A New City and a New Sport

We traveled from New York to Washington D.C. by regional Amtrak train. It would be the first and last WiFi on a train that we would experience in the USA. When we go onto the larger cross country trains, we were disappointed that there was no WiFi connection at all…the internet is very addictive!
The train took us passed some cities that I’m only familiar with from film and TV; Philadelphia and Baltimore. Fans of The Wire were a little excited as we pulled into Baltimore Station.As we left the city, we passed streets and houses that were straight out of the TV programme.

The journey took just under four hours and we arrived to be taken straight on a tour of the city. Our driver/guide was excellent and he took us to the main sights; Capitol Building, White House, Jefferson, FDR, Dr King & Lincoln Memorials. At the time we did wonder why he had taken us to them as they seemed close to our hotel but in reality they were a bit of a walk.

The weather was hotter in Washington D.C. than it was in New York but without the humidity.

Me at the Jefferson Memorial with the Washington Monument behind.The Jefferson MemorialThomas Jefferson……who could do with a dust.The White HouseDr. Martin Luther KingOne of the group wondered whether it was a little ironic that he had been carved in white granite.

FDRHis very famous quotation.A busy Lincoln Memorial – I resolved to come back again when it was quieter.

As there was WiFi on the train, I was able to prepare on the journey and look up some things to do in the evening. Prior to the trip I’d hoped to get to a few sporting events, but I was usually a day or so early or late in most cases.

In New York I contemplated going to the New York Giants opening NFL game but it would have cost me over $300, so I was hoping to make a sporting event in Washington D.C. As luck would have it the baseball team was playing that evening.

The Washington Nationals play in Major League Baseball (MLB) and at the time of writing are leading the standings. When I went to the game they had won five on the trot, a streak that would end with my visit.

I’d never seen a baseball game but it was something new and also something to do! We got to the hotel just after 5:30pm and the game was due to start at 7:00pm. So I grabbed my bags from the coach, dropped them in my room and headed to the bus.

Washington D.C. has a very good bus service called the ‘Circulator’ which has several routes across the city for only $1 a trip. I first went to the wrong stop before being directed by a couple of friendly youths to a stop across the other side of Union Station, I knew when I was at the right stop because there were several people wearing red shirts; the colour the Nationals wear. Coincidentally I was wearing a red t-shirt, I’d just grabbed the first clean one in my case.

On the bus I struck up a conversation with a woman who had lived in several places across the US but had made Washington D.C. her home. As went through the various suburbs She gave me a guided tour and potted history of her adopted city.

I was traveling to the game without a ticket but I’d read on the internet that it would be possible to get one at the box office. On the way to the stadium there were a few touts selling tickets, which made me wonder if I would be able to get a ticket after all, but those fears were unfounded as there was a long line at the box office. This being my first game I spent a bit more and got a mid price ticket for $68, which gave me a seat in the lower tier and in front of 1st base.

The bus was a little late due to roadworks in the city, so I missed the opening pitch. I think the roadworks must have delayed a lot of people, because there must have been at least a thousand still trying to get in.

I had a great view of the game and stadium.The big news that evening was that Washington Nationals lead pitcher Stephen Strasburg would be pitching his last innings at home. It turned out to be his last innings of the season, as he was ‘shut down’ the following day by Nationals manager Davey Johnson.

I of course, had no idea who Strasburg was. I was told at the bus stop that he had had arm surgery and the team were limiting the time he spent on the pitchers mound. When I got to the stadium I expected to see an aging player, instead I found out that Strasburg is a 24 year old who was the number one draft pick in 2009.

Strasburg pitching

My seat was one in from the end of a row, the guy sat to my right looked a bit fierce, so I sat in silence taking it all in. After a couple of innings it wasn’t going well for Strasburg & the Nationals, and my neighbour exclaimed “they just ain’t hitting it tonight!”, I replied “I’ve no idea, this is my first ever game”, and for the next three hours Mark was my guide to the sport of rounders…sorry baseball. We spoke about the US, the UK, various sports and all points in between.

The experience in the stadium is very different to that of a UK football stadium. In the UK there is lots of chanting and songs, here there was the occasional handclap and quick snippets of pop songs played over the sound system, that were sung by the crowd. The most intriguing of which was A-Ha’s Take on Me, which the crowd continued to sing even when it was turned off.

I’ve seen many films which have baseball as a theme, so I was familiar with most aspects of the game and some of the terminology. A phrase I had heard before was ‘the seventh inning stretch’ however I didn’t actually know what it was.

At the seventh inning I found out. It turns out it’s not a technical game related term but rather an opportunity for the fans to stand up and have a stretch, as they’ve been sat down for so long. Hence ‘Seventh inning stretch’. It’s at this time that the crowd all sing ‘Take me out to the ballgame’ which I joined in with.

Here’s and example of the 7th inning stretch

Something else that happens at Nationals games, although I’m not sure how often, is the Presidential Race. Where four people dressed as Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln & Roosevelt race, for what reason I am unsure!

By the power of youtube, here is the very race that I saw

My view of the finishMark had to leave at the end of the 9th inning, the game was tied and about to go into extra innings.The Americans do like a winner! From how I saw it the Nationals had a great opportunity to win the game. They had the bases loaded and just needed a great hit to get all their guys home and win, but it just wasn’t to be.

On the way out I bought a cheap Washington Nationals Cap (which I’m yet to wear) and I had a new team to follow.