Opening day even more special to Nationals after last season's success

Opening day is always a special time for the fans but is it just another game to the players?

Far from it.

Especially with what the Nationals were able to accomplish in 2012. A pregame banner ceremony will commemorate the National League East crown from last season, and then it is time to go to work to try to do it again.

"I enjoy opening day," said Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche. "It is an absolute necessity. It is kind of the parade that kicks this thing off."

And repeating is, of course, extremely difficult to do in any sport, but especially baseball, where there's 162 games spanning six months. And especially considering those critics say it will be very tough to do it again with the way the season ended Oct. 12 at Nationals Park with a ninth-inning loss to the Cardinals in the National League Division Series.

"All that stuff just wears away," said shortstop Ian Desmond. "It is just words from people that aren't playing. We got to go out and play good baseball just like we did all last year and try to be as consistent as possible.

"Leading baseball in wins with 98, making to the postseason for the first time in franchise history. I don't see that much of a collapse. We got a lot on our table this year and we look forward to the opportunity."

There are also those, like Sports Illustrated, who say not only can the Nats do it again, but they could win the whole thing. Does that pump up the players?

"It doesn't hurt," Desmond said. "That is for sure. But it is a new year and a new division (race). There is going to be some high expectations for a lot of teams in this division. It is going to be fun."

And part of the fun is the ride in front of each team. It is not eight home games in the fall. It takes a lot of games to get going, to separate yourself from the pack, to wear down your opponent.

"I am a grinder and (I like when) it gets into the dog days," LaRoche said. "You come out and it's the toughest, most relentless team that is going to win. As players, we enjoy it. This year it is different because there will be so much going on because of what happened last year."

LaRoche said this opening day carries special meaning because it is important to the fans of Washington, D.C., with the way the team played in 2012. It is a proud symbol of how far this team has come in just a few seasons.

"It is amazing how far this club has come since I was playing against them and years ago and we could come into Washington and it was awful," LaRoche remembered. "It was bad ballpark and it was a bad club. So now to do it and see the city embrace it, especially last year. That is what fires us up, getting back after it."

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