Baseball fans, our 33 years of deprivation are over. No more of winter's false hopes dashed each spring. No more opening days when fans in every other major American city watch their pro team take the field while Washingtonians turn to radios and TVs to follow someone else's. Major League Baseball and our local politicians, after putting us through years of doubt capped by months of nail-biting anxiety, have finally crossed home plate.
It's time to don your red "W" hat, hoist your Nationals pennant and be at RFK Stadium when our home season starts April 14.
Spring training 2004 at Holman Stadium, Vero Beach, Fla.
(Vero Beach Dodgers)
Imagine: Fans in D.C. will walk or take the subway in their own city to watch a baseball game. What was ordinary for our parents and grandparents will once again be a normal part of Washington life. We have a home team to root for!
But it's also important to cheer the home team on the road. Whether your circumstances allow just a single trip or monthly cross-country jaunts, you need options. Hence this list of recommended away games in the 2005 season. Our credentials? We're lifelong baseball fans who have crisscrossed the country six times, writing three editions of Fodor's guide to America's best major and minor league ballparks. Bruce grew up watching the Senators in D.C.'s Griffith Stadium; Peggy spent far too many summer days and nights at Cleveland's Municipal Stadium.
While baseball in Washington was on a three-decade sabbatical, exciting new ballparks were being built across the country. For this guide, we looked for stadiums with character and in cities that are fun to visit, and added in some games with opposing teams that field superstars, such as the St. Louis Cardinals' Albert Pujols.
So here's our lineup, from Vero Beach, Fla. (April), to San Diego (September). But we have to warn you: Nats fever will be catching, so get your tickets as soon as possible -- sell-outs are likely.
March 18-20: Central Florida
Why wait till Opening Day? Get into the spirit with a spring training game. There are lots of choices, each of them a warm alternative to March in Washington. We suggest the weekend of March 18-20, when you can see Nats games in Melbourne and Vero Beach and a third, non-Nationals contest at the Disney Wide World of Sports complex, where everything is pristine and perfect.
Start your weekend by flying into Orlando on March 18 to watch the Atlanta Braves play the Cleveland Indians at Cracker Jack Stadium (built in 1997) in the Disney sports center in Lake Buena Vista.
On Saturday, drive about an hour southeast from Orlando to watch the Nats play the Indians at Washington's spring training site, Melbourne's futuristic Space Coast Stadium (built in 1993). This park was created for the Florida Marlins, which explains the teal-blue seats. First-base seats are best during spring training. Caution: The right-field bleacher seats are in direct sun.
On Sunday, just 53 miles farther down A1A in Vero Beach, you'll find Dodgertown, where everything is old and wonderful. The Nationals play Los Angeles there in 1953-era Holman Stadium. This is our favorite spring training field because of its quirky, '50s-style boomerang-shaped park and access to major league stars. Get there early for autographs: This is as close as most fans will ever get to their big league heroes. The players sit on aluminum benches just feet from the grandstand. No dugouts, no kidding. They hate the proximity; the fans love it.
Atlanta Braves vs. Cleveland Indians at Cracker Jack Stadium, March 18. Prices range from $13 (lawn seats) to $21 (lower level reserved seats). Info: 407-839-3900, www.ticketmaster.com.
Nationals vs. Cleveland Indians at Space Coast Stadium, March 19. Tickets are $7 to $18. Info: the Nationals, 321-633-9200, www.nationals.com.