So, that happened. Again.

It was past 2 a.m. on a weeknight in October when I started writing a blog post, which has come to mean that my city’s baseball team has lost another postseason series.

The Nationals’ 4-3 loss to the Dodgers did not hurt as badly as 2012’s gut-punch loss to the Cardinals or our 2014 demise at the hands of the Giants, highlighted by an 18-inning defeat at which I had the dubious privilege of being in the stands for every single pitch. We never had the game in the bag, and there was no catastrophic moment of failure. But the output is the same: a need to spend a few minutes “reflecting on everything that’s good about my life.”

(That link doesn’t point to the original ESPN copy of Bill Simmons’ magnificent post on the 2003 ALCS, because some idiotic ad fail makes it unreadable for more than a few seconds. As Simmons has been wont to say: No, I’m not bitter.)

nats-park-2016-nldsOn one level, I know that the cherry blossoms will bloom again next spring, and every team will be in first place on opening day. I will once again enjoy seeing batters leg out triples and fielders turn double plays. And if the Nats are good enough to get into the postseason, anything can happen.

On another level, I want to see my city win a championship while I am alive to enjoy it, and our recent history does not give grounds for optimism. The Capitals have gotten closer than any other local franchise with their 1998 appearance in the Stanley Cup finals, but since then they seem to have developed a postseason glass jaw. The Wizards suffer from the same ailment, plus it’s the NBA and the same handful of teams win the finals anyway. The local NFL franchise looks doomed on multiple karmic metrics, and I’m pretty much checked out of football anyway.

I would love to see Georgetown win the NCAAs more than almost anything, but I don’t think my alma mater is mercenary enough to make that happen. Getting to the Final Four in 2007 was pretty great, but next year brought the calamity I refer to as the “[varying expletive] Easter Sunday game,” and it’s been bad ever since.

That leaves the Nats. I like their odds in the long term, given how open MLB’s postseason is to teams that jump on it–remember, Kansas City won it all last year. But I’d also like to see myself spending an insane amount of money on postseason tickets while the onetime Washington Senators fan who sat next to us last night can enjoy it too.

See you at Nats Park in the spring. This is my home, this is my team. D.C. or nothing.

Heartache and hard lessons

Thursday night, I saw the greatest game of baseball ever played at Nationals Park. Friday night, I witnessed its saddest contest: a nightmare of a Game 5 loss that saw the Nationals turn a 6-0 laugher into a 9-7 termination of the season that sends the Cardinals to the National League Championship Series and leaves Washington counting the days until pitchers and catchers report.

It hurt to watch in person–to see the wheel ratchet from “we’re running away with this” to “we’ve still got this” to “three more outs” to “just one more out” to “we need another walk-off win” to “oh, no.”

Like many Washington-engineered calamities, this one was built by committee. Gio Gonzalez lost his command in the fourth and fifth innings, coughing up three runs. After the initial six-run onslaught, we went four innings without pushing another run across the plate. Davey Johnson somehow summoned our fifth-best starting pitcher Edwin Jackson to pitch in relief in the sixth, leaving lights-out reliever Ryan Mattheus on the bench; we were lucky to only surrender one run then. From our unimpeachable perspective in section 319, the umpires squeezed us on the strike zone. Tyler Clippard made one mistake pitch in the eighth that left the ball in the Nats bullpen. St. Louis forgot to quit, even when behind by a touchdown. And then Drew Storen couldn’t get that last strike, three times. Game over.

In an alternate universe, I might have tuned out most of this. I grew up so far in the sticks in New Jersey that going to games in New York or Philly was something confined to the very rare day trip. ( The first one I remember was seeing the Phillies at the Vet, which by itself could turn anybody off of baseball.) My dad, maybe as a result of a childhood in the Cleveland area, didn’t make much of a habit of watching games. My mom grew up in the Bronx but was never enough of a Yankees fan to pass that on to me either–to my lasting relief. This beautiful game that we invented was just another thing on TV.

Despite the occasional night out at Camden Yards after college and my annual fleeting interest in the postseason, the baseball gene did not get switched on until 2002. That was when, after too many trips to see my brother in Boston that hadn’t included a stop at Fenway Park, I decided to see what I’d missed. I paid too much on eBay for two tickets to a Red Sox-Yankees game that ended in epic form–a blown Mariano Rivera save and a game-winning home run over the Green Monster.

That got me paying attention to standings and box scores, and a year later the game rewarded me with the horror of Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS.

Some gangs initiate new recruits by beating them bloody. This was my initiation to baseball.

And yet the next year, it paid off when I watched the Sox win it all.

I hope the Nationals’ story in 2013–when we’ll have Stephen Strasburg all season, Bryce Harper will have a year of seasoning, and Storen won’t be be recovering from elbow surgery–plays out along those lines. But you never know. Seven years of going to games at RFK and Nats Park, more lost than won, have taught that lesson well. Tonight pounded in a few others: That you can’t ease up while you’re ahead or give up when you’re behind–even far behind. That counting on somebody else to fix your problems doesn’t always work. That expecting luck to operate one way never does.

I’m not going to say that this habit is the most rational use of my time and money, or that it exhibits the most balanced outlook on life. But if I wasn’t going to risk the heartbreak of last night, I wouldn’t have been around for the ecstasy of Thursday–or the magical first innings yesterday when it looked like we were walking into the NLCS. Like Hunter S. Thompson once wrote: Buy the ticket, take the ride.

A game 7 or 79 years in the making

Today, I’m going to the first postseason baseball game I’ve ever attended. Game 3 of the National League Division Series between the Washington Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals will also be the first major-league postseason game to take place in the District since Oct. 7, 1933.

I didn’t quite allow myself to think that we’d reach this moment in the middle of July. Going back to a chilly April night in 2005, I was just happy to have a team with my city’s name on its jerseys.

Now? The next few days or weeks may send this place into delirious enthusiasm or push it off a cliff into a level of sports-induced despair I haven’t felt since the horror of the Grady Little game, or maybe Georgetown’s Easter Sunday gut-punch loss to Davidson in 2008. Yeah, I’m kind of a mess right now.

So if anybody needs me, I’ll be at the ballpark this afternoon. Go Nats!