I have a strange feeling, one I haven’t experienced in 19 years in our nation’s capital. No, not allergies — I think we might have one of those teams of destiny in our midst.
Stop! Don’t everyone look at once. You first. Now you. Be cool. Don’t all gawp like rubes.
Oh, go ahead. If I’ve been waiting 19 years, so have you. I’m merely an observer; these are your teams. You’ve earned this.
There is just something special about the Nationals — what, you thought I meant the Redskins? — and that’s been becoming more and more clear since spring training. It took me awhile to recognize the tingle, though. It’s been a long time.
My first time was 1984. I’d moved to Detroit the previous spring, right out of college, and that first weekend, huddled and shivering in an empty apartment on a lawn chair underneath all my clothing — because who needed blankets in May? Michiganders, that’s who! — I listened to the Tigers and fell in love with Tram and Lou and Ernie. Especially Ernie.
So when the Tigers came busting out of the chute at 35-5 the following year, that was a no-brainer tingle. Forty games into the season, the good folks where I worked (the Free Press) began planning World Series coverage and a book. Because it was clear the Tigers were going all the way. The San Diego Padres knew it. Maybe the San Diego Chicken knew it. That was a brilliantly built team managed by Sparky Anderson, who looked so . . . experienced that I now wonder if Mickey Cochrane shoved him out of that cornfield in Iowa and back into the Motor City on a mission. That was a fun, fun year.
Even more fun, for me, was 1988, when Kansas had a decent basketball team, a great player (Danny Manning) and an awesome coach (Larry Brown). The tingle didn’t come, though, until the tournament passed through the Silverdome in Detroit, I was there, watching them beat Vanderbilt and Kansas State. Then I knew. My co-workers took a vote — I was banished for the semifinals and final. They couldn’t stand to have me in the office. Which was very, very smart.
The next one was almost as short and more of a lightning bolt. In 1989, on the eve of the NCAA tournament, Michigan fired Bill Frieder, who had announced he would leave after the season. At an emotional news conference, athletic director Bo Schembechler made the announcement and promoted rosy-cheeked assistant Steve Fisher, saying Michigan would be coached by a Michigan man. It was such a Bo move, and I remember watching the news conference in the office and saying, “That’s it. They’ll win the national championship.” Oh, the jeers and hoots. I seldom make predictions unless forced, but that one just popped out. And of course they did.
Tinglings are fickle. Some championships did not come with tinglings. For instance, the Bad Boy Pistons were a ton of fun to watch, but I never had those feelings. The Pistons did it the hard way. They rammed into the Celtics every year until they finally beat them, then they did the same to the Lakers. There was nothing magical about it; that was hard work and some amazing coaching by the late Chuck Daly (who also coached the 1992 Dream Team, a fact that seemed to get lost in all the reminiscing during the Olympics).
My previous tinglings have all resulted in championships, but that is probably more coincidence than anything. Let’s face it, a tingling after 35-5 is easy. Tingling before the NCAA tournament is the equivalent of tingling before the baseball playoffs. Tingling at the NCAA regionals is roughly the same as tingling at the NLCS. Those are easier tinglings.
A tingling for a team that fell just short of .500 a season ago, a young team with a lot of injuries — that’s a weird tingling. A lot of people have embraced the tingling — Boz has been vibrating for years now, bless his heart — and still others are still in full denial. Because tingling can result in heartbreak. Love of a team is still love. There is still a risk of getting hurt. And fans in the Washington area have had just about enough of that.
But if you’re willing to risk just a little bit of yourself for the tingling, this is your chance. Because there are five-plus weeks of the regular season to go, with the possible reward of the playoffs. Think of it like that. Just that much of a tingle. Then, if the Nats make the playoffs, a whole new tingle begins. Are you willing to risk your heart, one more time?
For Tracee Hamilton’s previous columns go to washingtonpost.com/hamilton.