Sometime during the dark years, when the Nationals were misspelling jerseys and losing 100 games, Patrick Reddington added a new tagline to the top of his blog.
“Federal Baseball — An Unofficial Washington Nationals Support Group,” it now read.
One of his readers recently pointed out that the qualifier is outdated; teams that lead their division for months at a time and win 60 percent of their games need face painters and pennant distributors, not a support group.
Reddington elected to keep the phrase, as a nod to history. But there’s no question that for Nats bloggers who survived years of last-place finishes and national irrelevance, the game has changed.
“It’s just like for the players I assume; they were already out of in June, and you had four more months of writing about a team that was losing every game. That got tough at times,” said Reddington, a 37-year old from northern New Jersey who has followed the franchise since it was the Montreal Expos. “It’s definitely a lot easier and more enjoyable writing about winning than about the countdown to 100 losses.”
When I got into blogging myself, toward the end of the team’s second season in D.C., the number of Nats blogs was stunning, likely more than for any other Washington team at that time.
But the list soon winnowed. People got older, started families and had more responsibilities at work. Some moved away, others got bored. Much of the daily conversation moved from blogs to Twitter, where you could react more quickly to the nightly baseball news. One site, Nats Enquirer, compiled a list of three dozen defunct Nats blogs.
But for others, writing about a team — even an awful team — became an indispensable part of their fandom.
“There’s always been really interesting stuff going on with this team, even when they’ve been absolutely horrible,” said C.K., 38, who has run Nats Enquirer since the end of the 2005 season. (He doesn’t publish his real name on the site, for professional reasons.) “It was fun, and maybe a little bit of therapy with them being so bad. But it’s a lot more fun now.”
It can also be more gratifying; his site set traffic records last month, thanks to the national attention generated by a first-place team with compelling young stars.
“It just absolutely blew away anything I’d ever seen in terms of traffic,” he said. “The page views, the people coming in, it was just staggering.”
For other long-time Nats bloggers, though, the team’s success has presented various challenges. Dave Nichols, who has been writing about the team since 2005 and who created the District Sports Page site last year, said his analytical approach is actually more difficult when the team is rolling.
“It was lot easier to critique them when the team wasn’t doing particularly well,” Nichols said with a laugh. “When they’re winning, people get on you — why can’t you just be happy that they’re winning?”
Furthermore, the on-field victories have brought national media coverage, making it tricky to find under-covered storylines.
“It’s challenging keeping up, because there’s so much focus on them right now — there’s Strasburg, there’s Harper, they’re talking about the Nats on the Sunday shout shows,” said William F. Yurasko, who has been blogging about the team since its arrival. “It’s kind of cool, but it does make it harder with so much more attention.”
But clearly, this is a trade-off everyone gladly accepts.
“You could see they were building toward something,” said Reddington, who is now a full-time writer. “Once you saw a real plan, I tried to focus on that as much as possible, to keep everyone interested, get everyone in on the ground floor, tell everyone where I hoped they were going.”
“In a sense, if you went through all that, you want to be around when things are good as well,” Yurasko, a 35-year old web content manager said.
“This year has been absolutely remarkable,” C.K. said. “There are positive storylines and they’re winning — this is great.”
Nichols recently left his job as a litigation analyst; he and his wife Cheryl, who takes photographs and writes for his site, are moving to be closer to her family in Idaho. But they agreed they wouldn’t be leaving until after this dream season is over.
“If the Nats are going to make the playoffs for the first time in their history,” he said, “ we’re going to be here for it.”