Rachel Levitin: Growing up with the Nats, new extended family

Nationals fans watch the team's hiccups as they happen. Those hiccups are what make Washington baseball worth cheering for from the stands of Nationals Park. It's that whole underdog thing the north side of Chicago knows so well - minus the Billy Goat and alleged curse. Kind of.

I feel obligated to admit that I grew up five minutes, walking, from Wrigley Field. Ever since I can remember, my late father would take me to Wrigley all the time. And, when he didn't, we passed that ivy-covered baseball sanctuary from our station wagon passenger seat windows on our way to school or while running errands.

There was a time during high school when my dad would buy a just one game ticket - not for himself, but for me. He'd even surprise me after school with a ticket and say, "I'm sorry to hear you're tired. What I'm going to do with this Cubs ticket then?"

Baseball, to me, is the one constant through all my years. How's that for a hat tip to "Field of Dreams"?

As someone who has grown up a fan of the game, I can attribute my happiest childhood memories to being at a ballpark. The (old) Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park, the new Comiskey Park, U.S. Cellular Field, Wrigley Field, Louisville Slugger Park - I've seen some of the most traditional ballparks in the game. But there's still something special about the memories I've gained from my time watching the Nationals at RFK Stadium and Nationals Park.

My dad took me to my first Nationals game at RFK in June 2005 after my college orientation session at American University. That's why I like to think both the Nationals and I have grown up together.

I stopped to think about this at the start of this season. It's true - I've been watching Nationals games longer than Ryan Zimmerman has been in the starting lineup. That makes me smile.

If it weren't for the Nationals, I probably would not have chosen American University as my college of choice and probably would not have moved to the District. At 18, I refused to attend school in a city that didn't have Major League Baseball. It just didn't seem right to live somewhere of my choosing for the next four (plus) years of my life and not have easy access to a ballpark.

But, luckily, baseball returned to Washington for the Nats' inaugural season in 2005.

There's something I've noticed about baseball in Washington that the Nationals' community at-large should be proud of: There is a gigantic extended family of Nationals fans in this city that are head over heels for their team.

They're a summer family that plays house with each other all year long. They are some of the most welcoming individuals you'd expect to meet at a ballgame and they just so happen to love talking stats or about the latest player to make game-day headlines for a high-fly homer or shutout.

Last summer was my first summer as a credentialed, online-only media member covering Major League Baseball and the Nationals. During that time, my love for the sport and for summer grew more than I thought was possible. That is due in part to the family of Nats fans who embraced me as a voice in their community at the ballpark.

Here's to another great season together.

Rachel Levitin blogs about the Nationals for We Love D.C., and will be sharing her observations about her adopted team this week as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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