Nationals Park

4 Things to Watch for on Opening Day at Nationals Park

The Nationals begin their run to defend the World Series title against the Yankees Thursday night

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Opening Day has finally arrived, and D.C. is brimming with excitement to watch reigning World Series champion Nationals return to the field.

The Nationals will face off against the Yankees at 7:08 p.m., kicking off a shortened 60-game season. The Nats will be right on their home turf at Nationals Park.

It's a triumphant return not just because the last big game played by the Nats brought them World Series victory, but also the coronavirus pandemic jeopardized any Major League Baseball this season.

Opening Day was postponed from March to July. And the pandemic will result in other changes, too.

For the first time since the team arrived in D.C. in 2005, Ryan Zimmerman won't be on the field with the Nats. Mr. National himself, along with starting pitcher Joe Ross and Welington Castillo, opted to sit out over concern for their families' health.

Even though fans can't celebrate within the grounds, you can still rock your Nats gear and celebrate the return of baseball. Here are some big moments to watch for.

World Series Celebration

The defending champions can't start the season off without a little more celebration.

The Nationals are planning to raise a new 2019 World Series champions flag before the game and wear gold-trimmed jerseys celebrating their victory.

The collectors out there will be happy to know that fans can pick up their own gold-trimmed jerseys at the Nats' official merch store.

Fauci Throws the First Pitch

Nationals super fan and the top infectious disease specialist in the U.S., Dr. Anthony Fauci, will throw out the first pitch of the game.

Zimmerman gave Fauci a little advice: warm up first and aim high.

"Well, if you bounce it, there's no one there to boo you," Zimmerman said with a laugh.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser will also give the "play ball" announcement.

A Black Lives Matter Tribute

In another nod to the crises outside the stadium, the Nationals will give tribute to the Black Lives Matter movement that has been reinvigorated in response to incidents of police brutality.

A Black Lives Matter MLB stencil will appear on the pitcher's mound during games on Opening Weekend, the team said in a release.

"The Nationals, in conjunction with Major League Baseball, stand with the Black Lives Matter movement and will utilize the platform and national stage of Opening Day to express support for the fight against systemic racism and injustice," the release said.

No Fans in the Stands

To protect players and staff, there won't be fans in the seats at Nationals Park for Thursday's game. You might glimpse a sea of empty blue chairs.

The park plans to pipe in fake crowd noise to give players the energetic atmosphere they're used to.

But pitcher Sean Doolittle is still going to miss the roar, NBC Sports Washington reported.

“It’s really different,” Doolittle said. “I thrive very much on the atmosphere and the energy of the stadium when I’m pitching. I really, throughout my career, I’ve learned to kind of channel that energy."

How are you celebrating Opening Day? Tag @nbcwashington in your photos on Twitter and Instagram for a chance to be featured on News4.

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