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After A Long And Bumpy Road, The Nats Finally Win The World Series

At 11:50 PM last night, there was an old man with tears in his eyes in Ashburn, watching the ending to a baseball game.

His wife will readily tell you that old man has always been a sap, so this isn’t surprising. But when the final pitch was thrown and the Washington Nationals had won the 2019 World Series, it was hard not to get emotional.

It wasn’t so much because of the sports accomplishment, although it has been a long bumpy road watching the professional baseball teams that have represented DC finally win a title. It was more for the people I met on the journey following baseball since I was 10 who are no longer with us that would have really enjoyed the moment.

My Dad was a baseball fan, but the notion he would ever get to attend a World Series game was as remote a thought as being an astronaut and landing on the moon. My close friend Paul, who literally kidnapped me every opening day and forced me to go to Nats games with him, fantasized about the team in a World Series. We sat together on opening day of 2012, four days before his death, and all he talked about was whether this would finally be the year the Nats made the playoffs.

You should have been here, Paul.

Then there was the group of people I met at spring training in West Palm Beach in March, when after over 60 years of waiting, I finally went. They were all in their 80s, many could barely walk, but they were the Boys Of Summer, coming back every year to see their team, hoping again that this might be the year their team finally won it all.

This year it finally was.

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It's Only Taken Seven Years, But I'm Ready To Forget THAT Game

Since the Nats are in the World Series, have two wins under their belt and everyone is all cheerful and happy, I guess we can now talk about a game played in 2012.

Yes, THAT game.

If you want to rank the games from top to bottom in terms of the ones that inflicted the most pain on fans, players and coaches, it’s at the top. Numero Uno.

Game 5 of the 2012 National League Divisional Series between the Washington Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals. The game that shall never be spoken of. The game that turned Pete Kozma’s name into an obscenity for thousands of Nationals fans.

The most disappointed I’ve ever been as a sports fan.

Certainly if you follow sports long enough, you’re going to experience disappointing losses. But this one was no ordinary loss. The Nats came within one pitch – five different times – of winning the game. This wasn’t Lucy pulling the football away from Linus just as he tried to kick it. This was Lucy pulling the ball away, then stabbing Linus in the heart with a rusty icepick a dozen times while he lay helpless on the ground. Then kicking HIM.

That the game happened on a Friday night, only 24 hours after arguably the best moment ever in Nationals history - when Jayson Werth hit a 3-2 pitch after fouling off seven other offerings into the outfield stands for a walkoff, game-winning home run off the Cardinals’ Lance Lynn - just made it all sting that much worse.

I remember all this not only because this week’s World Series and that 2012 game represent the highs and lows of being a Nats fan, but also because it appears fate is smiling nicely on the only two players still with the Nats that played that night.

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While My Heart Is A Notorious Liar, It May Be Right This Time

It’s starting to get real, folks.

Last night’s 12-3 win in Game 2 of the World Series now puts us right on the line between “don’t get too excited because there are a lot more games to go” and “we just stomped them in their own park twice and are going to sweep the Astros at Nats Park this weekend.”

Common sense says stick with the former. My heart says don’t listen to your brain, the latter is going to happen. It's just a matter of when, not if.

My heart, of course, is a notorious liar if you look at its body of work throughout my life. So I’m a little afraid to follow its lead.

But it feels so right.

I will acknowledge I was scarred as a child about all this. I grew up a St. Louis Cardinal fan, because back then there were only 3 channels, the major league game of the week on NBC only showed one game on a Saturday, and it was the team that was playing the best. The Cardinals won the World Series in 1967 over the Boston Red Sox, so in 1968, they were on just about every week.

The Cardinals carried a 3-1 lead in the series into Game 5, and led at one point in the game 3-2. Back then, when we would also walk to school 5 miles in the snow, uphill, both ways, your teacher in junior high would turn on the game for the class to watch, as all games were played during the day.

I wasn’t particularly bothered when Al Kaline singled for what would be the winning runs in the 7th inning of game 5. But I was bothered when the Cards lost the next one 13-1. I then watched in horror when Curt Flood misplayed a routine fly ball in game 7 for the winning runs as Detroit completed the comeback.

