Nationals Home Opener: It’s Not Just the Game. It’s the Community

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MVP Bryce Harper is greeted by Joe Ross, Blake Treinen, Oliver Perez and Gio Gonzalez. | Patrick G. Ryan

The Washington Nationals lost their home opener to the Miami Marlins 4-6 on Thursday, April 7 — after both an exciting opening day program and a rain delay.

The loss will be dwelled on for a day or two, and analysts will debate what went wrong and why the Nationals couldn’t hit with runners in scoring position.

But the game itself is unimportant — there will be 159 others this season to discuss and break down, many more exciting than this one. This opening day was about celebrating the community that makes baseball so special.

Prince William County, Virginia, police officers Jesse Hempen and David McKeown threw out the honorary first pitch in front of a crowd of more than 40,000, the memory immortalized for them in the baseballs signed by pitchers Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg.

On Feb. 27, Hempen and McKeown were injured while responding to a domestic altercation. Their colleague, Officer Ashley Guindon, was also shot and fatally wounded in the incident. She and first responders Officer Jacai Colson, Officer Noah Leotta, Lieutenant Kevin McRae and Officer Brennan Rabain were remembered in a moment of silence before the game.

In collectively remembering the slain first responders, in hearing the crowd chant “MVP” as Bryce Harper emerged from the dugout, in watching young kids with their gloves on eagerly awaiting a foul ball, we are reminded of how this sport brings people together.

Governors Larry Hogan of Maryland and Terry McAuliffe of Virginia joined Mayor Muriel Bowser and Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lynn Lanier down on the field. After he received his MVP award and a Silver Slugger award, Bowser presented Harper with a key to the city, a symbol of how much this team and its success means to Washington, D.C.

Fans left work early, braved narrow and congested streets and rode Metro’s crowded Green Line to see their team begin the 2016 quest for glory. Anyone who read the weather report knew it would rain and the game would most likely be delayed. They came anyway, and they celebrated together.

The emcee announced that this day was the beginning of “our annual right to hot dogs and high fives” (a right you can enjoy for the bargain price of $6.25 per hot dog!). He called this season’s mission “our one pursuit.” Our.

Baseball is a business. It’s about making money, selling tickets and hoping for the ultimate payoff in a World Series title. But it’s also about uniting fans behind something that inspires them. It’s about making sure that the community that supports the Nationals can count on the team to have their back on and off the field. It’s about the feelings of hope and possibility that come with every new season.

That feeling could be captured during a special moment yesterday.

The sun was shining brilliantly as it does after rain.

The United States Army Chorus Quartet sung “America, the Beautiful,” whose words rang throughout the stadium: “O beautiful for spacious skies …” The cast from “Jersey Boys” at the National Theatre then sang, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the national anthem, joined to baseball more than a century ago in “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

The songs ended. The crowd roared yet again. The umpires arrived.

Play ball.

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