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'It'll be like a family reunion!' | Navy Yard bars excited for Opening Day

It's the first in-person Opening Day since the season the Nationals won the World Series.

WASHINGTON — Rain drops poured over the shipping containers that box in the Bullpen in Navy Yard. Inside the open-air bar, crews worked feverishly to fix barstools, picnic tables, and set up tents.

“It's always a mad sprint at the end,” Bullpen general manager Kevin Banks laughed.

Baseball is almost back. Since 2009, the Bullpen has corralled Nationals fans before and after the games.

“It's two-and-a-half, three years since we've had like a real Opening Day,” Banks mused. “We never got that follow-up after the World Series.”

Banks has been the man in charge of weathering the pandemic storm.

“There are variables you can't control, you're going to have to roll, you're going to have to ebb and flow and be a little fluid with what you're doing,” Banks said. “To make sure that you're able to survive.”

Credit: Matt Gregory
Kevin Banks, General Manager of The Bullpen

Head up the right outside the park and you’ll get a similar sentiment on the pandemic from Walter’s Sports Bar’s owner Jeremy Gifford. Except he is a little more blunt.

“I came to work every single day just doing everything I could to lose the least amount of money,” he said.

Credit: Matt Gregory
Walter’s Sports Bar’s owner Jeremy Gifford

Walters opened in the middle of 2019. Gifford said it’s lucky it turned out to be the Nationals’ championship season.

“With the pandemic, the World Series provided us the capital to be able to get through a pretty rough time,” he said.

RELATED: Navy Yard streateries allowed to operate during upcoming Nats homestand

The pandemic has been brutal for businesses all over the country. But the loss of normal baseball hits the businesses outside the park even harder.

“That's a huge piece of your year where you're getting 2.6 to 3 million people coming to the neighborhood,” Michael Stevens head of the Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District said.

Stevens is like an encyclopedia of the Riverfront district’s economics. By his count the area lost eight businesses during the pandemic. But he’s quick to point out they will have added 20 new businesses by the end of the spring.

Now, with pandemic restrictions easing, combined with the soccer and baseball seasons getting under way it’s a new chapter.

Credit: Matt Gregory
Michael Stevens head of the Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District

“It's kind of a reawakening of social society and being able to be outside in a fairly safe environment,” Stevens smiled.

When you’re down near the ballpark talking to bars and restaurants, you notice the usual excitement for Opening Day. Then there is something else this year.

“It'll be a lot of like a family reunion,” Gifford said from the bar inside Walter’s.

“There'll be a lot of high fives might be elbow driven. Depending on people's comfort level might be some hugs.”

For the first time in three years, D.C. sports fans will celebrate Opening Day together.

“I kind of feel like baseball coming back was something that was bigger than baseball itself,” Kevin Banks said as he went back to setting up the Bullpen.

“It's getting the country back to the back to normal.”

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