“BOOOO”… “BOOOO”… was what one might think they heard at the top of the ninth on September 20th during the home game between the LA Dodgers and the DC Nationals. Actually, the DC home crowd was chanting “DREWWW”… “DREWWW”… Drew Storen, the platooning fireballing closer was trotting to the mound to finish off the 4-1 lead over the Dodgers. The giant jumbotron/scoreboard focussed on Storen’s face… I swear there was a grimace of determination. Storen knew how important his outing was about to be.
DC Nationals have never made it to the postseason… the last DC baseball team to make it to the postseason was the Senators in 1933… it was now 79 years later and DC was on the cusp of getting a playoff berth… big moment. From my seat in section 205, it looked as if a giant wave of Nationals’ red was standing and holding its breath… the moment was 3 outs away. No one feared there wouldn’t be a playoff berth… but everyone was ready for the moment to happen now… Thursday, September 20, 2012.
Storen took the mound… and with efficiency he sat down the side. Matt Kemp stood dumbfounded when strike 3 was called with him looking. Adrian Gonzalez swung haphazardly at strike 3… his shoe laces may have broken in his attempt to hit the fastball. Finally, Hanley Ramirez swatted air for the third time. Three very good batters went down in order. Storen and the Nats jumped in elation… the crowd went wild… I was there and I felt tears welling in my eyes… the Nats were playoff bound.
Now, I (and countless Nats’ fans) count the magic number of games combining Nats’ wins and Braves’ losses to see if the Nats finish the season as the NLE’s number one team and enjoy the position of skipping a wildcard game. Additionally, Nats’ fans count the Nats’ wins compared to the Reds’ wins and hope that the Nats’ maintain the top position of the whole National League. As of today, the Nats not only sit on top of the National League, but here at the end of September, the Nats have the best record in baseball.
Back on April 14, 2005, I was sitting in the crowd at the Nationals first home game… its inaugural opener. President George W. Bush threw the ceremonial first pitch to a mix crowd both booing and cheering. Livan Hernandez threw the actual first pitch minutes later. The following morning Hernandez’s pitch made the front of the Washington Post. Baseball had returned to the nation’s capital. Seven years later, the Nationals are postseason bound.
What a ride it has been… definitely ugly… definitely the type of baseball that only true baseball fans could appreciate. In 2005, the Nats finished the season 81-81… this season included Brad Wilkerson getting the first Nats’ hit, Terrmel Sledge hit the first Nats’ home run. Later in the season Wilkerson hit for the cycle (a home run, a single, a double, and a triple). At the end of the 2005 season, Ryan Zimmerman was called up and has been the face of the franchise ever since. It wasn’t perfect baseball… but it was decent baseball. From there it skidded downhill. Baseball gods frowned on the once Montreal Expos that became a vagabond team with no home. Following group MLB ownership and controversy over the stadium design and location… the DC Nationals were given a home in DC.
From 2006-2011, the Nats saw nothing but losing seasons. 2006: 71-91; 2007: 73-89; 2008: 59-102; 2009: 59-103; 2010: 69-93; and 2011: 80-81. Through it all I sat at both RFK stadium… a terribly old concrete stadium that bounced when fans jumped and stunk of mildew… it had character but it also sat in a blighted neighborhood and really fit more for 1960s NFL games than 2000′s baseball… and at the present Nationals stadium on the banks of the Anacostia River. As of today, the Nats are 93-60.
I originally began my Nats’ ticket holder status as a member of a group that bought a full season package. A group of 10 people split 81 games… game selection was done through the very scientific method of picking a playing card that designated your selection slot… from there one had to pick date and game… an economist ran the whole show. It was a group of 10 people who had faith. Once the Nats moved to their brand new… and very environmentally green… stadium, I had branched out on my own and bought my own partial season plan… 20 games that usually turned into 25-30 with the special ticket buys and friends who needed company… beer-drinking and Nats-cheering company. I now have two aisle seats in section 205 with no aisle to my right… so no “I’m-really-not-a-fan” person walking by during an at-bat and ruining my view. Baseball viewing etiquette seems to be lost on some of my fellow DC baseball fans… sit your ass down until at least the at-bat is over… better yet… wait until the inning is over.
All the years of sitting there watching bad baseball (2006-2011) made me repeat a mantra… almost Zen-like… “bad baseball is better than no baseball, bad base is better than no baseball.” The faithful will be rewarded… the meek shall inherit the Earth… accept your lot in life and you shall be made abundant in your patience. I watched suck-ass baseball and never got discouraged… I was happy to be in my seat drinking beer, eating hot dogs, and watching the Boys of Summer go about their glorious play. Cold opening day games led to sweltering (and swampy) DC July day games… and now it has led to cool and crisp Fall baseball.
“Let Teddy Win” is possibly coming to fruition. Baseball is a game of optimism… every team is number 1 before the first pitch of the first opening day game. Every fan truly believes this year is the year. Some fans and teams are spoiled… yes you Yankee fans… some teams and fans are constantly disappointed… yes you Cubs. Regardless, baseball is a sport and passion that is a long and sometimes torturous event. April to October. 162 games, day-in and day-out… the games seem to pile on to one another, and before the 2012 season… the losses seemed to pile on and pile on.
Now I sit here with my postseason tickets and count games… will the Nats finish with just the right amount of wins, and will the Braves finish with just the right amount of losses to ensure our clinching of the NLE? Will the Reds stay just a few wins behind allowing the Nats to maintain their dominance in the NL? Really… I’m grateful that the season has been as splendid as it has been. If in April you had told me that the Nats would be sitting at the end of September with 93 wins I would have replied that I would be happy and content… and content I am. I have been a faithful and loyal fan. I have seen the Nats lose games in the cold and heat… I have sat through rainouts… I have been a faithful member of the Church of Baseball. I have tithed every year… I have paid my penance. Win or lose, I am a Nats fan. Now I am ready for the playoffs.
Let’s Go Nats!