Mark Hornbaker: You never know what will happen at a game

Like most Washington Nationals fans, I also get a little frustrated when the Nats struggle to win ballgames. I actually have friends that don’t quite understand why I keep renewing my season tickets year after year. When they ask me why I keep doing it, I answer quickly: I do it because you never know when you may witness a little bit of D.C. baseball history.

I believe the ballgame is more than just the winning and losing of the game. It is more about what you may see at the game. You never know what ballplayer may make an unassisted triple play like Washington Senators shortstop Ron Hansen did on July 30, 1968. I have a feeling the 5,937 fans that attended the ball game between the Senators and the Cleveland Indians at Cleveland Stadium were glad they were at the game to witness the first unassisted triple play in the majors in 61 years, and at the time it was only the eighth time in major league history.

Washington D.C., baseball history can happen right in front of you and you may not be aware it happened for many years. I am sure the fans that attended the game between the Chicago White Sox and Senators at Griffith Stadium on August 7, 1915, did not know at the time they witnessed the major league debut of a future Hall of Famer. Well, they did when Sam “Man O’ War” Rice made his major league debut as a relief pitcher at 25.

Of course, there are times you know you are watching history being made on the diamond. I am pretty sure that on June 8, 2011, everyone in the sellout crowd at Nationals Park who witnessed Stephen Strasburg’s major league debut knew they were watching history being made in front of their eyes. I want to think 104 years earlier, on Aug. 2, 1907, the fans and players knew they witnessed something very special when Walter Johnson made his debut against Ty Cobb and the rest of the Detroit Tigers.

During Johnson’s debut, the powerful Tigers were only able to manage five hits off the 19-year-old rookie, but it was enough to beat the Senators 3-2. The young pitcher might not have won the game, but he sure did leave some lasting impressions with Ty Cobb, who managed to log a bunt single. Said Cobb:

“On August 2, 1907, I encountered the most threatening sight I ever saw in the ball field. He was only a rookie, and we licked our lips as we warmed up for the first game of a doubleheader in Washington. Evidently, manager Pongo Joe Cantillon of the Nats had picked a rube out of the cornfields of the deepest bushes to pitch against us. ... He was a tall, shambling galoot of about twenty with arms so long they hung far out of his sleeves and with a side arm delivery that looked unimpressive at first glance. ... One of the Tigers imitated a cow mooing and we hollered at Cantillon: ‘Get the pitchfork ready, Joe - your hayseed’s on his way back to the barn.’ ... The first time I faced him I watched him take that easy windup-and then something went past me that made me flinch. The thing just hissed with danger. We couldn’t touch him. ... Every one of us knew we’d met the most powerful arm ever turned loose in a ball park.”

So the next time you have the opportunity to attend a Nats game at Nationals Park I suggest you go and keep track of the young ballplayers who may be making their major league debut. I also suggest you do not leave your seat too often, because you never know when Danny Espinosa or Ian Desmond may make the next unassisted triple play.

Mark Hornbaker blogs about the Nats at Nationals Daily News and shares his views on baseball in D.C. as part of’s season-long initiative to welcome guest bloggers to out 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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