The Nationals adopted a marketing phrase last season that actually captured much of how General Manager Mike Rizzo, Johnson, clubhouse leader Werth and young stars Harper and Strasburg actually saw their team: Natitude.
The term sounds silly, but it means attitude, swagger, pride in following your own ideas and an inclination to firmly ignore the views of those who differ with your approach. The Nats won 98 games that way last season. It wasn’t an illusion. But like all team personas, this one has flaws and limits, too.
The problem with this public personality is that you set up yourself as a target. When things go badly, your enemies enjoy it. Having set your aim so high, you can feel pressure even more.
Long before they had accomplished much, the two most famous Nats, Harper and Strasburg, made it clear that they dreamed of and fully intended to achieve greatness. Strasburg was ice, Harper fire, but they had the same imperious presence, the chiseled-from-willpower 230-pound physiques.
The entire Nats organization has defined itself in terms of their promise. There was probably no other choice, especially because Rizzo, Johnson and Werth were already in place, all of them prickly attitude guys. Last year, we saw many benefits of Natitude, especially for a town that hadn’t had a postseason team in 79 years and a Montreal-born franchise with nary a title.
Now, we may be learning the flip side of wanting to be great yesterday, or fighting against the infuriating humbling character of the game itself.
The Nats aren’t doing anything wrong in shaping themselves to the character of their dominant personalities. It’s always that way. But it also means you must play out the history of that kind of team. You don’t know what that fate will be, or on what timetable, at the start of the journey.
There is no perfect organizational stance toward the game. The Braves are efficient, understated, no drama and professional. It was, and still is, a fabulous approach. But did they lack the charisma for October? There has been only one world title in Atlanta since the Braves arrived in 1966.
The Yankees cultivate a superiority complex. When they are great, it intimidates foes, as it did from 1996 to 2000. When they aren’t quite great, it absolutely inspires foes to beat them in October. They have spent $2 billion in the past 12 years for only one world championship. Add your own examples.
This may be the season when the Nats start seeing everything that’s flawed in them, everything they still need to learn. That leads to maturity. Champions are adult. But who enjoys the actual process of growing up?
The Nats are not just 45 games into this season. It would be more accurate to say they are about 200 games, including last season and its playoffs, into a 1,000-game test of their athletic gifts and their mental ability to learn from everything that buffets and batters them along the way.
The seas are getting choppy out West this week. This “World Series or Bust” stuff is never about smooth sailing, but actually, just the opposite. To the Nats, these bouts of heavy weather, whether last October or now, are part of the seasoning process of becoming an old salt. That bitter taste isn’t gall, just necessary brine.
For Thomas Boswell’s previous columns go to washingtonpost.com/boswell.