PHILADELPHIA, April 4 -- The Nats Fan Club left Laurel about 10:30 a.m. with a cheer and a cry of "play ball!" Their trip would cover 117 miles, and 34 years.
The group of 50 was headed by bus to Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park, where a team from Washington would play major league baseball for the first time since 1971. On board were graying heads in Washington Senators gear, twenty-somethings with their own baseball blogs and fathers bringing young sons.
Mayor Anthony Williams and about 200 fans headed by bus to Philadelphia to watch the Nationals play in the season opener.
(James A. Parcell - The Washington Post)
As the miles of Maryland and Delaware countryside rolled by, they talked about the past: years of shoddy Senators teams and even more painful years without baseball.
Then they talked about the future. At that point -- finally, unbelievably -- it was just a few hours away.
"I still feel like I'm dreaming," said Jeff Simenauer, 46, of Garrett Park.
As the fan club traveled north, another caravan carrying D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) and 217 others in five buses left from Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium.
The two groups were among hundreds of Nationals fans who made the journey to Philadelphia for the season opener, which began at 3:05 p.m. under cloudless skies. These fans saw the Nationals lose, 8-4, to the Philadelphia Phillies.
But the outcome of the National League East Division game mattered much less than the game itself: Every pitch, every hit, and even every strikeout here in Philadelphia was a sign that baseball was really back in Washington.
"We are real!" yelled John Posner of Huntingtown in Calvert County when the game's first pitch whizzed past Nats leadoff hitter Brad Wilkerson for a called strike.
"We're back!" echoed Colin Mills, president of the Nats Fan Club.
The atmosphere at Monday's game was surprisingly collegial in a city whose infamous sports fans once booed Santa Claus. Nats fans wearing the team's caps reported generally warm welcomes from Phillies boosters, and Williams and other District VIPs were feted by Philadelphia Mayor John F. Street.
The mayor's group, including D.C. Council members Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5), was escorted to an outdoor patio, where a five-man ragtime band wearing American flag-patterned vests and red Nationals caps greeted them.
When Street and Williams met, Williams handed his counterpart a Nationals cap.
"Don't put this in your basement," Williams said.