It took Steve Lombardozzi a few tries to fall asleep Wednesday night. He had called family members and friends, eaten dinner with a few teammates and gone back to the hotel, “nothing too crazy,” he said.
Opening day makes different people think different things, and on the eve of his first opening day as a player, Lombardozzi thought about his 11th birthday. His father, a former big leaguer, had taken Lombardozzi to Wrigley Field to watch Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.
“To be actually on the field, to start here, is going to be pretty awesome,” Lombardozzi said, standing outside the Nationals dugout Thursday morning, a bat on his shoulder. “Especially to open up here, this is unbelievable.”
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General Manager Mike Rizzo was raised down the street from Wrigley Field. His father was a scout, and he lived for baseball.
“It’s probably about my 25th opening day in Wrigley Field,” Rizzo said. “I skipped many days of school to be here, and I love it. This is a cathedral to me. It’s my favorite ballpark in all of baseball for obvious reasons.”
Rizzo looked around for a second. The raw wind whipped off Lake Michigan. The sun beamed. Everyone around him wore heavy jackets, but he had on a light sweater.
“We got ourselves a good day today,” Rizzo said. “Believe me, this is a good day for opening day in Wrigley Field.”
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They only had a day to book their flight. Ryan Mattheus didn’t know until Tuesday afternoon, after the Nationals’ last spring exhibition game, that he had made the Nationals’ roster. And so his father, sister and niece didn’t know if they’d be going to Wrigley Field on Thursday or not.
They bought last-minute tickets. They woke up at 2 a.m. in Sacramento and drove two hours to San Francisco to catch their flight. Mattheus never even stirred in the Nationals’ bullpen, but he loved it, anyway.
It had seemed like a normal day to Mattheus until he arrived at the clubhouse in the morning. He could feel the excitement pulsing through the room. “It’s starting to build up,” he said. “I can feel it.” He thought about the fans pouring into Wrigley, how cool it was last summer and how much better it would be opening day.
“This place is the mecca,” Mattheus said. “This place is unbelievable.”
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Brett Carroll’s last opening day came in 2009. He had the Marlins’ opening day roster made in 2010, too, until what happened in the final week.
In one of the final batting practice sessions of spring training, Carroll walked into the cage for the last few pitches, “the home run round,” he said. The Marlins’ batting practice pitcher – “I don’t want to throw him under the bus,” Carroll, not revealing the coach’s name – unfurled a curveball, just as a joke. Carroll swung for the downs, missed and tore an oblique muscle. He spent opening day on the disabled list.
And so Carroll’s flight back to Washington was his first with a major league team before opening day in two years. On the ride from the airport to Nationals Park, the team bus passed a Little League field. Carroll peaked out the window and saw a kid playing center field with his hands on his knees. The shortstop turned around and motioned for him to look alive.
Carroll laughed. He remembered being one of those kids. He realized a lot of them were dreaming about being what he is. Sitting on that bus, a big leaguer among big leaguers, Carroll looked at the kids on the field and thought, “That’s where it all starts.”
FROM THE POST
Jason Reid writes that the beauty of baseball is its ability to create heroes like Chad Tracy.
Stephen Strasburg dominated in his first opening day start while the Nats overcame a wind-addled, impotent offense for a 2-1 win over the Cubs.
Sheinin took in Bryce Harper’s 2-for-4, dirty-uniform Class AAA debut.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Rochester 7, Syracuse 4: Bryce Harper went 2 for 4 with a double and a stolen base. Cory VanAllen allowed five runs in one relief innings on four hits and two walks. Xavier Paul went 1 for 3 with a double and a walk.
Bowie 4, Harrisburg 2: Michael Morse went 0 for 3 with two strikeouts. Rick Ankiel went 0 for 2 with a walk and two strikeouts. Jeff Kobernus went 2 for 4 with two steals. Robert Gilliam, the pitcher the Nats acquired from the A’s along with Gio Gonzalez, allowed three runs in five innings on six hits and three walks, striking out four.
Potomac will open today.
Hagerstown 11, West Virginia 9: Brian Goodwin went 2 for 4 with a homer, a walk and four RBI. Matt Skole went 2 for 5 with a double.