The Washington Nationals a) exist, b) aren’t in last place in the National League East, c) have a winning record, d) lead the NL East, e) have the best record in the National League.
Each of those statements would have been exponentially more improbable at this point in 2004. By then, we’d long since gotten sick of parsing the mumblings of MLB suits about the chances of the Montreal Expos being rescued from their death spiral (no thanks to MLB’s absentee mismanagement) and transplanted to fill the baseball vacancy in the nation’s capital.
So after MLB finally acknowledged the obvious and moved the Expos here, my wife and I joined a group of friends in buying a 20-game partial season-ticket package.
In the Nats’ improbable first season in the District, we saw the team somehow dance around the flaws of a staff of aging veterans and trash-heap signings to reach the All-Star break first in the NL East, second in the NL. But then the wheels fell off the bus and the team scraped its way to an 81-81 finish.
(Barry Svrluga’s National Pastime remains the book to read about that season.)
Six straight years of losing followed, and we’ve renewed that 20-game plan for every one of them. The great thing about baseball is that even an awful team can show flashes of brilliance against a good one: I have never enjoyed watching a sports event more than when I was in the stands at a sold-out RFK on Father’s Day of 2006 to see Ryan Zimmerman beat the Yankees with a walk-off home run after Mike O’Connor and Gary Majewski had somehow limited their offense to 2 runs.
D.C. baseball has developed its traditions along the way, like Ben’s Chili Bowl half-smokes at RFK and Nats Park, the Presidents’ Race in the middle of the fourth, and having the late, great Chuck Brown’s “Bustin’ Loose” ring out after a home run. And Metro is crowded with people wearing Nats caps and shirts on game days. That’s all I really wanted, after my city went 34 years without a team.
Now we’re getting something extra: a team that’s good. Really good. This is a new experience. The last time a baseball team in Washington had a winning season was 1969, when Ted Williams guided the Senators to an 86-76 record and I was -1 years old. For that matter, no major sports team in D.C. has gotten close to a championship since my Hoyas reached the Final Four in 2007.
I don’t quite know what it would be like to watch the home team playing deep into October. But I’d like to find out. Go Nats.