Your Washington Nationals: 2019 World Series Champions

by Alan J. Claffie

Part 1: Prologue

I meant to write this, or something substantially similar to this, some around October 2. At the risk of spoiling things, I'll explain the delay with two reasons. First, the baseball team being discussed kept winning. Second, I am a legendary procrastinator.

The story doesn't begin in October 2019. It doesn't even begin on May 24 or February or at some random point in the off-season. It begins at some point in the mid- to late-1970s.

Because, while this is, technically, about your Washington Nationals, in reality, it's all about me.

I grew up a baseball fan. My mother, despite being English, watched most Boston Red Sox games. My grandparents did too, although I wonder how big a fan Grandma was. Talking baseball with her usually went something like this:

Me: Dwight Evans seems to have gotten off to a good start this year
Her: He's a bum

Despite this, I followed the Sox pretty faithfully. I listened to the games on the radio more than I watched on TV, with the soothing sounds of Ken Coleman and Joe Castiglione being constant companions through high school and into college.

I got to enjoy Roger Clemens pitching the Sox into the playoffs and even into the World Series, but that was 1986 and while it wasn't the life-changing, soul-crushing loss to me as it may have been to others, there are still scars.

My pragmatic philosophy regarding baseball, even back then, was simple. All I wanted from my chosen team was entertaining ball to watch for 162 games. If they wound up being relevant in September, that's nice. If they got me playoff games to watch: Bonus! This is still true today.

I moved to the Washington DC area in 2002, and there was no local baseball team to adopt. I tried to continue following the Sox, but they weren't on TV very often. I tried adopting the Orioles, but they weren't really making serious inroads for some unknown reason.

Two years after I moved here, the baseball gods blessed me by taking the Expos out of Montreal and parking them in the nation's capital. I don't recall jumping to embrace them right off the bat, mostly because this city has had two major league teams that left town already in the past. I'd hate to buy into a team that was just going to get uprooted all over again. Also, Kate was very anti-Nationals. She worked in DC proper and knew any money going to prop up baseball could and should be better used to improve the city's infrastructure or ease any one of its numerous problems.

Her bias against the Nationals - which only got worse when the team announced the construction of a new stadium, which would involve some public funds - made it tough to outwardly root for the team. I didn't go to any games in the first year the team played in DC, and saw very few games on TV simply because, in those early days, not very many of their games were even broadcast.

Things got better. I still hadn't gone to a game as the 2006 season went on. Not that I had gone to many MLB games before. I think I made it to Fenway Park a total of six times in all the years I lived in Massachusetts. The Nationals didn't make going to games an attractive proposition anyway. The team wasn't very good, and its temporary home of RFK Stadium was a barren, outdated place to watch baseball.

I finally made it to RFK for a game, in late 2006, in a manner that would satisfy Kate. I arranged a media pass so I could go without actually spending money on the team. It was a chilly, misty, sprinkley Saturday afternoon game that was a make-up of the previous night's rainout, so there was a sparse crowd in dreary conditions. I took in the game from the camera well, beyond the first base dugout, listening to random cheers from the few spectators there as the game went into extra innings. On the plus side, the Nationals won in the eleventh inning. In the most unexciting walk-off scenario possible, the winning run was scored when rising star Ryan Zimmerman drew a bases-loaded walk.

Not surprisingly, I was not compelled to attend further games at RFK Stadium throughout the balance of the Nationals' tenure there.

When the Nationals moved to their own park, I started going to games there. Not only was the park itself significantly nicer than RFK, but getting there was both quicker and easier. It's a twenty-minute ride from home to the Metro station, and maybe 25-30 minutes on the train to arrive at the park's front door. To get to RFK, not only is the train ride longer, but I'd need to change trains.

The highlight of those early years of Nationals Park came in 2009. My nephew, eleven-year-old Collin, came down from Massachusetts to spend a week with us. Among other activities planned for the week, we went to a Tuesday night ballgame. During batting practice, we snuck down to the dugout to watch, and a staffer asked Collin if he wanted to issue the “Play ball” command at the start of the game. He did, and we got to enjoy the game from those seats right in front of the on-deck circle.

Kate's stance against the team softened over the years to the point where she attended games with me. Typically, I'd enjoy four or five games per year in person, but in 2014 we splurged and got ourselves ten-game mini-plans. We didn't join the ranks of full- or partial-season ticket holders, but we committed to going to ten games that year.

In addition to that, we also got tickets to 2014's opening day. It was the one game I always wanted to go to, just to enjoy the extended opening ceremonies. Kate left me in charge of picking seats, not that there was a lot of choice in a nearly sold-out game. We ended up in the second deck in the right field corner, right in line with the foul line. That might sound good, but there was a fairly large foul pole right in the middle of our views. I watched the game leaning to my right and Kate watched it leaning to her left, and she declared that I was no longer in charge of picking seats.

The Nationals' steady improvement paid off with its first playoff appearance in 2012, which was followed by an early playoff exit. The same happened in 2014, 2016, and 2017. In each of those years, the team won the National League East division, usually fairly handily, and never made it out of the first round of the playoffs. Our list of teams we were required to hate because they knocked us out of the playoffs was growing. First, the Cardinals, then the Giants, then the Dodgers, and then the Cubs. I don't know what was worse, though: getting eliminated early, or not making the playoffs in the first place, like what happened in 2018.

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