Stephen Walker: A lifetime of waiting ends in rejoicing

To those born after 1971, this is how it was supposed to be in Washington all along. Enjoy it to the fullest.

To those who remember the Senators, the sadness of September 30, 1971 is now gone. Forever. Let it go. Let peace wash over you. Rest in peace, Robert E. Short and all those who allowed the National Pastime to depart the nation’s capital.

The Washington Nationals are the 2012 National League East Division Champions.

Say it again and again until joy fills your heart.

No one, no owner, no commissioner, no umpire can take this title away. It belongs to the Washington Nationals. It belongs to the city of Washington, the best darn baseball town in America in my book. It belongs to us, the fans who suffered through seven long seasons and more than 700 losses (including this season’s 64, which feel like 0 today.)

Savor it. Relive it, until it washes away every single one of those defeats. Until every one of those 33 seasons of rainouts and off-days feel like just a moment in time.

Those of you who bought season tickets in 2005 and never let them go - Congratulations. You never lost faith, and it has been rewarded. Something tells me, you are going to have a lot of company next year.

What a moment. What a night.

Only one thing mixes sadness with the joy. On July 15, 1969, my father took me to my first baseball game in RFK Stadium. President Richard Nixon was there. Tim Cullen hit a home run. The Senators won.

I never got the chance to return the favor. My father died in 1995, a decade too early to enjoy baseball’s return. Ten years too soon for me to take him, with his three grandchildren, to RFK and Nationals Park to watch baseball in D.C. again. Given the far too long gap in baseball in Washington, D.C., many Nats’ fans likely share this story and felt that same tinge of sadness I feel as the city celebrates around me.

Fittingly, my dad was born and raised in Altoona, Pennsylvania. He grew up a Pittsburgh Pirates fan, taking the steam train to Forbes Field with his brothers. Somehow, I think you were helping out those Buccos last night. Thanks, Dad. I miss you today more than I have in a long time.

And now some thank yous. Thank you to every single person connected to the 2012 Washington Nationals, especially every man who donned the uniform this season. Whether you are still on the roster or not, you helped make this moment happen. You are worthy champions, indeed.

Kudos to Davey Johnson and his wonderful job leading a team that knew only sub-.500 finishes to become division champions. Don’t worry about getting fired this time, Davey. When, not if, you win Manager of the Year this season, something tells me Mike Rizzo isn’t going to fire you. Not after this season. Not in this lifetime.

A huge thank you to Rizzo as well. The Nationals’ general manager built a winner from the ashes of the mess Jim Bowden left him. Through excellent drafts and scouting, shrewd trades, and the signing of key veteran free agents - Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche and Edwin Jackson - who taught the young Nats how to win, Rizzo has forged a formidable, excellent team.

“Mazel Tov” to the Lerner family. All of you stayed the course in the face of relentless, often unfair criticism. You committed to building a team that, once it got good, had every chance of staying good. You solidified baseball’s future in Washington with your commitment to the city, the ballpark, the surrounding area and, most importantly, the fans. Tonight is your reward. May it be the first of many.

And, finally, heartfelt thanks to my fellow Nationals fans, especially those, like Jim Hartley, David Gough and Tom Holster of the Washington Baseball Historical Society, who kept the embers of baseball glowing for all the long years we suffered without it. Their faith, their passion, their perseverance helped bring the best game in the world back to the capital of the free world. They are the unsung heroes who helped make today possible.

So, Nationals fans young and old, rejoice. Last night is our night. Forever. A Curly W division title is in the books. Forever.

The 2012 Washington Nationals are champions of the NL East. Forever. O, happy day!

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’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 but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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