In the ongoing battle between baseball and the modern stadium, baseball scored a victory Sunday night. It was a nail-biter.
There were many in Washington comfortably at home that cold March evening who may have wished they were in Nationals Park by the time Ryan Zimmerman came to bat in the bottom of the ninth.
I was there with my 7-year-old son.
Nationals Park is the new $600-million-plus stadium that taxpayers built less than a mile from the U.S. Capitol.
Some irresistible force drove me there that night. I had criticized the very concept of a new tax-funded baseball stadium in Washington, D.C. My view was that the city already had a ballpark that boasted many features the new park would not: very cheap seats, plentiful parking and a mortgage that was paid off.
Nonetheless, I tried to get seats for opening night. At first, the Washington Nationals made tickets available only to those who purchased season-ticket plans. That left me out.
Then they started selling single-game ticket, including opening day. I tried to buy some through the team Website, but was too late. (I did get tickets to some other games).
I then registered for an online lottery the team conducted for the chance to buy opening-day tickets. I lost — and I abandoned all hope.
But, then, two days before the event, the Nats sent me an urgent email: "Congratulations! You have been selected for an exclusive second chance opportunity to purchase up to two (2) tickets for the Washington Nationals vs. Atlanta Braves Opening Night game on Sunday, March 30, 2008."
The email included a special "one-time" code word. If I clicked on the "Buy Tickets" link embedded in the email and typed the code word correctly into the right place quickly enough, I might be in luck.
I clicked, I typed, I pulled out my bank card. I tried to buy two seats high up in a $10-per-ticket section. The Website rejected my offer and made a counter offer: The two best available seats, it said, would cost more than $300 apiece. Did I want them? No, I did not.
In random desperation, I tried to buy two seats in a field-side section down the right field line. They were about as expensive as filling up a large-tanked minivan with premium gas during the summer driving season. I made the investment.
It was worth it. The next time taxpayers build a $600-million stadium near where I live, I will do it again.
I could spend many paragraphs telling you why I believe Nationals Park was built more for investment-bank lobbyists than minivan-driving families. I could tell you why I suspect the marketing directors for Major League Baseball have come to the curious conclusion that their customers are digital-age idiots who will not sit for two and half hours to watch a ballgame unless they are constantly bombarded with audio-visual stimuli that may or may not have any connection to the game.
But what really mattered that night is what happened when Nats third baseman Ryan Zimmerman stepped to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. The game had been mostly a pitchers’ battle, and the Braves had only tied it in the top half of the inning — on a passed ball.
Zimmerman was calm and purposeful. Destiny was in the air. My 7-year-old saw what Zimmerman did, and will remember forever.
Baseball took the field against a modern Major League stadium that night, and baseball won with a walk-off home run.