The Washington Nationals 2023 season officially kicks off in five days. The Nationals are building from the ground up in what general manager Mike Rizzo has called a quick rebuild or a reboot. He has shipped away three stars from the 2019 World Series team and, by doing that, restocked his farm system. Enough of rehashing the past; the future has been teased before us in the form of top prospects, and the next few years should make most people happy. I compiled my thoughts surrounding the start of the Nationals season. As always, leave your thoughts in the comments, and Go, Nats!
Corbin gets the nod
On Friday, veteran Patrick Corbin was named the starter for Opening Day by manager Davey Martinzez. The move didn’t surprise many Nats fans but some hoped, Corbin woulnd’t get rewarded after a depressing 2022 season. Corbin’s 2023 campaign debuts Thursday against the Atlanta Braves. He will face Max Fried at Nationals Park, with the first pitch scheduled for 1:05 pm. Gates will open at 11:30 am, and expect all of the pomp and circumstance for an Opening Day and a special dedication detailed below.
Welcome to D.C
The Opening Day roster, or as we like to call it, the Opening Week roster from March 30 – April 5, will see many new names on the roster due to some key free agent signings but also injury replacements. Trevor Williams, Dominic Smith, and Jeimer Candelario were the big three signings of the offseason. There is also Chad Kuhl, who will replace the injured Cade Cavalli on the roster.
Williams, who is on a two-year deal, spoke on-air yesterday about learning the D.C. lingo, including how to pronounce “McLean,” where he will make his home during his Nats’ tenure. He now knows what DMV and the GW Parkway are, as well as other D.C. code-speak. Washingtonians take it for granted sometimes, but you know you’re a D.C. person when you can pronounce Bowie, Maryland, properly, as most go the David Bowie pronunciation.
The Nats will have a jersey patch memorializing the team’s first owner, Ted Lerner, and the patch is almost regal compared to some of those “rush jobs” that teams must do when a death happens during the season.
— Talk Nats (@TalkNats) March 24, 2023
The team already announced that Mr. Lerner’s name would be added to the Ring of Honor posthumously in a brief ceremony on Opening Day.
Nats farm system doing well
The Nats’ farm system ranks in the top 10 on both Baseball America and MLB Pipeline’s rankings. While Rizzo has said he doesn’t care about the rankings, it’s a good sign that the Nationals are developing young players. A year ago, the Nationals’ farm system ranked dead last. It’s safe to say Rizzo has done an adequate job getting the Nationals’ future back on track. Washington has something special brewing with young prospects like Elijah Green, James Wood, and Robert Hassell. Although it may be another tough season to watch, the future is bright in D.C.
The status of Stephen Strasburg is almost a mystery at this point. Yes, we know he has had reoccurring issues with his thoracic outlet syndrome in which he had surgery and attempted a comeback last year, but at $35 million a year in salary, shouldn’t he at least be in camp getting rehab and maybe mentoring his youthful teammates?
The word is Stras is back at his home, rehabbing in McLean, Virginia. Something just seems amiss with that. At this point, the team is not counting on him for the roster, and he will begin the season on the 60-day IL. The World Series hero of 2019 has pitched 26 2/3 innings in the past three seasons under his $245 million contract he signed after he opted out of his previous deal.
City Connect jerseys return
The Nationals announced that the popular City Connect “Bloom” jerseys will return in 2023. They debuted last year and were popular with the fans. On Opening Day, the first 20,000 fans to enter the park will get City Connect t-shirts as part of the first team promotion of the season.
The Nationals are scheduled to wear the City Connect uniforms for Friday and Saturday home games, including April 15 for Jackie Robinson Day. There could be an exception or two with that, including any doubleheader games.
Grab-and-go concessions and food updates
Due to the quicker game times and the new pitch clock rules, the team has put a grab-and-go concessions feature for this season with self-checkout. The team said in their marketing material that these marketplaces are designed to help fans “spend less time in line and more time in their seats watching the game.” There are also four grab-and-go beer markets, of which three will be on the main concourse with a selection of canned beers.
The big beer news at Nats Park is the debut of the Craft Beer Corner, a “grab and go” beer/seltzer cooler. (Three on the mezzanine, one higher up.) Decent selection of local cans, inc Aslin, Port City, Red Bear and Old Time. pic.twitter.com/ZxVNA0AFCU
— Fritz Hahn (@fritzhahn) March 24, 2023
Expect the roaming beer vendors in your section to be even more popular as the team hopes their concessionaire hires more staff to get you the typical stadium fare hot dogs, peanuts, and beverages at your seats.
This is always an issue with the blurred lines between stadium workers and fan discontent when things don’t go right. The team hires the ushers for the stadium. Still, most security personnel are subcontracted through a third-party company, and the concession workers are hired through the team’s concessionaire, which is Levy Restaurants. But we see fans almost always blame the team for the concession issues. By the way, the Orioles also have hired Levy to replace Delaware North as their stadium concessionaire.
With the shorter time span of innings, the food and beverage service will almost certainly be a constant complaint throughout the season because it always is an issue with every sports team. Accept it for what it is, and the smart people will plan ahead with getting their food pre-game and being more strategic for food and beverages during the game.
In addition, old and new favorites can be found at concession stands throughout the stadium. Some new concepts are Swizzler and Capo Italian Deli to go with Chesapeake Crab Cake Co. returnees and Jammin’ Island BBQ. Once again, the team will emphasize local businesses and announced there would be 20 local food businesses represented throughout the ballpark, like Ben’s Chili Bowl, Capital City Mambo Sauce, and Roaming Rooster. District Drafts returns for its 12th year at Nats Park and, as usual, will have craft beer options from the DMV.
Giveaway time at Nats Park
The Nationals’ already had their first giveaway exclusive to season ticket holders with a talking Josiah Gray bobblehead. As we mentioned, the next giveaway is the t-shirt giveaway on Opening Day.
There are six more bobblehead giveaways starting with Gray in his cherry blossom-themed City Connect jersey on April 15. The other bobbleheads, which will be given to the first 20,000 fans, include Screech holding a pride flag for the Nationals’ annual Night Out (June 6); Racing Presidents — Teddy and Abe (June 17), CJ Abrams (July 22), Racing Presidents — George and Tom (August 12) and Keibert Ruiz (September 22). If you see a theme here of the players’ bobbleheads, they are the long-term core of this team with Gray, Abrams, and Ruiz, who signed a guaranteed 8-year extension. While some wanted a Joey Meneses bobblehead, you might have to wait.
There will also be other promo games with some popular items, like the April 28 game against the Pirates, which will have a City Connect fedora giveaway. In addition, the Nationals will celebrate Star Wars Day again this year on May 20, when the first 10,000 fans receive a Hawaiian-themed shirt. The team will also hold its first Harry Potter Day on July 8, including a scarf giveaway for the first 20,000 fans.
Last tune-up versus Yanks
There is a 12:05 exhibition game with the Nationals and Yankees at Nationals Park. With scheduled days off on Wednesday and Friday, we will await the pitching assignments for that game.
After the game, the Nationals will have their charity gala at The Wharf with a red carpet welcome that is free and open to the public at 5pm.