Last week, against all common sense, I tuned my radio to a sports talk station. The host, supposedly a native of Rockville who claimed he knew the area, added his voice to the ad nauseum discussion of the pending end of Stephen Strasburg’s brilliant 2012 season.
His point: Nationals fans have been supportive of general manager Mike Rizzo’s decision on Strasburg because “D.C. just isn’t a baseball town.” He claimed “real” baseball fans - like those in New York, St. Louis and Boston -would be struck apoplectic at such a decision and stage a sports talk radio-induced palace revolt on Rizzo’s office.
While I reject his opinion, Washington baseball fans are intelligent, reasonable folks, and the more than 40 combined World Series championships the three other cities have enjoyed over the years have more to do with their passion for baseball than any other trait, his comments sparked a question in my mind: Why do I love baseball in Washington?
Sure, I’m loving this season of intriguing stories and memorable performances as the Nats arrive as a National League force a year earlier than expected. But I have also enjoyed attending games the past seven seasons when, except for the first half of 2005, the club struggled.
The memories I witnessed are palpable and lifelong: the first home game in D.C. in 33 seasons; Chad Cordero’s 20th save in June 2005; Jesus Flores’ walk-off double to beat the Marlins; RFK’s final game, a victory over the hated Phillies; Ryan Zimmerman’s opening night at Nationals Park; walk-off wins over the Angels and Cardinals; Jordan Zimmermann mowing down the Red Sox on my birthday; Stephen Strasburg’s debut; Wilson Ramos’ walk-off home run to complete the Nats’ comeback from a 5-1 deficit with two outs in the ninth; Gio Gonzalez shining on opening day this season; Edwin Jackson’s recent gem to beat a fine Cardinals team. My list is long and sweet. I’ll bet yours is, too.
And yet, the victories and great individual performances aren’t really what I most appreciate. Wins are great. But beyond results, the sense of community and togetherness baseball engenders is what makes the game beautiful, a treasure to cherish now that we have it back again.
Even more, though, is the opportunity for personal connections that baseball gives each of us. My father took me to three or four Washington Senators games each season, the first in 1969. After Bob Short crassly and unfairly moved the team to Texas, my dream was to one day, when I was a grown up, take my dad to a baseball game in D.C. I never fulfilled that dream. My father died in 1995, a decade too early.
I have, though, enjoyed many other fine personal memories - taking my first-born son to opening night and, later that season, my mother to her first baseball game in more than 50 years to celebrate her birthday; watching games with my entire family; reconnecting with friends from high school and college, two of whom I met in 1974; and seeing Jim Hartley, president of the Washington Baseball Historical Society, who, more than any other person, made my book on the 1969 Senators possible with the relationships he maintained with that wonderful team’s players and coaches.
These moments, whether victory or loss, make baseball in Washington beautiful. Sitting with family and friends in a gorgeous ballpark, the afternoon sun mixed with a cooling breeze, or a full moon lighting the sky over the right field grandstand, the capitol dome shimmering on a clear summer night - these moments of connected relaxation are sublime.
Since baseball returned, those of us in the D.C. Metro area have had more than 600 games to enjoy in our capital city, the vanguard of the free world, and, for my money, the best darn baseball town on the globe.
Enjoy September in Washington; and see you this year (and beyond) at Nationals Park!
Stephen Walker blogs about the Nationals at District on Deck and is the author of “A Whole New Ballgame: The 1969 Washington Senators” (Pocol Press, 2009). His work appears here as part of MASNsports.com’s effort to welcome guest bloggers to our little corner of the Internet. 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.