Labor Day was fun for the Nationals again this year. The Nats steamrolled their division rival Mets 13-3 behind a spectacular performance from rookie Danny Espinosa. He hit two homers, including a grand slam and a career-high 6 RBI. Washington is now 5-0 on Labor Day since the team’s first year in D.C.
Espinosa had an incredible day at the plate. But the at bat that I remember very well was an out. In his second at bat, Espinosa smacked a long flyout to center field in the Nats’ five-run, game-changing fourth inning. Espinosa had already crushed a solo homer to get the Nats on the board, and he came close again. And the fans remembered too.
But then a great moment occurred.
As Espinosa walked to the dugout after making the long out, the 20,224 at Nats Park showed their appreciation with several standing and thousands more acknowledging the spark Espinosa had already provided and could offer in years to come.
Later, Espinosa blasted a grand slam to seal the game and got a well deserved curtain call. The three Nats that scored in front of him, Adam Dunn, Roger Bernadina and Michael Morse, teasingly turned their backs on him as he headed to the dugout, providing not one high-five. Then, they celebrated with him as he came down the steps towards the bench.
The hometown fans also are quick to give the Nats starting pitchers due respect as they come off the mound every game. Whether it was John Lannan, Livan Hernandez, Scott Olsen, Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg or others, Nats fans make sure they let their pitcher know they appreciate his hard work as he walks to the dugout on the first base side.
Oh sure, this is old hat at places like Wrigley Field, Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium or Dodger Stadium every day. But despite a baseball history prior to 1971, Washington is really being introduced to this game again as a new generation of fans flock to the Southeast to watch America’s pastime, even in year six.
During the seventh inning “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” song at Nats Park, when they get to the line “Let me root, root, root for the “Nationals”, you usually hear “Cubs” or “Phillies” yelled out.
But you can hear the home town faithful slowly but surely gaining some ground on the out-of-towners that yell out their favorite team’s nickname. It happened yesterday - I could hear “Nationals” more distinctly above the Mets fans.
This town is becoming a baseball town with every game that is played at Nats Park. It is called tradition. Eventually, the ring of honor will not only display Senators, Nationals and Expos names of yesteryear, but also the names of some of the Nats playing on the field today.
Some day your grandkids will ask, “Grandpa (or Grandma!), do you remember watching Ryan Zimmerman play?” To which you can dutifully recollect, “I do. I took your Dad to see him play at Nats Park.”