They dressed in red and waved Natitude rally towels. Some even brandished the goofy hallmarks of fans gone wild, including Jayson Werth clip-on beards, red-and-white painted faces and a custom Nats superhero suit that one boy wore.
“I think Washington is finally getting into it,” declared a man named John as he shouldered his way through the crowded turnstiles.
John wouldn’t give his last name in order to preserve the cover story he had used to leave the office an hour earlier, which involved a fictitious ophthalmologist. He wouldn’t say where he worked, either, but allowed that he was a researcher in the part of government responsible for protecting the republic’s interest on the high seas.
“I told [the boss] I had to have my eyes dilated, so I couldn’t come back in,” John said. “I would have told him the truth, but we have a major project due next week.”
A few minutes later, a formation of four F-16 fighters buzzed the stadium, the thunder of their engines answered by a matching roar from the record-setting crowd of 45,000. (This being post-Sept. 11 Washington, the House sergeant at arms had e-mailed a don’t-freak-out alert about the flyover to staffers on Capitol Hill.)
Then, when the starting lineup took the field, the red-clad sea of spectators produced one of the loudest noises yet heard in five-year-old Nationals Park.
“Listen to this crowd!” exulted Nationals radio play-by-play announcer Charlie Slowes over the concourse speakers.
Whitney Gurner and Jessica Lopez had two of the worst seats in the park: last row, upper deck, way, way down the left field line, near the light tower.
The Capitol almost looked closer than home plate. A raw autumn wind was whipping across their faces. A fence was brushing the backs of their heads. They couldn’t have been happier.
“There are no bad seats here,” said Gurner, a 25-year-old restaurant manager who ran around work waving her tickets the day she scored them online.
But hope took a hit early in the game, when the St. Louis Cardinals took a lead in the first inning that they would open up into an eight-run shutout.
Fans struggled to stay upbeat on a gorgeous fall day, but many of them found it easy to get a little work in.
As the game inched to its pained midway point, Bill Pierce recharged, plugging his BlackBerry adapter into an outlet on the back wall of the Stars and Stripes Club.
“I’m about to jump on a conference call,” said Pierce, senior director at a public affairs company, APCO Worldwide, who had been reading and sending e-mails from his Section 220 seat. “This is Washington. We’re obsessed about our work.”