Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Cynic's Confessions of an E-6 Mind: Life as a Washington Nationals Fan

Much to no one’s surprise, the Washington Nationals (26-61) recently announced that they have fired manager Manny Acta. While reaction is mixed (some say it was overdue, I think it’s a little like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic), it’s just the latest in the epic fail that is the 2009 Washington Nationals. So with the All Star break here and the season mercifully on the downhill slide, I thought I might provide some commentary from a Nationals fan.

First of all, pleased to meet you. Unless you live inside the 495 Beltway, there’s a very good chance that this is the first time you’ve ever met (or seen anything written from the point of view of) a Nats fan.. Even inside the 202 area code, true fans are hard to find. The problem (other than the team being lousy) is that very few people are actually from Washington, DC. If you go to a party or meet someone at a bar in DC, the first question you ask is, “So where are you from?” DC is a very transient city, with people (mostly government workers and contractors) coming to the city from other places. And they bring along their own team allegiances. While they may enjoy a night out at a Nationals ball game, they still classify themselves as Yankees or Braves or Dodgers etc. fans. The number of true know-the-lineup-and-follow-the-box-scores-every-day-even-though-you-already-know-they-lost Nationals fans (such as myself) is
very, very few.

The Nats bandwagon. Plenty of good seats still available.

To understand my fascination with the Nats, it might help to know a little about my baseball history. I grew up a huge Oakland A’s fan. I didn’t have any connection to the A’s per se. But my dad had grown up as a Kansas City A’s fan (to this day, he still hates the Yankees from when the days when the A’s and Yankees owners conspired to send all of KC’s good players to the Big Apple) and it just kind of rubbed off on me. But I definitely went all the way with it—my room was covered wall-to-wall with A’s paraphernalia. Canseco, McGwire, Rickey Henderson, you name it. I had a poster of Carney Lansford up next to my Bash Brothers poster, for Pete’s sake. If a west coast A’s game was on TV, there was a really good chance I was going to fall asleep at some point in school the next morning.

Yeah, this guy.

Then came they day when the A’s traded Jose Canseco to the Texas Rangers. And suddenly, I just stopped caring. I wouldn’t say it was entirely the Canseco trade that did it. The team with which I had grown up and had won three straight AL pennants (1988-1990) was slowly being dismantled. And about the same time, school got busy and I got into jobs, cars and girls (not necessarily in that order). But losing Canseco, the sports idol of my youth, was the final straw and baseball as a whole just kind of faded away for me for several years.

Admittedly, I might not be the best judge of character.

Fast forward to 2002. I was living in Washington, DC when the Montreal Expos collapse became complete and the team was bought by MLB.. Almost immediately, the rumors started flying that Washington, DC was a frontrunner for the team and, although it took another couple of years, Washington baseball became official in September 2004. And I lined up to drink the Kool-Aid.

Prior to my time in DC, I’d never lived in a big-league city. I grew up in Colorado and maintained my Broncos loyalty, so the Redskins didn’t do anything for me. And, while I like hockey and basketball well enough, I wasn’t a big enough fan to jump on the Capitals or Wizards bandwagons. But when the Nationals came to town, I finally felt like I had MY baseball team and I cared about baseball again.. Which brings us to 2009, when the loyalties of even the most die-hard fans have been tested.

This season has been one debacle after the other:

If you’d submitted this as a script for a “Bad News Bears” sequel, it would have been laughed out of Hollywood for not being believable. Things have gotten so bad, the Nats are even being mocked by The Onion.

I hear the Nats are looking for a new manager.

So is this the worst team ever, as some bloggers and MSM writers have asked? I don’t think so. Contrary to popular belief, this team is not devoid of talent. Ronnie Belliard, Cristian Guzman and Ryan Zimmerman are all former or current All-Stars. Four starters (Zimmerman, Guzman, 1B Nick Johnson and OF Josh Willingham) are hitting ..288 or better. OF Adam Dunn just became the fifth-fastest player in history to reach 300 home runs. While no one is likely to confuse the Nationals’ lineup with Murderer’s Row, there are worse offenses out there.

The same could be said of starting pitching. The Nationals current starting five is a combined 13-23. Admittedly not great, but far better than the bullpen and spot starters (here’s where it gets really ugly) who are on the hook for a combined record of 13-38. Even worse, they find ways to blow it at the worst possible times.

23 times this season the Nationals have been tied or had a lead going into the last two innings, only to see the bullpen blow it. Think about that—in more than a quarter of the team’s games this season, Nats fans are sitting there, thinking our team has a chance to pull one out, only to see the bullpen choke another one away. I don’t think the 2009 Nationals are the worst team ever, but I would certainly nominate this bunch for the worst bullpen in history.

“Now pitching for the Nationals . . .”

As for me and all 6,743 of my fellow die-hard Nationals fans, we’re keeping the faith (bless us, oh almighty Stephen Strasburg). We came into this season knowing the Nationals would probably lose. A lot. They’re on a pace to have 114 losses, and they may challenge the 1962 Mets record of 120. We just wish they’d stop finding creative and increasingly painful ways to do it.

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1 comment:

nick said...

I'm a die hard St. Louis Cardinals fan, but will soon be in D.C. and am dedicated to being a Nats' fan too. Heck, I have two Nats (Dunn & R-Zimm) on a fantasy team & drafted a third (Anderson Hernandez), so it was meant to be.

I think the Nats have some good, young talent to build around, provided the front office gets its act together. Also, if you're on Twitter, I'm looking to connect w/ other Nats fans. I'm http://twitter.com/nbarron.