The Washington Nationals will finally open the defense of their first World Series title Thursday, 119 days after their 2020 season was originally scheduled to begin.
Major League Baseball is kicking off its truncated 60-game schedule in D.C., where Nationals Park will be empty of fans for the nationally televised Opening Day game between the Nats and the New York Yankees. The game starts at 7:08 p.m.
Opening Day usually brings thousands of fans around the ballpark throughout the day. This year, however, is unlike any of the Nationals’ previous 15 seasons.
I’ve seen a lot of strange things at a lot of opening days, but this might be the strangest. All my interviews in previews today coming from outside the ballpark. You can’t be here for opening day, and actually neither can I. But we’ll have all the coverage @WTOP anyway pic.twitter.com/Z3p7owYRgV
Before the game, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who is a self-proclaimed Nationals fan, will throw the ceremonial first pitch. The team is planning to raise a new 2019 World Series champions flag, and a previously recorded Presidents Race will be shown during the fourth inning.
“We definitely feel a connection with the fans, so we’re really going to miss them and we’ll be thinking about them. We’ll be pumping in crowd noise to try to make up the difference,” reliever Sean Doolittle said.
“I think Opening Day, like I said, we’ve got that patch on our uniform sleeve that says world champs. Going out there to start to defend our championship is something we’ve been looking forward to since the end of October,” he said.
The Nationals also said a Black Lives Matter stencil will appear on the pitcher’s mound during games on opening weekend.
A uniform upgrade is one of the little-known perks of winning a World Series.
The Nationals’ home white jerseys will feature a gold theme in commemoration of the franchise’s first World Series title. The jerseys, which were designed in conjunction with Nike and MLB, will feature blue lettering with gold trim on the name plate to pay homage to the “lucky” blue jerseys during the team’s postseason championship run, as well as gold numbers. The traditional red cap with the curly W logo has also been changed, from its usual white to gold.
Fans should expect to see these regal uniforms at Nats Park throughout the season, Nationals Executive Vice President of Business Operations Jake Burns told WTOP.
“These will be our home jerseys, so we’ll still wear the blues on the road and the greys as well, but we’ve got an opportunity to wear the championship golds and we’ll wear them as often as we can,” he said.
Jonathan Stahl, the Nationals’ vice president of hospitality, told WTOP this is his 13th Opening Day in Major League Baseball, but he only recently found out that the defending champions get to wear special uniforms after winning it all.
“It’s very cool, and there’ll only be a select few available because it’s not something that can be reproduced,” he said. “We placed a basic order for it, and once that order runs out, there’ll be no more.”
Burns and Stahl said there will be virtual watch parties for every game starting next week. Burns added that every game will feature a different watch party, which will be piped into the ballpark scoreboard and seen by viewers at home.
‘The Fight’ resumes
The opening game will feature a premium pitching matchup between Nationals ace Max Scherzer and new Yankee Gerrit Cole, who was a member of the Houston Astros team the Nationals defeated in the 2019 World Series.
The Nationals will again be propelled by the outstanding starting rotation that manager Dave Martinez has dubbed “the Four Horses” — Scherzer, World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez.
“We’re getting those guys ready and they look good. I mean, they look really good,” Martinez said last week.
The rough start to July prompted All-Star reliever Sean Doolittle to express concern about playing.
“We haven’t done any of the things that other countries have done to bring sports back,” Doolittle said after the announcement. “Sports are like the reward of a functioning society. And we’re trying to just bring it back, even though we taken none of the steps to flatten the curve.”
Veteran infielder Ryan Zimmerman was among the first major leaguers to opt out of the season, citing concerns about the health of his mother and his newborn son. Backup catcher Wellington Castillo and pitcher Joe Ross also will sit out.
Without them, the Nationals will attempt to become the first MLB team in two decades to win back-to-back World Series — since, as it happens, since the Yankees, who capped a run of three titles in a row in 2000. This is the longest stretch without a repeat champion in MLB history.