About a month ago, I found myself at Reagan National Airport talking baseball during March Madness. My fellow bar patrons gathered around the television sets with pints in hand, agonizing over the first round of their bracket selections. It was during that time that a few of us faithful broke off into our own conversation about baseball.
Here I was, stuck - caught between a Cardinals fan and a guy who claimed that we was simply a fan of the game. Do I admit I was born and raised in Wrigleyville or do I steer clear of that bullet and talk Nationals? After covering the team for two season (2012 will be my third), there comes a certain point in time when you realize you can talk about a team that you didn't grow up with and still have the same amount of gusto when sharing that team's story, so I went with the Nats as my conversation bit.
The best part is that I never even had to bring up the Nats in the first place. Being in D.C. was all the trigger these guys needed to spark a conversation about one of baseball's most exciting, up-and-coming clubs.
The puzzle pieces plotted from the ground up are proving to be something of a victory in the book general manager Mike Rizzo and his front office cohorts. According to my new-found baseball friends at Reagan National, I discovered first-hand where the Nats stand in the current state of baseball pop culture. The Cardinals fan told me flat-out that he was more excited to watch the Nats this year than his beloved Redbirds. At first, I thought this guy was a fluke of nature but upon further review I realized he wasn't.
Last summer, I wrote a guest blog for Nationals Buzz that described in detail why an article in 2002's Baseball Almanac, written by Michael Aubrecht, deemed the 27-time World Series Champion New York Yankees "America's Team."
According to Aubrecht, America's Team should be "a competitive franchise with legendary players, championship titles and a logo that is recognized around the world as an American icon for winning. Finally, it should be a team that stays true to its roots, its city, and its fans. That's 'America's Team.'"
At the moment, popular culture dictates that the Yankees are "America's Team." The interesting thing is that there might be a shift in that motion. That's not to say that the Yankees will be dethroned and the baseball space/time continuum will realign itself, but the changes the 2012 Nats have put to practice are possible precursors to some major changes.
There was a piece in Chicago Magazine in March that brought up the topic as well:
"I'd rather root for the Royals, Nationals, or Marlins this year than the Cubs or Sox," Jonathan Eig wrote. "Those teams have new players worth watching, some works in progress that should be interesting to follow."
ABC News ran an online article last week, going so far as to name the Nationals as America's Team:
"So it is that the Washington Nationals seemed destined to be the team America loves to mock if not hate. And since 2005, when a foreign franchise (Montreal) moved and revived a losing tradition of baseball in a district that isn't a state, people have paid to be among the mockers: Home crowds have notoriously rooted for out-of-towners, Nationals Park thick with Phillies' red or Cubs' blue.
"Yet something else is happening in the nation's capital this spring. The Nationals are actually expected to be good. They're likable. Maybe even trendy."
The 2012 Nats are being talked about. All over. And it's not just bad stuff like injury-ridden star players or 100-loss seasons. Could it be? Are the Nats finally making a name for themselves on the big stage?
Rachel Levitin blogs about the Nationals for We Love DC, and will be sharing her observations about baseball in the nation's capital 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.