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A Dose of Reality Brings Nats to Earth

"Terrmel was patient and took good swings. But he hit just under the 3-1 pitch and just on top of the 3-2 pitch," Robinson said. "He had three RBI. You can't always do it.

"But if you don't get those key hits, and, as a team, we didn't do it today, then you lose."

_____ 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_____

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For many years some joked that much-spurned Washington would not truly have a big-league team until the second game was played. But that disclaimer doesn't seem necessary now. Monday afternoon was vivid enough to convince any skeptic with a cloudless sky, snapping flags and the kind of pleasant 59-degree temperature that early April too often refuses to provide.

If anything, the eager-to-please Nationals may have been wound a bit too tight by this perfect day, the big crowd and the mob of media that suddenly wants their thoughts on the reincarnation of Washington baseball. Giddy might not be too strong a term. "This is so exciting I've got goose bumps," said General Manager Jim Bowden, standing by the batting cage.

Just 45 minutes before game time, reliever Joey Eischen went around the Nats clubhouse yelling "spread the love," dishing out bear hugs and back slaps. As Robinson and plenty of players joined in, Eischen admired his work. "Other teams don't do this," he grinned. Well, the Yankees probably don't feel the need. For one day it might've been a bit over the top. But for a long season, too much silly enthusiasm never hurt a big league team, though many a club has been undone by the lack of it.

This camaraderie among the new Nationals, who resemble a modern equivalent of the old, low-budget, disrespected Nats, struck a cord with the man who threw out the first ball for this Opener -- Del Unser. Who else could link all the day's threads and traditions? Unser played for the Senators from '68 to '71 as well as the Expos and the Phils, for whom he still works.

"I'm glad they kept the nickname Nats," said Unser. "We used to call ourselves the Nasty Nats. After we won, Frank Howard would get up in the bus and lead us in these corny team cheers. We'd end up yelling, 'Nats, Nats, go, Nasty Nats.' "

As he demonstrated the goofy old chant, Unser's 60-year-old voice accidentally rose a bit too loudly. He looked around, a little embarrassed, but proud, too, that sometimes the spirit still moves.

"I don't know how long it's been since I did that," he said, sheepishly.

Probably about 34 years.

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