The national capital tries to be a serious city; it really does, as it grapples with weighty matters of governance. But occasionally that serious expression slips and Washington is revealed to have all the sophistication of a watermelon-eating contest at the county fair.

Such a day was Wednesday when TV sets all up and down the corridors of power were tuned not to the customary C-SPAN but to ESPN where a Grapefruit League baseball game of no greater cosmic consequence that any other spring training game was taking place.

Ah, but this was the first game, even if it was only practice, of the Nationals, Washington’s first major league baseball team since the lamentable Senators decamped in 1971. More than 100 reporters overflowed the press box of the ballpark in Viera, Fla. The team, it was noted, took the field at 1:02 pm.

The Washington Post’s veteran baseball columnist Tom Boswell wrote, “If absence makes the heart grow fonder, then what does 34 years produce? What is the tingle in the spine when a sport comes back to life after a third of a century in its grave?”

His own paper pretty much gave the answer: A page 1 story with splashy photo above the fold along with the Federal Reserve chairman warning about economic stagnation. A story on the Style section front. And voluminous coverage in the sports section including a table of first pitch, first out, first strikeout, first hit, etc. The capital’s other media outlets were similarly restrained.

The team has yet to set foot in its new home but there is a brisk trade in Nationals’ merchandise. (Those of a certain age can’t break the habit of calling them the Senators.) Officials accustomed to quickly resolving complex issues of world trade or national security find themselves locked into indecision over whether to buy the Nationals’ more dignified blue away hat or the more raffish red home version.

The lesson of all this is that if you have critical business in Washington you probably shouldn’t schedule it for April 14. That’s the home opener. And, oh yeah, the Nationals beat the Mets 5-3.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)