The 2019 Nationals have entered D.C. sports folklore, 15 years in the making
15 years can seem like forever. There are days for me where it feels just like yesterday I was graduating high school. There are other days where I look back and think to myself that those memories are distant. Having 15 years ago feel like ages ago coming from a 33 year old can sound silly. I get that. Growing up in the D.C. area and rooting for the Redskins, Capitals, Wizards there are more downs than ups. Fans would still get excited at the beginning of the season only to have the Redskins fall on their face, the Wizards erupt into scandal with guns in the locker room, and the Capitals just not finding that right puck bounce in the playoffs.
For years we were teased to get our own Major League Baseball team. Whether it was going to be the Minnesota Twins, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, or an expansion team the D.C. market was always in discussion. Peter Angelos had already alienated D.C. baseball fans saying “there are no real baseball fans in D.C.” despite a decent amount of his season ticket holders residing in this region. George Michael of NBC 4 Washington would talk about the latest updates every once and a while. Jim Vance would be sitting next to him getting upset that no one thought D.C. was a viable baseball city. But, then it happened.
All Those Years of Heartbreak
I probably went close to 100 games at RFK Stadium over the 3 years that the Nationals called it home. I was there to see Ryan Zimmerman play during September call-ups, Alfonso Soriano’s MVP chase, and the greatest closer in Nationals history Chad Cordero light up the 9th inning. Then came the really lean years at the new stadium.
Being a Redskins fan, you understand how to deal with disappointment. But, it hasn’t prepared you on how to deal with watching back-to-back 100 loss seasons. I went the official opening weekend to the Nationals new ball park with my dad and remember sitting in the outfield. Finally, players like Ryan Zimmerman had a place to call their home. Zimmerman had already hit a walk-off homerun opening night against the rival Atlanta Braves. But, even a simple Sunday afternoon game seemed just as special.
I eventually had to watch from a far starting in 2008 as I moved to Greensboro, NC to finish college. I went to as many games and took in as many at bats as I could even with how bad they were knowing that better days could be around the corner. Even with the abysmal showing in the standings, I had a team to call my own, for better or worse. Then finally it started to happen.
The turn around started to show itself in 2011. That Nationals team outperformed expectations by finishing 80-81. Something special was brewing even with Stephen Strasburg going to miss a majority of 2012. There was the anticipation of outfield phenom Bryce Harper getting ready to make his debut at some point. Jayson Werth had brought a championship swagger from Philadelphia. A snowball effect then happened.
2012 saw the Nationals win their first division in franchise history. I still remember the team taking a lap around a still mostly full stadium on that September night. I remember going outside of the bar in Greensboro needing to take a breath and sitting in the parking lot on the verge of tears. All of the emotions supporting them and seeing a guy like Ryan Zimmerman, and the last Montreal Expo Ian Desmond lead their franchise to the playoffs. I still cannot put those emotions into words other than “WOW.”
Finally Made It
What followed were early exists in the playoffs and the occasional let down season in between titles. The Nationals fan base started to follow how Capitals fans felt.
“When is that playoff disappointment going to happen.”
There had always been the argument that the Nationals never played meaningful baseball late into September right before the playoffs began.
Well, they got their opportunity this year. In a season that looked lost, Davey’s head being called for, and questions on whether Ryan Zimmerman was going to retire let alone return in 2020, they found something in themselves. I was not sure how to feel about this year’s team. My initial emotional reaction after ever loss was “is Davey really the answer?” Other’s were, “man, I just want to see Zimmerman play in a World Series after all he has been through and done for us.” Davey was poked fun of his “proud of the boys” sound bite that has now turned into a rally cry alongside Baby Shark.
As the wins started to pile up in June, July, then August, the hope became real. There was a feel to this team, that has been touched on, that this team has the same feel as the 2018 Stanley Cup winning Capitals. They were having fun, dancing in the dugout, and freaking opposing pitchers out with Baby Shark. Heck, even Strasburg was smiling, dancing, and showing emotions that we had never seen before.
My Crazy Call — Sorry Carol and Andy
When the Nationals clinched a Wild Card spot, “I thought to myself, “holy shit, this is actually happening” and started pacing around the apartment in excitement. Then the Wild Card game happened and I completely lost my mind that night. The next morning I was still so wound up in emotion that I called into the Carol Maloney Show and went on a Howard Dean-esque rant. The rant was about how they were going to beat the Dodgers, then the Cardinals, then the Astros (there is audio evidence I’m sure) and then we would be doing Baby Shark down Constitution Avenue as Ryan Zimmerman lifted that World Series trophy. 15 years of built up emotion just poured out on local sports radio. God bless Carol and Andy for putting up with it.
That emotion carried through the NLDS and NLCS as I sat next to my wife (who is a Phillies fan) saying in the first inning of Game 4 of the NLCS, “wow, you guys are really destined for this.”
This is everything that a life long Nationals fan has been hoping for. A chance to celebrate one of the most historic trophies in sports. As a fan it feels so much better after the lean years of Nick Johnson, Jose Vidro, Lastings Millidge, Delmon Young, Shawn Hill, John Rauch, Brad Wilkerson, Brian Schneider, Will Nieves, and others. Knowing that those guys that gave everything they had in what was an initial crappy situation can say their franchise is in the World Series. As a fan that has cheered for them hoping they could get there, I say thank you for your service and I hope that you enjoy this ride as much as we are.
With a World Series being played in D.C. for the first time since 1933, this 2019 Nationals team has entered D.C. sports folklore. Proud of the boys and all.