Football and baseball have traditionally been the two biggest sports in America, and my relationship with each was forever influenced by my childhood. I wrote about my lifelong Redskins obsession a couple of years ago, and my view of football has been shaped by my unbreakable attachment with my “home team” for better and for worse ever since. My view of baseball is fundamentally different for one reason—I never had a home team.
Okay, that’s not quite true. For a brief moment I did. They were the Washington Senators, and my earliest memory of them is the last season they played in the District. Then they moved to Arlington, Texas, and became the Texas Rangers, and a part of my childhood was taken away.
Kids in New York got to be Yankees fans, kids in Boston got to be Red Sox fans, and kids in Chicago got to be White Sox or (if they were really unlucky) Cubs fans. Even kids in Baltimore got to be Orioles fans. But I didn’t have a team to call my own.
And that’s how I became a lifelong baseball nomad.
First came the Pittsburgh Pirates. I can’t remember when, or why, I became a Bucs fan (that’s what the real fans call them), but throughout the 70s Willie Stargel was my favorite player and the Pirates were my favorite team—even after we moved to San Diego in 1978. I could have switched allegiances then, and become a Padres fan. Maybe if it wasn’t for the 1979 season and the World Series Championship I would have. But the Pirates remained my NL team through the lean years of the 80 and the brief resurgence of the early 90s. And when my dad took me to see them play the Padres, I always wore my gold and black striped Bucs cap.
Next came the Toronto Blue Jays. They were an up-and-coming team in the early 80s. I remember them chasing the Detroit Tigers in 1984 (the Tigers would go on to beat the Padres in the Word Series that Fall) and beating out the Yankees in 1985 to win their first AL East Title. I was hooked, and after several years of close-but-not-quite finishes, they rewarded my loyalty with back to back World Series titles.
Then in 1994, the strike came and the World Series was cancelled. And I gave up baseball …
For one year.
But I moved to the Pacific Northwest (Oregon to be exact) in August 1995. That Fall, the Seattle Mariners won a fantastic ALDS series over the Yankees. I was hooked once more and I became a Mariners fan. They’re the closest I’ve had to a home team since the Senators left D.C. and I’ve followed them through the highs and lows ever since.
But there was always a hole—that one left by the Senators—and even though I’d moved away decades ago, I still longed for a Washington baseball team.
In 2005, I finally got them. The Montreal Expos moved to the District and became the Washington Nationals. And the Nationals, after several seasons of mediocrity or outright awfulness, are one of the best teams in the National League. Last week, they clinched their second NL East Title in three years, and this Friday they start a best of seven series against the winner of the NL Wildcard game.
That game pits the San Francisco Giants against the Pittsburgh Pirates. If the Pirates win, I’ll get an ironic NLDS between the adopted team of my childhood and the home team of the city I left 36 years ago.
And while my old Bucs cap gathers dust in my old bedroom closet in San Diego, my Nats cap sits on my head as I write this.
They’re the team I never had growing up, but they’re my team now. Go Nats!