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Washington Nationals: A year to remember

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In April, I wrote that this “may be the summer that Washington area kids fall in love with professional baseball.”

There was a lot to love about the Washington Nationals’ 2012 season. Teenage sensation Bryce Harper burst onto the scene, hitting home runs and running the bases like a kid let out for recess.

Stephen Strasburg pitched great, winning 15 games and striking out 197 batters in fewer than 160 innings. The Nats’ new left-handed pitcher, Gio Gonzalez, smiled his way to 21 wins. Jordan Zimmermann almost never smiled, but he was good, too, winning 12 games.

Ian Desmond was an all-star at shortstop. Adam LaRoche belted 33 home runs. Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth and Michael “the Beast” Morse came back from injuries to help the Nats win the National League East Division title and get into the playoffs.

When the Nats stars were out of the lineup, bench players including Steve Lombardozzi, Roger “the Shark” Bernadina and Tyler Moore came through, big time.

Sometimes the season, with all its ups and downs, felt like a wonderful dream. Even Teddy won the Presidents Race a few times.

So last week, when Werth blasted a home run far into the night to beat the St. Louis Cardinals and force a fifth and deciding playoff game, Nats fans were dreaming about the World Series.

But sometimes baseball does not love you back. No matter how hard you root for your team, cross your fingers or wear your hat inside out for good luck, things do not turn out the way you had hoped and dreamed.

The Nats were ahead 7-5 in that fifth game with just one inning to go on Friday night. They were one strike away — five times — from beating the Cardinals. But the Nats lost and broke their fans’ hearts.

So what’s a Nats-loving kid supposed to do? Stop rooting for the team because it hurts so much when they lose?

No way. I think the best part about sports — about life, too — is the caring. Caring about your family, friends, pets, the teams you play on, your favorite subjects in school.

And, yes, caring about your favorite baseball team. I know it’s not as important as your family and friends. But favorite teams are still important.

When kids root for a team, they try out their feelings. They learn how it feels to be filled with joy after a game-winning home run or close to tears after a tough loss.

True, sometimes rooting for a baseball team can break your heart. But it’s a good reminder that you have one.

Fred Bowen is the author of 18 sports fiction and sports history books for kids, including eight about baseball.

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