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A Trip Beyond Memory Lane

Nationals Fans Recount Past but Revel in Future On Way to Season Opener

By David A. Fahrenthold and David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, April 5, 2005; Page B01

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.

Anthony Williams, Nationals
Anthony Williams, Nationals
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)

_____ Opening Day _____
The Nationals and Manager Frank Robinson, pictured, lose to the Phillies, 8-4, on Monday.
Thomas Boswell: The first bit of reality sinks in and grounds the Nationals.
Mike Wise: Like old times, Washington loses a baseball game.
Terrmel Sledge's home run ball is headed for Cooperstown.
Montreal barely notices the Expos and baseball are gone.
Mayor Anthony Williams and some fans travel to Philadelphia.
Nationals boosters around town stopped to catch the first game.
More milestones for the Nats.
Nationals' 76 Game TV Schedule.

_____ On Our Site _____
Box score
Video of fans following the team to the first game vs. the Phillies.
More Opening Day photos from the game in Philadelphia.
Photos from the Nationals' first exhibition contest at RFK Stadium.

_____ Baseball Preview _____
It will be tough for the Orioles- Nationals matchup to join the ranks of great baseball rivalries.
A closer look at the Nationals' rivals in the NL East.
Thomas Boswell: The old rivalry between Washington and Baltimore should not take long to heat up.
Baseball Preview Section

_____ Nationals Basics _____
Player Capsules

_____E-mail Newsletter_____

Looking for Washington Nationals coverage you can't find anywhere else? Sign up for our free e-mail newsletter.
See a sample newsletter.

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.

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