But the 2019 Nationals, my heart points out, are not your father’s baseball team. They haven’t followed any rhyme or reason that would appear related to conventional wisdom this season. National media have pounded the 19-31 start to the point of obsession, but the simple truth is the team was not very good in spring training, they were not very good at the beginning of the season, and at times up until the middle of September, they showed flashes of not being all that good then as well.

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If You Got Up Early And Went To Work This AM, I Tip My Hat To You

They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Based on that, the Washington Nationals made a lot of us like the Incredible Hulk last night in Game 1 of the World Series.

Pressure certainly makes games fun, as it is the uncertainty of how it’s all going to end that makes everything interesting. But at some point the Nationals crossed from pressure to paralyzing fear in the late innings before holding on to a 5-4 win in Game 1.

Proving it was the gift that kept giving, sleep for the first hour or two was impossible after the final pitch. I guess clenching every muscle in your body and not exhaling for an hour will do that.

If you got up early and went to work this morning, I tip my hat to you.

The early part of the game when the team fell behind 2-0 was surprisingly not bothersome for me. I have watched sports for over 50 years, and every now and then you see a team like the Nationals. They become a different group late in the season, they win a couple of games they shouldn’t, and that starts becoming the rule instead of the exception.

Observers like the Fox broadcast crew, who provoked me several times into thinking “have they even watched the Nats this season?” don’t get that. They will look at a snapshot of the team at some point during the regular season, and don’t understand that the team in May, July or even the first of September is not the same team that the Nats are now.

This team shakes off adversity. The old players know things will change. The young players are probably too young to worry about it. So when it was 2-0, I felt strongly this team was going to score at least 5 runs before the 7th inning, because they have for the last two weeks. The team that would watch a starter pitch a gem while only getting 2 hits and not scoring any runs has turned into Elvis, and left the building.

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This May Be The Game That Turns Things Around For The Hokies

If you’re a long-time watcher of Hokie athletics, there’s one premise you eventually learn: you will have good times and bad, but in the end, the Hokies will always break your heart.

This particularly applies to the historically tight games that go back and forth, where either team could make a play and win. Hokie history is filled with tales of sorrow in losing these narrow games when there were at least 2 or 3 moments where victory could be rescued from the jaws of defeat.

Such was Saturday’s game at Lane Stadium with North Carolina. Five times I prepared myself for the fact VT was going to lose. Six times I got my hopes up that instead, the Hokies would win.

Seven times I just thought they were trying to kill me.

When the dust cleared, Virginia Tech pulled it out and won 43-41 in SIX – count ‘em – SIX overtimes.

The game could end up being the proverbial fork in the road for Fuente and this team. It had all the things the great teams of the past had, with players battling through injuries and making big plays; the crowd turning electric, shouting until they were hoarse; the defense coming up with a big stop at just the moment it was desperately needed, and when all looked lost, the Hokies somehow found a way to win.

The whispers that Fuente may not be the guy to lead the Hokies hasn’t been subtle the last few weeks. People were suggesting he’s lost the team, doesn’t relate all that well to his players, and doesn’t put the right guy in the right seat on the bus, particularly at the quarterback position.

Yesterday’s game would be considered Exhibit A that such talk is pure, 100 percent, Grade A hogwash.

The group I saw on the sidelines and on the field yesterday was alive, full of fight and full of emotion. They rallied around their coach and each other. Players moved to other positions to help fill holes created by injury. Tight end Dalton Keene moved to running back and contributed; freshman Norrell Pollard got his chance at DT and made two sacks. Defensive back Khalil Ladler came off the bench and saved the game with an open field tackle at the two in the fifth overtime.

Then there was the matter of who played quarterback.

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It's Time To Let Go Of All This Bryce Harper Bashing

Am finally getting around to reading the Jayson Stark story in the Athletic on Bryce Harper and his reaction to the Nationals making the World Series without him.

First of all, it’s a good story by Stark and it is a story that someone had to write, so I understand why Jayson wrote it in the first place.

But it’s a deeply flawed premise, right up there with “when did you stop beating your spouse?”

Whatever the truth is – and I believe both Harper and the Nationals made their peace with the separation a long time ago – nobody is going to say anything negative. If Harper said if he had to do it over again he’d stay with the Nats, he alienates his current team and gets to answer that question a million times in the off-season.

