Back in 1968, things were different, Gallaher says. "I said I want to buy season tickets and they said, 'Go pick 'em out.' Nixon sat right over there when he threw out the first ball in '69. A Secret Service guy sat here with his back to the game for the whole game."
It's getting close to game time. Shadows cover the field except deep center. The PA plays the Stones singing "Start Me Up" and a guy bounces his toddler on his lap, the kid giggling under a red Nats cap. You snag an empty seat and hope the owner doesn't show up.
The view from the upper deck behind home plate as a huge American flag fills the outfield during the singing of the national anthem.
(Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)
"Ladies and gentlemen!" screams the PA announcer. "Baseball is back!"
Fireworks explode. The crowd cheers. You cheer, too.
Charlie Brotman, the old Senators stadium announcer, comes out on the field and yells, "Happy days are here again!"
The crowd cheers. Brotman announces the Diamondbacks, then starts in on the Nats, beginning with the assistant clubhouse manager. The crowd cheers.
The U.S. Navy Band Sea Chanters sing "God Bless America." Somebody yells, "Louder." You still can't hear them, so people spontaneously start singing, as if to help them out. Soon, the whole place is singing. You're singing, too, feeling patriotic and a little bit sheepish.
National Guardsmen unfurl a giant flag that covers the entire outfield just as the song reaches the line, "my home sweeeeeeet home!" It nearly brings a tear to your eye.
Renee Fleming sings the national anthem and when she gets to "O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave," fans yell "O!" like they do at Orioles games. Other fans yell "No!" and some of them boo.
A guy in front of you says, "This O business has got to stop. We've got our own team now."
Four F-16s fly overhead in a blast of fireworks. President Bush runs out to the mound. The crowd cheers loudly. He takes a windup, throws to the catcher. It's over the plate but high. He quickly runs back off.
In the upper deck cameras flash. You think, "Someday those people are gonna take out those pictures and say, 'You can't really see it, but that's Bush throwing out the first pitch.' "
The Nats take the field. You cheer. Livan Hernandez throws the ball. Strike one. You cheer. Hernandez whiffs the guy. You cheer. The guy argues. The crowd boos. You think, Ah, the first boos of the new era.
The Nats come to bat. Brad Wilkerson swats a long fly to left. Everybody stands up. When it's caught on the warning track, everybody goes, Oooooooh -- the sound of dashed hopes -- and sits back down.
Vendors chant, "Beer here, beer here." The guys behind you start talking about how long it took them to drive here and how many beers they've had. Somebody yells, "Gooz-man, come on, get a hit, get a hit."
Soon, the sounds of the ballpark all run together to form that unmistakable baseball hum that is as soothing to your American ears as your mother's lullaby.
What did it feel like when baseball came back to Washington after 34 long years?
It felt good.
The Nationals won. And that felt even better.