WASHINGTON – Eli Duncan-High, 19, sat in row C in section 406 here on Thursday night, with a slight drizzle slowly abating before the Washington Nationals opened their season against the Mets.
A student at Northern Virginia Community College, Duncan-High wore a No. 22 Juan Soto jersey as he waited for the two teams to be introduced after a rain delay pushed back the first pitch to 8:21 p.m.
Duncan-High, who is interested in sports communications as a career, spoke eloquently about why he loves Soto after the retirement of Ryan Zimmerman.
“We lost that franchise player (but) Soto brought life to that,” said Duncan-High, who attended Thomas Edison High in Alexandria, Virginia and has been attending Nationals game for nearly 10 years.
“He helped us win a World Series,” the Alexandria resident added of Soto. “We hope we can keep him for a long time.”
And there is the rub on a night many fans wore Soto jerseys – including Abby Peterson, 17, who was sitting next to Duncan-High.
And some followers of the Washington nine also wore Trea Turner jerseys, a reminder of the massive trades last July that ushered in a new era of baseball in the nation’s capital.
“It hurt man, it really hurt,” Duncan-High said of the deal that sent Turner and Max Scherzer to the Dodgers.
One downside, said the fan, was not having Scherzer in a Washington jersey – instead of the Mets- when he recorded career strikeout No. 3,000.
“I hope nothing but the best for him,” Duncan-High said of Scherzer, who a few minutes later was given a nice ovation by the Washington fans as both teams were introduced.
Duncan-High is convinced that the Nationals can eventually sign Soto to a long-term deal and keep him in Washington forever.
That, of course, remains to be seen as older Washington fans have seen stars such as Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon leave via free agency.
Soto was presented his 2021 Silver Slugger award before the game on Thursday night by a representative of Louisville Slugger.
But the fan is also very familiar with players who have not yet made it to Washington, mentioning promising pitchers such as Cade Cavalli and Cole Henry for starters.
Cavalli, the top pitching prospect in the system, was given plenty of opportunity in Spring Training.
But after a rough start in late March, he was sent to Triple-A Rochester to start the season.
In his first start of the season, Cavalli went four innings Thursday night against Toledo and gave up three runs.
The second reliever in the game for Rochester was Tyler Clippard, who is trying to get back to Washington for the second time in his career.
Clippard fanned Kody Clemens, the son of Roger, who hit a homer earlier Thursday.
Henry, a second-round pick in 2020 out of LSU, had a WHIP of 0.85 last year split between the Florida Complex League and Wilmington.
He was on the Single-A roster of the Blue Rocks to start this season. Wilmington will open the season on Friday against Brooklyn.
“We are all so eager to move beyond the pandemic and get back to normal and Blue Rocks baseball all summer long is a big part of that,” said Blue Rocks’ managing partner Dave Heller on the team’s website. “There’s no better place for a family outing or a company gathering than Frawley Stadium and we look forward to welcoming back people throughout Delaware, southeast Pennsylvania, southern Jersey, and Cecil County, Maryland all summer long.”
Single-A Fredericksburg begins the season Friday at the Delmarva Shorebirds, a farm team of the Orioles.
The Virginia team will be without pitcher Jackson Rutledge, a top prospect who will start the year on the Injured List, according to the team.
Fredericksburg does have shortstop Brady House, the top infield prospect who was drafted out of a Georgia high school last year by Washington.
Double-A Harrisburg begins the season Friday at Altoona, a farm team of the Pirates.