If any current Nationals player or executive were to even hint that the team is better without Harper, that too would make headlines for months to come and make the Nats look petty, something that is very important they don’t look like. They’ve created an incredible clubhouse atmosphere, they’re in the World Series, and to potential free agents, they look like a very attractive place to consider. They don’t want to do anything – no matter how small – to tarnish that.

Truth is, I like Bryce Harper. I would have preferred he stayed and been a part of all this. I know there are people who don’t like him because they think he’s cocky, brash and full of himself, and I get that. He was a star early in his life, he had people telling him since he was very young that the rules didn’t necessarily apply to him because of his talent, and that has certainly led to some regrettable behavior.

For a further example of this, check out Ralph Sampson in his younger days. I got to cover him in high school and college and he was not the most collegial fellow around in those days.

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Here's My List Of Who Should Throw Out The First Pitch...

The Washington Post’s Scott Allen raises an interesting question today when he wonders who should throw out the ceremonial first pitches at the Nationals’ World Series games.

He lists 16 candidates, and even notes they are “mostly serious” as some are good ideas and some read like he’s sampled one too many of the concession stand delicacies he’s been known to write about every year when Nats Park and Fed Ex Field add new food offerings to their overpriced menus.

I, of course, have my own list. Since the Nats are only guaranteed a minimum of 2 home game and a maximum of 3, there’s no need to pound out another 16. But I do have six in mind so there’s always one and a backup for each game.

Here’s my list:

Sonny Jurgensen: If you’re an older person like me (and a significant part of the Nationals faithful is) Sonny was the first real superstar we all followed. No. 9 was the bright light on dimly lit Redskins teams, and when he was done playing, he moved over to television and radio for another 40 years to keep us all in the pocket. Frank, Sonny and Sam were a broadcasting institution that will never ever be replicated, and many of us to this day still wear No. 9 Jurgensen jerseys on game day.

Baseball is a sport of tradition, and with Sonny just retiring, it would only be fitting to have someone so much a part of Washington sports history for so long a period of time throw out the first pitch.

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Happy Birthday Frank Beamer!

Seems like just yesterday my daughter and I were driving down to Blacksburg to see the Hokies play North Carolina for Frank's last home game. Happy Birthday Frank, and may there be many, many more!

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Can't Help But Be Impressed With How Fuente Handled This

Justin Fuente isn’t the most popular guy in Blacksburg these days, and some of it is of his own doing. The main part is obviously a losing record last year and getting beat this season by Duke like a pack of rented mules.

The other is his reserved, introverted personality, which has led some to question his ability to relate to recruits, thus causing issues in getting the region’s best players to want to come play for him at Virginia Tech.

Mike Niziolek of the Roanoke Times had this interesting feature on starting quarterback Hendon Hooker today, and I walked away impressed with how Fuente handled the situation with Hooker and his family when Hooker decided to enter the transfer portal for a brief time earlier in the year.

Fuente doesn’t want to talk about the situation and tends to brush off any questions about that time in the transfer portal. His father Alan, however, is more than glad to speak of it, saying this of Fuente:

"… He’s held up to be the guy he said he was when he recruited Hendon,” Alan Hooker told Niziolek. “He’s always going to tell us the information whether it’s good or bad. He’s never given us information to tickle our senses. He’s always said what it is, this is what Hendon needs to work on and this is where he’s at. He’s always believed in Hendon’s talent.”

So he didn’t blow smoke at the athlete, give him a sales pitch on all the blue sky that was just around the corner and make promises that might not be kept. I really like the line about Fuente being the same he was when he recruited Hendon. Too many people act one way before signing, and an entirely different way when you’re just one of the many on the roster. Fuente was consistent from start to finish, something I’d take note of as a potential recruit.

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broken clouds

46.3°F

Ashburn

Broken Clouds

Humidity: 65%

Wind: 4.7 m/h

Fri

moderate rain

36/53°F

Sat

heavy intensity rain

31/45°F

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light rain

38/49°F

They Finally Did It...

They Did It

After a long and bumpy road, The Washington Nationals finally won the World Series. And made an old man in Ashburn cry...

Never Grow Old...

Never Grow Old

A trip to Spring Training reminded me we're all still kids at heart, and no matter how old, you keep playing until they get you out.

Gone But Never Forgotten...

Doodle

My faithful dogs probably rode shotgun on hundreds of stories I've written since 2003. This one is for you, Doodle & Schnoodle.

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