The closest I ever came to a sense of community as a fan of the Montreal Expos was when I would travel from my home in Johnson, Vt., where I lived after attending college in town, across the border in Richford, Vt., through Canadian farmland and small farming communities to Autoroute des Cantons de L'Est across the Jacques-Cartier Bridge to Rue Notre Dame East, down the Boulevard Pie IX to the Stade Olympique on Rue Pierre de Coubertin. There with the 10,000-15,000 fans who still showed up for the games at that point, in the years before the Montreal Expos moved to the nation's capital, and we would use the empty seats which surrounded us in the Expos' home to cheer for the team, clapping the blue bleacher seats in the outfield up and down instead of using our hands to cheer for the team.
I always sat in right field when I could, finding a seat as close to Vladimir Guerrero as possible in the hope that something hit toward him would give him an opportunity to show off his arm. Once Guerrero left the Expos, I remember a few games with Valentino "Val" Pascucci out in right. Not quite the same, but a fan favorite, who spent a good deal of the game acknowledging (probably in the hope that they would stop) the fans who constantly cheered his name.
I barely spoke the language, having studied French in school and read writing by Proust and Camus with a French-to-English dictionary nearby so I could translate the works myself rather than rely on others' translations. The few fans I spoke to were happy to converse in English, wondering how I'd ended up an Expos fan and expressing astonishment that I'd been willing to travel an hour back and forth to the games from Vermont. The trips would be a sort of preparation.
A few years later, I would be driving four hours back and forth from my home in New Jersey to Washington, D.C., to watch and cover the Nationals. Over the years, through Federal Baseball, the site I write, I've made friends in the the nation's capital and found myself spending more and more time each summer away from home. Somewhere along the line, it began to feel more like home than anywhere else. I often stay with friends who live close to the Eastern Market Metro station. I walk to Nationals Park down 3rd St. SE across M Street behind the US Department of Transportation to N Street SE.
I meet with friends before most games. On opening day we talked on the Scoreboard Walk, wondering if Danny Espinosa's torn rotator cuff might sap him of his power. What if it leads to him becoming a better hitter if he isn't swinging for the fences in every at bat? Davey Johnson said he liked what he saw from the Nats' switch-hitting second baseman this spring. "He started being more selective," Johnson said, "He was more direct to the ball, from both sides, and you'll see his on base percentage go up." The 70-year-old manager sees improvements similar to those he saw Ian Desmond make before his breakout 2012 campaign. I've learned not to doubt the veteran baseball man's opinions.
I'm clearly not the only one who appreciates the attitude Johnson brought with him to Washington. The Nats manager got one of the loudest ovations during the introductions on opening day. Johnson claims this will be his last season, though there has been some chatter recently from some people who don't believe this will be the last we see of him. Just in case he does go, the fans let him know how important a part he's played in the rebirth of baseball in Nationals Park.
The excitement on opening day in D.C. didn't quite reach the heights the nation's capital experienced as a community last October when Johnson's Nationals brought postseason baseball back to Washington.
There wasn't an empty seat in the house on opening day, with 45,274 people in the stands, so the fans chose a more traditional means of expressing their appreciation than the one we used to settle for in Montreal.
They cheered and clapped in support of their team throughout the 2 hours, 10 minutes it took Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper to take care of the Marlins. They rose in unison as Harper hit his first home run of the year, then exploded out of their seats when he did it again, and demanded a curtain call. Harper obliged, stepping out of the dugout and waving to the appreciative community the Nationals have built around a winning baseball team.
Patrick Reddington blogs about the Nationals for Federal Baseball and appears here as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.