The Yahoo! baseball blog Big League Stew ran a series this spring The 10 best things about being a _____ fan. For the Washington Nationals, my friend MissChatter was selected, go and read her responses.
List-making is easy blogging, so I thought I’d list my 10 things about being a Nats fan…
1. WE GOTTA TEAM AGAIN (and no DH)
When I was a kid, I’d go to one exhibition game a year at RFK Stadium and that was it for baseball in D.C. I lamented that I couldn’t just get on my bicycle, bike down to the Orange Line and ride into a game on a weekend afternoon. The oversight of not having the “national pastime in the nation’s capital” was a tough one. After all those years of waiting, it was wonderful to get on Metro and see some lots of Washington hats on the way to a game. It was one of the few things greater D.C. needed. I’m completely in the tank for this team for a long time just because they are here.
Also, I’m so glad we got a National League team, I dislike the DH. Also, I don’t have the conflict of them facing the Yankees more than 3 years. They are my AL team because my mom worked for them back in the day. Her dad was born and raised on 161 Street, South Bronx, too.
2. An ascendant team
Year 1 was more exciting than anticipated with the Nats starting 50-31 before reversing course and ending 31-50 in the second half. Then, a series of declining seasons (with the exception of 2007 somehow) before bottoming out with 100+ loses in 2008 and 2009. Since then, about 10 more wins a season and a boat load of prospects arriving or on the way. The Nats didn’t plan to be so horrible, but took advantage of it when they did, aggressively drafting and signing prospects over slot. Also, they got Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper in successive drafts at #1. Strasburg is already here and performing well, Harper can’t be far behind. A few good trades and free agent acquisitions later and we have a team on the brink of contending or at least bringing DC its first winning team since 1969.
3. Mr. Walkoff
Ryan Zimmerman has won the Gold Glove and been the Silver Slugger at third base. The first draft pick since baseball returned to D.C., Zimmerman debuted in September of that year and has been a regular ever since. Those contributions, plus his quiet leadership and subtle sense of humor would be enough but he brings something else…game-ending home runs. Since 2006, he has ended a Nats game with a homer at least once a season. Father’s Day 2006 against the Yankees. July 4 later that year. Last year against the Phillies, but most memorably on Opening Night at Nationals Park, March 31, 2008.
4. Stephen Strasburg
Strasburg’s debut in June 2010 was the most electric atmosphere I’ve every experienced in person. That curve ball will do it to you, even more than the triple-digit fastball. “Early” Tommy John surgery has hopefully only delayed his rise as a dominant ace. His restrained confidence is also a refreshing contribution to the changing fortunes of the team.
5. Nationals Park
The ballpark that convinced MLB to grudgingly move the Expos here has all the amenities we’ve come to expect in a park, not too mention Capitol dome and Washington Monument views from certain sections. The food is great (more about that later) and it plays pretty fair, maybe a little pitcher friendly. There are several ways to get there Metro, car, bicycle, even by boat
It falls short of iconic though which may seem like a problem to the Buck Showalters of the world, but by being merely really good instead of great, the front office has to work to keep the general interest by having a competitive team. Having breathtaking parks in Pittsburgh and Baltimore has resulted in exactly 0 pennants combined for those cities. DC seems closer than either of those to flying one soon.
6. Good looking caps and red, white and blue
Prior to the team’s arrival, I thought the interlocking DC was going to be the way to go, but after seeing those curly W caps I had a change of heart. The recycled Senators cap isn’t overdone like a lot of expansion era caps. Also, after a few years with decent, but expansion-like uniforms, the Nats have a sharp looking set now. The two-tone headspoon on the home and alternate curly W jerseys is unique but not overbearing. The number on the right breast needs to be moved up or removed completely, but otherwise a strong look. The script Washington on the roadies is the best away uniform any DC team has ever worn. One quibble — the two-tone cap looks like the Braves, go solid blue or red and be done with it. Also, the red, white and blue uniforms got the ball rolling for the Capitals and Wizards to return to the appropriate DC colors.
7. Charlie Slowes and Dave Jageler on the radio
Slowes arrived in year 1, Jageler the next season. The pair, along with their engineer the “jack of all things” Jack Hicks have outstanding banter between each other. They treat the game with respect, but not too seriously. They, especially Slowes, are the voices of the Nats in ways that the TV guys never will be. They deserve the team’s rise as much as anyone, they had a tough job trying to keep some of those awful Nats teams interesting. It appears their long-time pancakes ads have gone away though.
8. Racing Presidents
The D.C. take on middle innings races has the 4 presidents from Mt. Rushmore refereed to as George (Washington) Tom (Jefferson), Abe (Lincoln) and Teddy (Roosevelt). The whole Teddy never wins schtick is getting tired, but every now and then it still has an inspired race. Or at least a controversial one where an underachieving rightfielder stages a coup. A great blog Let Teddy Win came out of it too. Goofy fun, though I’d hardly call it the main event.
9. Ben’s Chili Bowl Half-Smokes
One of the things that was done right from the start at Nationals Park was including the legendary U Street eatery a part of the concessions. The half-smoke all the way (mustard, chili, onions) paired with a beer is a glorious mess. No other ballpark (or city) has it either. The rest of the food options (Hard Times Cafe, Shake Shack, Blue Smoke) are apparently pretty good too, but I stick to Ben’s.
10. June 2005
To paraphrase Hunter S. Thompson, it was
“the kind of peak that never comes again. RFK Stadium in the early summer of 2005 was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long…no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant. . . .that sense of inevitable victory over the past failures and absences…with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark — that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.
It turned out July 4, 2005 was where the wave finally broke. They Nats won the next day, but began a slide they only truly started to emerge from in June 2011 when they won 10 or 11 and started approaching .500 for the season. They feel half a game short.
That’s my top 10, how about yours?