The last time I was on Harrisburg’s City Island for a baseball game — the fourth and final game of the 2019 Eastern League Division Series between the Harrisburg Senators and the Bowie Baysox — no one had ever heard of COVID-19.

And I wasn’t visually impaired.

Tuesday night, after something like 612 days, professional baseball returned to City Island as the Senators, still the AA affiliate of the Washington Nationals, now in the AA Northeast League (yes, that’s the actual name), hosted the Richmond Flying Squirrels.

I’ve never attended an Opening Day game due to work deadlines. When I had to select dates for my ticket package and saw the home opener fell the week after my deadline week, I decided I would attend Opening Day. Why not? Working from home right now makes it easier to attend a midweek game, too; there’s a vast difference between driving from York to Harrisburg and driving from Hunt Valley to Harrisburg.

I started my work day early so I could leave for the ballpark in time to be there when the gates opened. I’d been up to City Island a few times since that 2019 game — movie nights for The Sandlot and A League of Their Own, a team “yard sale” where I bought a game-used Matt LeCroy jersey, and the Small Business Saturday sale — but those weren’t baseball games. I was practically beside myself with excitement all day.

I would up getting there too early. As a Sensylvania Club member this year — that’s the team’s fun term for ticket package holders — I could use a special entrance that opened fifteen minutes early. I thought the gates opened at 4:30 — that’s what my digital ticket said — so I was there about 4:10, but they actually opened at 5:00, so I had to wait longer than I expected. I watched Flying Squirrels players use the batting cages and others throw in the bullpen. I didn’t mind.

Waiting underneath the boardwalk, watching Flying Squirrels warm up
The last time I stood here, a little girl talked to me about Grover

The night’s giveaways were a Senators face mask and a miniature bat. I had my choice of red or blue face mask. I took the blue.

Flying Squirrels warming up on the field
First players I’d seen on this field in over 600 days

Naturally, one of the first things I did was to take a stroll around the concourse. How could I not? It had been a long, long time since I had. (Though I’d been to the park a few times in 2020, only certain areas was accessible.) The life-size bobbleheads were on the main concourse under the grandstand. The guest services desk was moved. Otherwise, it was much the same as it’s been the last several years.

And then there was this banner:

We’ve missed you, too

I do believe that’s Aaron Barrett on the banner.

Naturally, I had to take a photo of downtown Harrisburg from the concourse. Compare to some historical photographs of a similar view.

Downtown Harrisburg, as seen from the concourse of FNB Field
A familiar view of downtown Harrisburg

I’d planned to wear a Cookie Monster mask to the game, but I seem to have misplaced it; it’s possible I left it at the office. (I usually take a couple of masks with me when I go into the office.) A Sesame Street mask was fine, even if it does have the Red Devil on it.

I did try on the giveaway mask. It’s fine. It fits.

I need to get my hair cut. Soon. It’s been about sixteen months.

I wasn’t in my usual place due to COVID seating requirements. It’s not obvious from my photos, but some rows were blocked off, and some seats were X-ed out.

Eventually, the Senators themselves took the field, threw around baseballs, stretched.

Feeling peckish, I went to one of the concession stands and ended up talking at length with one of the workers there, who had come up from Baltimore and was really excited to talk with someone who worked in Maryland.

The Senators warming up

Pre-game, there was a ceremony to honor two long-time Senators fans — Harrisburg mayor Stephen Reed and ABC 27 sportscaster Gregg Mace — and Senators owner Mark Butler, all of whom passed away since the last time the Senators took the field. Butler’s grandson even threw out a ceremonial first pitch.

Then came time for the player introductions, and Rascal, the Senators’ mascot, came out with a red Senators flag.

Rascal with the Senators flag
Probably my favorite photo of the night
The Senators and Squirrels lined up on the baselines during the player introductions
Player introductions

I was pleasantly surprised by the pre-game hype video they showed which focused on several of the 2019 Nationals who came up through Harrisburg — among them, Stras, Turner, Soto, Robles, and Rendon — and intercut their World Series play with footage of when they were on City Island.

Some minor league teams keep their parent club kind of at an arms length in their messaging — Lynchburg is notorious for that, and I don’t recall Aberdeen ever making a big deal about about being part of the Orioles system — but Harrisburg puts their Washington ties front and center, from the Curly W on the exterior of the team offices to the way they’ve painted the stairs to the main entrance and now the hype video. It’s quite nice.

The top of the first
The top of the first

I had considered wearing shorts, and I was glad I didn’t. The scoreboard may have said that the temperatures were in the low 60s, but it felt cold. The aluminum bleachers leeched body head, and there was a strong, cold wind off the Susquehanna that reminded me of some of the strong, cold winds off the Anacostia through Nationals Park, like the 18-inning playoff game in 2014.

Sunset over the Susquhanna

By about the fourth inning I wished I’d worn a winter coat. After the fifth I stopped keeping score because my hands were too cold.

I left after the seventh inning, not because the Senators were losing, but because I was really very cold and I was in a great deal of pain. I’ve had an arthritis flare in my left foot, and last week’s work deadlines left me achey and pained all over. (It wasn’t until yesterday that I felt close to “normal.”) Hopefully my next game — Saturday — will be warmer, I’ll be in less pain, and I can stay until the end.

FNB Field
View in the bottom of the 7th

The crowd in the bleachers, where I sit, was larger earlier in the game, but you can see how sparse it and the grandstand were by the late innings.

The Senators lost. This season hasn’t gotten off to a good start, let alone a great one. They’re now 1-8 after tonight’s loss — a no-hitter! — to the Richmond Flying Squirrels. Honestly, none of the Nationals’ minor league affiliates are doing well this season. There’s really nothing in the system.

It’s nice to have baseball back. Let’s hope for the best with COVID and that it can stay that way.

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