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IMHO: Nationals provide chance to cheer

  • Greg Fennell. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Sports Editor
Published: 10/19/2019 10:18:26 PM
Modified: 10/19/2019 10:21:14 PM

I was caught this week by a headline for an online story by The Washington Post’s television critic. It compared a show he was reviewing to a newspaper column: sweet, self-centered and nauseating.

With that in mind, prepare to be ill. I’m a Washington Nationals fan.

To be one, and to be one of my age, is to come from odd circumstances. I have vague memories of the second-coming Senators, who moved to Texas when I was about 8 years old. I went to a game or two at RFK Stadium, but my most lasting memory is an old game program that lacked a cover but had a large picture of slugger Frank Howard in it. An old pennant remains buried somewhere in my basement.

I have less vague recollections of the Baltimore Orioles. Memorial Stadium was about an hour’s drive from my Maryland home, so my family occasionally traveled to games, and we all became fans, of a sort. Classes in elementary school sometimes ended early in autumn so teachers could put the O’s playoff games on TV for the kids to watch. My mother liked Jim Palmer, as much for his Jockey ads as his pitching acumen. But, for me, it wasn’t the same without Washington across the front of the jersey.

What I remember most of Washington, baseball and growing up is nothing. Thirty-three years of it, in fact. The Senators’ departure robbed kids (and adults) in and around the nation’s capital of the national pastime.

You never really know what you missed until you finally get it back.

As with the demise of the Montreal Expos, who became my beloved Nationals 14 years ago, I blame Major League Baseball for Washington’s baseball history. MLB allowed carpetbagger Bob Short to own the second-edition Senators. He spent very little money on the team, made very little effort to make it successful and eventually packed it up for the Lone Star State, trying to pass Washington off as a failed baseball town in the process.

After that, MLB owners used the city as a bargaining chip to get better ballpark deals in their own homes. Houston, San Diego and San Francisco were all rumored to be moving to D.C. at some point. In fact, the talk of the Padres heading back east became so certain, one baseball card company did two sets for the team one year: One said “Padres,” the other said “Washington N.L.”

Washington is in the National League now and will represent it in the World Series starting on Tuesday night. The Nats will be seeking to win the city’s first championship since the original Senators in 1924. The last time a Washington team played in a World Series was — wait for it, Red Sox fans — 86 years ago, in 1933.

These Nats and those ’04 Sox have a few similarities. Both owned formidable top-of-the-rotation starting pitching. Both had speed for the basepaths that they didn’t often employ. Dave Roberts’ ninth-inning stolen base set into motion Boston’s unlikely script-flip ALCS rally past the hated Yankees. As Los Angeles Dodgers manager, Roberts’ late-inning refusal to shred the script — employing Clayton Kershaw as a reliever despite his declining performance — opened the door for Washington’s game 5 NLDS miracle comeback and the ongoing winning streak that’s propelled the Nats to this World Series.

Taken a step further, these Nationals bear some resemblance to the ones (dressed as Senators) who won it all in ’24. As D.C. baseball historian (and former Valley News reporter) Frederic Frommer noted in the Post earlier this month, both teams erased 3-1 eighth-inning deficits in elimination games, eventually winning in extra innings. Those victories both featured efforts by two-loss starting pitchers who gained redemption out of the bullpen in the deciding fixture — Walter Johnson then, Patrick Corbin now. Both were “due” to make the Series as rare franchises that hadn’t to that point.

As of this typing, the city to which the Nationals will travel to open the Series isn’t known. Whether it’s Houston or New York, the ALCS champion will be favored. Whatever.

Three-plus decades without baseball allowed me to focus my sports interests on other things, like hockey, soccer and lacrosse. Football was life back then, too; Washington (and my family) fully rallied behind a certain NFL franchise that shall go nameless here, as much for its racist nickname as its incompetent current management. I think I’m a more well-rounded sports fan for not having had baseball in my life as a kid.

I’m all for it now. Not simply because the Washington Nationals are four wins from a championship. It’s for the fact that, many years later and many miles away, I’m getting the chance to enjoy the best that baseball has to offer to my former hometown after having no chance to embrace it for most of my life.

Maybe that’s sweet. It’s certainly self-centered. I’ll try not to make you sick this week.

Greg Fennell, most likely wearing one of his Nationals or Senators T-shirts, can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.




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