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Last night, when the final out was recorded and the Washington Nationals were officially in the World Series, I have to admit it did not at first feel real.
It was sort of like when the Washington Capitals finally won the Stanley Cup. You knew in both situations the two teams were going to eventually win since they had such overwhelming leads. The only question was would it be that particular night, or postponed until the next game.
When it finally happened, it was more relief than celebration.
It wasn’t until after watching all the dancing, champagne-dousing and hearing all the interviews that it finally sunk in: This team will be playing in a World Series here in DC. God-willing, I will be at one of the games and see it in person with my wife.
I suppose it’s like anything you look forward to for a long time, you come close, but you never actually get over the hump. Following DC sports in and of itself is a frustrating venture; the Caps and Nats have always been like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football, only to have Lucy pull it away at the last second year after year after year.
Last night, she didn’t. She apparently fell asleep like she did in Game 5 between the Caps and Las Vegas last year. It made me a little emotional, not because a favorite team finally won (OK, maybe a little of it was because the Nats finally won), but because it had me reminiscing about all the people I’ve met and known over the years who wanted to see this so badly, and are no longer here to witness it.
Baseball fans are an interesting lot. I’m a Washington Sports fan and will pull for any team in any sport that has “Washington” on its jersey. If I have a preference, it’s football, but overall, I just want to see the local team do well.
My lifelong buddy Tim, conversely, is a seamhead, and typical of a serious baseball fan. They live for baseball and will even watch batting practice on television just to see someone apply a bat to a ball. He’s not unique either, as since the team came here in 2005, I’ve sat with dozens of people in the stands at either RFK or Nats Park who intensely love the game, appreciate its history, and in many cases shared that love with their fathers, who handed down that passion in the first place.
My earliest memories of Tim talking about going to a World Series game in DC was back when we were in college at Virginia Tech over 40 years ago. We were watching the Washington Bullets win an NBA title (our running joke is if we had known they were never going to win another one in our lifetimes, we’d have paid more attention) and he mentioned one day we’d cheer on a baseball team to a World Series title. In person.
The fact there was no team in Washington at the time did not appear to be troublesome to Tim. We’d lost the Senators to Minnesota when we were 4. We’d lost the Senators again to Texas when we were teenagers. Another team would come at some time in the future. When it did, that team would make it to the World Series, and we said we’d be there to see it.
Ryan Zimmerman still being part of all this probably also added to the emotion. I found myself thinking of a line drive game-winning home run he hit at RFK one Father’s Day to beat the Yankees; or a freezing night on the first regular-season game played at Nats Park where he walked off the Braves, or sitting through several 59-win seasons watching him while the notion of a World Series seemed a million miles away.
Zim, as the song goes, has seen Fire and Rain. But there he was, jumping around like a little kid. The dream finally got realized and his body held up long enough to get on the ride one more time.
It’s not that different with many of us fans either. I was in my 40s sitting in those old seats at RFK that first season. I’m in my 60s now. I hope I have many more chances to see the Nats play, but the awareness that the number of chances left does have a declining shelf life is not totally lost on me.
So now we wait for a week to start. If you’re a Nats fan, you worry, and I’m worried if the layoff will hurt the team’s momentum, cool off the bats, give the pitchers too much rest, etc.
But there’s one thing I won’t be worrying about, and that concerns whether the Nats will ever play in a World Series. They will.
Because no matter how I felt after the last out, it's real.
And it's spectacular.