Two different Senators teams came and went, leaving Washington for Minnesota and Texas. The Montreal Expos, after 35 years in Canada, became the Nationals when they moved to Washington in 2005. Beginning their tenure in D.C. at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium until Nationals Park opened in 2008, the Nats played six straight seasons of losing baseball until this breakthrough season.
"I'm a real sap, but when we got our team back, I got a Nationals sweatshirt at Modell's and slept with it on top of my pillow," said Alice Rosalski, near the upper-deck concession stands behind home plate. "My husband thought I was crazy."
"We're thrilled; we've been coming to Nationals games since they were in RFK," added Anne Habberton, Rosalski's friend and partner in wearing red Nationals T-shirts with long Nats necklaces. "We've been with them through thick and thin."
Both fans also were thrilled by the return of Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, who threw out Wednesday's ceremonial first pitch. Robinson was the Nationals' first manager in 2005, guiding the team to an 81-81 record in that first season.
Robinson fired the first pitch over the plate to shortstop Ian Desmond, whom Robinson gave his first chance to make a Major League roster in 2005 and who wears No. 20 in honor of Robinson. Recognizing the gesture, the Nationals Park crowd erupted.
"It's just so nice to see Nats fans turn out," said Duke Courtnell, a fan since he moved to D.C. three years ago. "I've seen games where they just struggled to fill the stands."
As always, the crowd received another boost in the middle of the fourth inning with the Nationals Park Presidents Race. Up until the last regular-season game on Oct. 3, the Teddy Roosevelt mascot had been mired in a 525-race losing streak, faltering every time behind George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson. But after his long-awaited triumph in the regular-season finale, fans were eagerly awaiting the playoff edition.
Teddy sprinted out of the center-field gate without the other mascots in sight and enjoyed an easy rush to the right-field corner. There, the trio of other presidents met him, and the quartet broke out into a rendition of the current pop hit, "Gangnam Style," by South Korean rapper Psy.
Upon the conclusion of the race, Teddy sprinted away from the pack and crossed the finish line in front of the Nats' dugout.
"We've been to five or six games this year, and there were so many more people in the stands today," said Jenny Taylor, from the upper deck behind third base, while holding her sleepy 15-month-old son, Davis. "He loves the Presidents Race, but when everyone started cheering for it in the fourth inning and got a little boisterous, I think it was too much for him."