Farewell to ‘09 and here’s to ‘10

If you haven’t yet realized this about the game of baseball, here it is: the only predictable thing is its unpredictability.

The 15-inning marathon win at Atlanta on the final day of the regular season was not only the longest game in the young history of our team, but a perfect illustration that you can’t predict this game and that, on any given day or night, baseball’s least-winningest team can beat anyone.

Throughout the wonderful seven-game streak that ended the season, the Nationals battled every game and vanquished two teams that had dominated them most of the season in the Mets and Braves. The pitching and defense were solid, the hitting was timely and the wins came because the Nats didn’t beat themselves.

Jim Riggleman deserves a lot of credit for managing the second half of the season just nine games under .500 and for getting a last-place team to play better and become a headache for every opponent.

Detroit’s Alan Trammel did the same kind of job with the young Tigers in ‘03; then they were in the World Series three years later. Jim Leyland came in and took over that team and took it to the next level, and that might happen with our team; and Riggleman may be the solid baseball man who can do that.

2009 had its share of great moments, like Ryan Zimmerman’s 30-game hitting streak, Adam Dunn’s 300th home run, the arrival and spark of Nyjer Morgan, the return of guile and class with Livan, the complete games of John Lannan and his success against New York teams, the debut of Ian Desmond, and the walkoff grand slam from Justin Maxwell in our home farewell.

These are moments and accomplishments to savor, but with every season comes tough times as well.

Jordan Zimmermann’s career was derailed by Tommy John surgery; Austin Kearns’ year was ruined by injury (and I’m pretty sure he was more hurt than he ever let on); we said goodbye to Nick Johnson and other friends who departed the club; and we got the news during the All-Star break that Manny wasn’t coming back.

I will think back on ‘09 and remember the inspiration of Josh Willingham, playing through his heartbreak and performing brilliantly with the bat, especially the night in Milwaukee when his two grand slams left Miller Park. He’s back home now in Alabama and dealing with the loss of his kid brother, and his family still needs our thoughts and prayers.

I’m back home in Oklahoma with my family and, because of what Josh went through, I find myself treasuring those special moments with my girls, thanking God they’re safe, healthy and happy. I wish the same for you, my special Nats friends, and look forward to again spending spring, summer and fall evenings with you on MASN.

And maybe, just maybe, next October we’ll have a reason to stick around the ballpark a little longer...