finding out...
Who's coming to Opening Day in D.C.?