Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium was filled with crowds and sunlight. Pitcher Livan Hernandez was on the mound. And all around the diamond, players wearing Washington's pretzel-shaped "W" on their caps stood ready for action.
For Colin Mills, president of the newly formed Washington Nationals fan club, it was a scene with Christmas-morning electricity. "It was just like a live wire going through my body," he said, remembering it recently.
The game "MVP Baseball 2005" depicts Nationals players and RFK Stadium.
The emotions were authentic. Only the game was virtual.
Baseball will not be played at RFK until next month. Mills got his Opening Day feeling from playing a video game, EA Sports's "MVP Baseball 2005." Electronic games such as that one have become an essential part of sports fans' lives, even replacing trading cards as the main prop of baseball fantasy for some.
Now, the trend has come to Washington with the arrival of the Nationals. The appearance of the virtual Nats was as big a thrill for such fans as Brian Rainey as anything the actual players have done. "No one pays attention to spring training," said Rainey, 23, after a recent fan club meeting. "A lot of people get the [video] game."
Washington's last baseball team, the Senators, left for Texas after the 1971 season. In the decades since, D.C. baseball fans have had it almost as bad in the video-game world as in life.
In the 1980s, when some primitive electronic baseball games did not feature Major League teams and players, one game had a fictional "Washington" squad full of political names. Mills, 26, remembered that the leadoff hitter was "Abzug" -- named after former New York Rep. Bella Abzug -- and the pitching staff was stocked with former presidents and vice presidents.
"Agnew was a relief pitcher," Mills said. Perhaps not surprisingly, the team was bad.
Video games advanced to include real players and accurately rendered stadiums. Sales have climbed from more than 1.6 million baseball games in 2000 to more than 2.5 million games last year, according to the NPD Group, a New York-based market research firm.
But as the games gained realism and popularity, Washington fans who had not adopted the Baltimore Orioles or another team were out of luck.