When I went to sleep Wednesday night, my intention was to spend Thursday at work then ride home and watch the Nationals play the Dodgers in the deciding game of their baseball playoff series. Having watched scores of games both at the ballpark and on television (not to mention listening to a few on the radio), I was totally psyched that this would be a ballgame for the ages.
So, during the morning, I bought a ticket. I headed to the ballpark on Deets and prepared for a long night. The game started just after 8 pm, an hour after the normal starting time, to accommodate a national television broadcast. This meant that the game would probably not be over in time for fans to take the subway home. The subway system steadfastly refused to extend its hours. So fans had to improvise. The hashtag #natsride and account @natsride sprung up over the last few days to facilitate carpooling. Many others chose to bike to the game, like me.
Prior to the game I ate dinner after which I ran into Kevin from the bike tour. Later in the evening, he offered to get me some World Series tickets which was incredibly thoughtful. We were sitting in opposite sides of the ballpark so we parted ways. Soon after reaching my seat in the left field grandstand, Klarence and Lauren walked down the aisle to my left. They had come to try and get a ball during batting practice. Klarence and I had a long talk, probably our last one for quite a while as our social paths rarely cross anymore. Hugs happened. Then they went off to keep score in their perch in the seats high above the Nats on deck circle.
Normally, when I go to a baseball game alone, my introversion melts away and I strike up a mini-friendship with the folks sitting nearby. It’s a very conversational vibe. Last night was different. Fans were on their feet for most of the game, cheering and waving red towels. The atmosphere was more like a football or hockey game.
The Nationals’ ace was on the mound. The Dodgers eventually got to him and some relievers for four runs. The crowd stilled. Then the Nats scored a run. Woot! Then a Nats pinch hitter hit a two run homer. Pandemonium!
Since this a win or else situation, the managers used every trick in the book and played nearly everyone they had. At 11:30 the scoreboard announced that the last train was leaving the nearby subway station in a few minutes. The crowd booed! Loudly! (Good luck getting support for fare increases, Metro.) The game dragged on. Finally, in the bottom of the ninth inning, the Nationals sent up the best hitter in baseball to face the best left handed pitcher in a generation. Our man popped up. Down to their last pinch hitter, the Nationals sent a rookie to the plate. It would have been so cool if he got a hit. Alas, he struck out lamely and the Dodgers won. After over 4 1/2 hours, the longest 9-inning post season game in baseball history.
What a strange feeling it is to go from sensing a euphoric victory to suffering a buzz killing defeat. The crowd went silent. In the distance, you could hear the Dodgers celebrating on the infield. Fans, wiped out from emotion and the late hour, began their long slog home at 12:30 in the morning.
The bike valet was stuffed with bikes. Some were locked to the top of a ten foot high chain link fence that contains the bike racks. Many were simply leaning against other bikes. I was lucky to get out in a reasonable amount of time. After greeting Kevin again, I thought of waiting to say goodbye to my other friends at the game but it was already close to 1 am so I rode off into the dark.
Most of the crowd stayed until the final out. The traffic outside the ballpark was insane. Traffic signals were ignored. Traffic control officers seemed to be completely overwhelmed. Riding a bike under these conditions is like being a running back going off tackle. You just look for the gaps and ride to daylight. Or in this case, headlight.
The ride home along the Mount Vernon Trail featured a steady tailwind. I was groggy but I have ridden this trail so many times that I was nearly confirming that I can ride home in my sleep. Another cyclist followed me all the way to Old Town, about nine miles from the ballpark.
Then I was on my own. The only sign of life I saw was two lights next to the trail. A fox? Raccoon? Opossum?
I pulled into my yard at 2:30.
What better way to soothe the disappointment of a season ending loss than to ride 16 miles under the stars in a crisp autumn breeze.
Only 171 days until opening day.