Lapping Up a Major Victory, And Luxuries, at New Stadium

By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 31, 2008

The fans came for baseball -- and did they ever get it.

With one swing of the bat, Washington third baseman Ryan Zimmerman lifted the nervous mood of a packed house in Nationals Park, blasting a game-winning home run into the left-center-field seats with two outs in the ninth inning, igniting jubilation on Opening Night at the city's new stadium.

Nats 3, Atlanta Braves 2.

"It is the best ending to a game I have ever been to," said Jason Zwickly, 26, of Ashburn, who pronounced the entire evening a success. "It was just nice to see a sold-out crowd for once at a Nationals game."

Just inside the ballpark's center field gate, fans stood six deep behind the top row of seats, trying to watch the ninth inning while positioning themselves for a speedy exit. Among them was Michael Osborne, 48, of McLean, whose three companions at the game had left the park during the seventh inning stretch.

"I said, 'I'm not leaving; there's more game,' " Osborne said. Celebrating Zimmerman's stadium-christening game winner, Osborne said: "So it takes a little longer to get on the Metro. This is history. I'm really psyched."

A cannon boomed, and smoke rose. Red fireworks, which had lighted the sky to open the game, erupted again over the gigantic scoreboard in center field. And the fans hollered and clapped as Zimmerman circled the bases, throwing off his batting helmet as he crossed the plate and was swallowed by his elated teammates.

"Was that a storybook ending or what?" said John Mewshaw, 52, of Laurel. The Nats had clung to a narrow lead most of the night, but the Braves tied the game in the top of the ninth, setting the stage for Zimmerman's dramatics. "If that was in a fiction book, you wouldn't believe it," Mewshaw said. "As a guy said in the bathroom afterward, we're in first place in the National League East."

The fans had come early to see the sights at the new ballpark -- the abundant food stands, the video arcade, the sports pub, the panoramic views of the Anacostia River. But in the end, it was the game that provided the biggest thrill.

"Phenomenal stadium, phenomenal game," said Steve Charest, 35, a high school teacher from Manassas.

He said he was delighted with his $22 seat in Section 303, high above right field.

"It's a lot better than any of my expectations," he said.

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