With NatsFest coming up this Saturday, this seems like a good time to celebrate the fan experience and the many paths to NatsTown. Some came through the Washington Senators, enduring the long 33+ year drought after September 30, 1971. Those years were cruel … in 1974 the Padres got close enough to relocating from San Diego for D.C. that the Topps company produced baseball cards that said "Washington." They are collector's items now. In the 1980’s fans deposited over $9 million (in 1980’s dollars!), the equivalent of over 15,000 season tickets, in support of the "Baseball in ‘87" drive. To no avail. Washington was one of six finalists for expansion in 1993, but lost out to Denver and Miami.
In 1995 a local developer reached a tentative deal to buy the Astros, but the deal fell through when the city of Houston agreed to build a publicly funded stadium. When baseball expanded again in 1998, DC made the final four, but lost out to Phoenix and Tampa.
Suffice it to say that the feelings of these fans were running deep when the Nationals came to town on April 14, 2005 (after MLB, in one last thumb-in-the-eye, had the Nationals open their inaugural season with a nine game road trip).
But others found different ways to NatsTown. Local baseball fans, too young to have memories of the Senators were left to find other teams to follow before being pulled in by the undeniable force that is the Nationals. Others were brought to baseball by the amazing opening run of the Nationals’ 2005 squad, a ragtag group of overachieving players led by an irascible Hall of Fame manager that sprinted out to an unlikely 51-30 record before fading to an 81-81 finish. More fans came in later.
At first a trickle during the years of bad baseball. I have friends who converted to the Nats from other teams during these years, turned by bringing their kids to the ballpark and seeing the Nats through eyes of their children. And that trickle became a flood as the Nationals began their rise from 80-81 in 2011 to the 98-64 NL East Champion 2012 team.
But no matter the path, each of us found our own way to the Nationals. As we look out the windows at the coldest January in years and years, waiting for Spring, this seems like a good time for storytelling. So … how did you get here? What was your journey to Nats Town?
Oh, all right. I’ll go first. :-)
Go figure, a guy named "d_c_guy" was born in Washington DC. I’ve lived my whole life in the DC area, moving between the District, MD and VA. But although I had just turned ten when the Senators played their final game I have no memory of them at all. Neither of my parents are baseball fans, and so the game had no presence in our lives when we were growing up. That changed when my twin brother and I were given Sports Illustrated Baseball, a dice based board game. We played it all. the. time. We were hooked, even creating our own characters and playing full seasons worth of games, keeping stats. We even picked up the actual game. My brother and I had been throwing things at each other for years, but now we picked up baseballs and began throwing them at each other. After playing Little League ball and a brief flirtation with high school baseball, I took it back up as an adult and have played in local leagues since the late 1980’s. From April through October, when I’m not watching baseball I’m likely to be playing.
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But even as a kid I was more nerd than athlete. Being nerds, our new obsession affected our reading habits; we devoured baseball history. And if you are reading baseball history, you can’t escape the New York Yankees. So we became Yankee fans (a condition shared by other Nats fans – looking at you, jbg2772). Despite the fact that the Yankees were terrible, being DC natives we weren’t going to root for a Baltimore team even if that team was the class of the AL East at the time. It’s hard to believe now, but the Orioles won the World Series in 1970, won the AL pennant in 1969 and 1971, and won the AL East in 1973 and 1974 – as Casey Stengel would say, you can look it up. The O’s did make inroads into the DC area, so after living under the overbearing thumb of Orioles’ fans for years my brother and I were overjoyed when Chris Chambliss hit the walkoff home run that propelled the Yankees to the 1976 World Series. We hollered until our Dad (still not a baseball fan) came downstairs and told us to pipe down. I have many great memories of seeing the Yankees play, first at Shea Stadium, then at Yankee Stadium, along with occasional trips to Baltimore to see them there. Along the way I got to watch the team that I rooted for win 11 pennants and seven World Series titles. I even got to meet a lot of the guys I cheered for, attending Yankee Fantasy Camp in January 2002.
But it’s not rooting for a home town team, the day in and day out pulse of a following a team that plays iin your neighborhood from Spring Training until the light fades in the Fall. I was one of the fans that signed up for the "Baseball in ‘87" bank accounts, and I followed all of DC’s near misses. I was stoked when the word came that the Expos were moving to DC; I got my first Nats jersey from the tractor-trailer outside of RFK stadium that was the Nationals’ first team store. And I’ve been here ever since. From "Got Wilk?" and the Chief, the amazing rise and fall of the 2005 team, through the dark years of 2006-2010 when the Nationals averaged 96 losses a year, I was there for 12-15 games a year - more once I gave up my Redskins season tickets and invested the proceeds in baseball.
I introduced my partner, the lovely E, to the Nats in 2008. The team was terrible that year, but not when we went to the games together. The Nats only lost one game that year that she attended (they lost 101 games when she didn’t). One of her first baseball games was when Wil Nieves (Wil Nieves!) hit his only home run of the year for an amazing, improbable walkoff win. She’s quieter than I am but I knew she was hooked when she turned to me during a temporary setback during the 2012 pennant race and said accusingly "this is your fault!" Now she knows that special brand of suffering and joy that comes with baseball fandom. Especially Nats fandom.
Oh, I still like the Yankees, don’t get me wrong. We have history, you know? But when push comes to shove, like the lovely E: I’m a Nats fan.
What’s your story?
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