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How the Nats Brought Me Home

That all changed the instant I the Nats took the field. Watching on TV as the nine hired strangers limbered up under the lights, I realized with astonishment: These are my guys. It was like falling in love. I didn't need a getting-to-know-them phase. I didn't have to nurture my interest. When they scored their first run, I screamed like a middle-school spirit squad. When they blew up against the Braves, I felt as if we'd lost the state championship. Now I sneak away from dinner parties to check the score. I care, a lot, whether they win or lose.

A lot of people feel this way, I know. Thousands of long-suffering Senators fans are inhaling deeply of their first grass-and-leather summer in 34 years. Thousands of migrants from other states are finding it shockingly easy to transfer their allegiance from the teams of their youth. Me, I'm starting from scratch. If the sports section went missing in years past, I never noticed; now I grab it every morning, savoring the delightfully unexpected pleasure of a well-turned baseball story. I mull the stats, check the division, second-guess Frank Robinson. And then I go out and rehash it all -- with my fellow Washingtonians.

Bound by baseball: In a town where so many people are from somewhere else, rooting for the Nats has helped provide the civic glue that holds a community together, the author says. (Haraz Ghanbari -- AP)

I went to my first game the other night, in the middle of the Nats' opening homestand. This was not the Kennedy Center, which I love but which doesn't infuse me with a strong sense of belonging. It wasn't the Smithsonian, a great institution that isn't much about Washington. A night at the Bobby, however, is something for us -- suburbanites and city folk, Lexus drivers and bleacher rats -- all the folks I've been meeting anew in the last few weeks, all drinking the same weak beer and wearing the same smitten grins.

At the start of one of the Nats' late-inning rallies, all 25,000 of us began to rock the old park, clapping and cheering with a single, collective roar. Out on the grass, the right fielder -- Jose Guillen, right? -- was bouncing on his toes in sync with his home field crowd. The players feel it, too, by all reports, this great outpouring of devotion. They haven't had that in a while. They were rootless for a long time in a foreign city that didn't, ultimately, embrace them.

But now they're here. The Nationals have finally found a home, in Washington. And so have I.

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Steve Hendrix is a reporter in The Post Travel section. After 20 years of not following baseball, he is desperately trying to catch up in case one of his daughters asks about the infield fly rule.

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