Go Nats!

Nats 2014

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.

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A New Dawn in the District

Arial view of Washington D.C.

Photo: Architect of the Capitol’s Office (via Wikimedia Commons)

It’s been a tumultuous few weeks in our Nation’s Capital, and, no, I am not talking about politics. I’m talking about something equally stressful but far more enjoyable: sports.

You see a long dark era in the District is drawing to a close. We’re not quite there yet, but we can see the light dawning. And like the dawn, this brightening future is inevitable.

Washington Nationals

Photo: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

The Nationals racked up the best record in baseball this year. First in war, first in peace, and FIRST in all of baseball. But that alone doesn’t win you a World Series. The Nats teetered on the brink of elimination against the St. Louis Cardinals, evened up the series at two games a piece, and then had the defending champions one out away from elimination, before a heartbreaking ninth inning brought their season to an end. No amount of success, however unexpected in April, would take away that sting.

“Wait until next year.” Often the siren song of the perennial loser, but not in this case. The Nats are for real. They’re young, loaded, and have tasted success. This season, the goal was just to win and to make the post-season. Anything past that was a bonus. But the sting of that loss to St. Louis doesn’t feel like a bonus, does it? This team wants to go all the way next year, and they have the talent to do it.

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Sons of Washington, Rejoice!

It’s been a great couple of days for sports in our nation’s capital:

Robert Griffin III leads the Redskins to a game-winning field goal!

No headset? No problem. (Photo: Washington Redskins)

1) Robert Griffin III led the Redskins to their first last-minute, come-from-behind win since 1999, which was also the last season the Redskins won the NFC East. I’m not saying they’ll win the division this year—the competition is really tough—but it’s nice to be on the winning end of one of these games for once. To know that no matter what happens in the first 59 minutes, if RGIII has the ball at the end of the game we’ve got a shot at winning. Crazy to think that we could be 4-0, but I’ll settle for 2-2 and hope for a promising season with an outside shot at a playoff berth. Who knows? But whatever happens, 2-2 beats 0-4.

NL East Division Champions

The Nats win the Pennant! Actually, it’s a flag but whatever.

2) The Nationals clinched the first pennant for Washington since 1933. They didn’t win yesterday, but neither did the Braves and that was enough to drop the magic number to zero and bring Washington a postseason baseball series for the first time in 79 years. First in war, first in peace, and first in the NL East: I’m still getting used to that. Now let’s see how far this young team can go.

Tony Romo: Failure

And other times you just suck.

3) The Cowboys lost. It’s true for every diehard Redskins fan (and a lot of other NFL fans too) that our second favorite team is whoever’s playing the Cowboys this week. Well yesterday that was the Chicago Bears and they dominated in Cowboys’ Stadium. The final score was 34-18, and the highlight was Tony Romo’s five interceptions. Ah the sweet stench of failure.

Now it’s only one weekend,  and a lot can change in a few days. The Redskins host the unbeaten Falcons this Sunday, the Nationals face a tough road through the playoffs without their top pitcher, and the Cowboys? Despite yesterday’s road apple of a game, they’ll still be in the thick of the NFC East race until they inevitably choke in December.

So as the song says: “Fight on . . . Sons of Washington!” But for the next few days, rejoice! Because, short of a Superbowl ring, a World Series trophy, or a long-awaited win by Teddy in the Presidents’ Race, this is as good as it gets in D.C.

First in War, First in Peace . . .

And last in the American League. That was the old joke about the Washington Senators, who were themselves the old joke of the “junior circuit.” For sixty seasons—with one notable exception in 1924—the Senators were the perennial losers of the AL: the Bizarro New York Yankees. They were always losers and—short of selling their souls for a pennant—they’d always be losers.

I was never a Senators fan. The team I remember that called themselves the Washington Senators weren’t even the real Senators. They were an expansion team that replaced the original Senators who moved to Minneapolis in 1962 and became the Minnesota Twins.

The expansion Senators moved to Texas after the 1971 season to become the Texas Rangers. My earliest memory of my hometown baseball team is of them leaving my hometown. Quite the contrast from my hometown football team, who would go to their first Superbowl the following year.

That’s why I’ve always been a Redskins fan, even after the last twenty years of misery, and why I always will be. It’s also why I don’t care about the Texas Rangers (or the Minnesota Twins).

I always had to adopt baseball teams. In the 70s it was the Pirates, in the early 80s (after moving to San Diego), the Padres, in the late 80s and early 90s, the Blue Jays, and since 1995  (when I moved to the Northwest) it’s been the Mariners. I might have rooted for a D.C. ball club for old-times sake, but there wasn’t one to root for.

That changed in 2005 when the Montreal Expos moved to D.C. and became the Washington Nationals. Washington had a baseball team again: first in war, first in peace . . .

And last in the National League. The league had changed—and they added all those divisions—but the result was the same. Until this year:

NL East Standings after July 4, 2012 (from Nationals.com)

As of July 4th—the traditional midpoint of the Major League Baseball season—the Washington Nationals are in first place! First in war, first in peace, and first in the NL East! Eighty-eight years since their only World Series, and seventy-nine years since their last pennant, Washington baseball fans have something to celebrate. And yet it all seems so familiar.

On July 4, 2005—the midpoint of the Nats first season in Washington—they were in first place in the NL East, but a second-half collapse would drop them back into the cellar where they would remain for the next six seasons.

So it’s too soon to celebrate. Let’s see how the second half goes before anyone starts making playoff plans. But I do know one thing: the odds of the Nats winning a World Series this year—as long as they are—are still better than the odds of Teddy Roosevelt ever winning the Presidents’ Race.

Poor Teddy.