Ted Leavengood: Seeking 2.75 million heroes for 2013

There was a point several months ago, before games against Atlanta became object lessons in what the Washington Nationals have failed to master. It was opening day, when last night’s game was projected to be a key matchup between the key contenders for the NL East title.

On that cool April day, Stephen Strasburg pitched seven shutout innings and Bryce Harper hit two home runs as the Nationals started the season with a 2-0 win against the Marlins. The beginnings seemed auspicious enough and certainly foretold big seasons for the two heroes of so many Nationals fans - Strasburg and Harper.

Yet, in the intervening weeks and months Strasburg has managed to win only five games, barely one for every month of the season. Harper, who looked on pace to hit more than 30, maybe 40 home runs, has but 16 now. For both of them, there are heroics to come, more multi-homer games for Harper, more shutouts for Strasburg. But the shining moments of the 2013 season and its heroes, have begun to lose their glimmer.

Heroes are hard to find now as the dog days of August begin. Ryan Zimmerman is hitting .275, but has only 12 home runs and 54 RBIs. Adam LaRoche has 16 homers, but a batting average of .234. Jordan Zimmermann has been one of the few heroic presences on the team, perhaps the only player who took his game to a higher level in 2013 - 13 wins, with probably 10 more starts left in the season.

When you are looking for the heroes of Washington baseball, the most remarkable statistic for the Washington Nationals baseball club is its attendance. Washington is on pace to draw 2.724 million fans for the 2013 season. The team is 11th overall in attendance. That may seem like nothing exemplary until you look at another number.

The best attendance that the Washington Nationals have seen in their short life was 2,731,993 fans in 2005. The shimmering newness of baseball’s return brought fans to RFK Stadium in droves. The fact that the team was first in the NL East at the beginning of July did not hurt. But the two numbers are so very, very close: 2.731 the historic best, a 2.724 pace this season. Excellence is still within our grasp.

Is it possible that the 2013 season that started out with such high hopes still has a chance to become memorable in the short term, not for the team’s performance or stumbles in achieving it, but for the number of fans that continue to believe in them?

What Washington fans are proving is that even the hint of winning will bring them out in record numbers. The hope that the 2012 season would be repeated has given rise to what could be a record-setting attendance figure.

What would it take to push the number over the top? What does the rest of the season have to look like to get the current pace just that little bit higher so as to push the greatest number of fans in franchise history through the new electronic turnstiles?

Will it take a few extra bobbleheads? Does it need a winning streak in August? A few wins against Atlanta? It could be a memorable season for fans. We’re talking some very serious Natitude, record-setting Natitude in fact.

Ted Leavengood is author of “Clark Griffith, The Old Fox of Washington Baseball,” released in June 2011. He serves as managing editor of the popular Seamheads.com national baseball blog and co-hosts with Chip Greene the “Outta the Parkway” Internet radio show. 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.

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