Young Nats excited for first big league Opening Day

Opening Day is exciting for any baseball player. It’s especially exciting if you’re experiencing it in the major leagues for the first time.

That’s going to be the case for a handful of young Nationals players this afternoon on South Capitol Street.

Just like everything else in the big leagues, the pomp and circumstance around Opening Day is elevated. The decorations around the stadium. The red carpet outside the Nats dugout. And the roar of 40,000 people when your name is called as you run onto the field during pregame player introductions.

“We've been waiting for a while,” MacKenzie Gore said. “This will be my first Opening Day, so I'm looking forward to it.”

Gore, 24, made his major league debut with the Padres last April, but wasn’t included on San Diego’s Opening Day roster. Alex Call, 27, made his debut last July with the Guardians well after Opening Day. Even Joey Meneses, 30, hasn’t experienced a major league Opening Day, finally making his big league debut with the Nationals last August after 12 seasons in the minor leagues and abroad.

“This will be my first one, so I'm really going to take it all in because this is the culmination of every little boy's dream,” Call said. “You get to wake up and the anthem plays, the fans are there, baseball's in the air and the awesome purity of it. It's kind of a culmination on Opening Day, so I think that's what makes it so special.”

With the Braves starting left-hander Max Fried this afternoon, the right-handed-hitting Call could find himself not only playing in his first major league Opening Day, but in the starting lineup as well.

“For me, I know that I have what it takes,” he said. “I just have to trust in my process and my routine and go out there and compete every day. And if I do that every day, I know I'm gonna put myself in the best position to help our team.”

Despite all of the celebrations, Opening Day is just like any other game. It counts the same as each of the 161 other games on the schedule. But it’s still extra special for first-timers, maybe creating some extra nerves.

“Oh, of course,” Call said. “Butterflies are good because if you're not a little bit nervous, how much do you care? We want to go out there and have a great game, have a great start of the season and build a foundation for what this group can be. You're going to have the nervous energy that's going to be a lot of fun. Just soak up every moment and enjoy it.”

Gore can soak up every moment today because his moment on the mound won’t come until Sunday’s series finale, as he was officially announced as the third starter in the Nats rotation. But when that moment comes, the young lefty expects to have some butterflies, too.

“Of course, we always get nervous,” he said. “I try to stay pretty calm. But yeah, of course, I'll have some butterflies.”

The Whiteville, N.C., native also expects to have a large contingent of friends and family make the almost six-hour drive up to D.C. to witness his long-awaited Nationals debut on Sunday.

“Yep, family will be here,” he said. “It's not far. So, yeah, I could have a decent crowd on Sunday.”

Game 1 lineups: Nats vs. Braves
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