BY JOEY MERKEL
Baseball has always been full of emotion for me.
As a kid, some of my most vivid memories are standing out in a makeshift diamond behind our house in small-town Valparaiso, Indiana, watching Field of Dreams for the first time and attending my first pro game, seen at now-defunct Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia.
And now I have one more memory to include in my baseball scrapbook: a trip to RFK last Sunday to see the Washington Nationals play their final game at the legendary stadium, closing its doors to baseball 45 years after its inception.
It seemed only fitting that this milestone would include the Phillies yet again, as the Nats downed them 5-3 on the strength of stellar batting and unbelievable defense.
Fans saw previous Washington Senators players on hand to help veteran fans relive the glory days, and the Nationals owner, Jim Bowden, personally thanked the fans from home plate for their dedication to the little baseball team that did.
As we all filed out after the game, I took a last look around, searching for something to remember, something that would be a good enough story for my kids one day.
I didn’t have to wait very long before I found exactly what I was looking for. The Hondo seats, named for legendary Washington Senators’ Frank “Hondo” Howard’s two monumental homeruns to the cavernous outfield section.
It had kind of crept up on me that we may not be leaving anything behind as Nationals fans. Our beers, peanut shells, hot dog wrappers and Cracker-Jack boxes would all be swept away.
The autographed balls and jerseys would all be put on shelves, hidden away from anything that may mar the sentiment.
I wanted something to stay. I needed the Nationals to leave something behind here, and I was able to leave happy when I saw that the Hondo Seats would be around as long as the stadium was.
A fellow fan echoed my sentiments, saying to a friend, “You know? I do believe. I still believe.”
So do I. After predictions of a 40-win season, early injuries that may have spelled impending doom for other teams, pessimists saying DC would never see baseball again, I still believe.
April 2008 will bring a new set of memories alongside a new home, a place to let our beliefs rest, and a chance to bring new fans to the fray.
Nationals Park will be open in time for the 2008 season, located along the Anacostia River in Southeast DC.
A state-of-the-art feel will surely bring baseball to a fresh new audience, allowing for sentimentality in high-definition.
And to risk the cliché, perhaps it’s about what we take with us, not what we leave behind. Like Ray Kinsella’s last game of catch before his father faded into the cornfield forever, it’s not about what stadium we call home all those nights from April to October.
It’s not about the tickets sold, or the seats occupied. It’s the fact that there’s something about this game, regardless of the venue, that will always stick with us.
So here’s to next April, Nats fans, and here’s to your new home. If you build it, as the saying goes, they will come.