Diamonds Aren't Forever in D.C.

By Thomas Boswell
Monday, October 3, 2005

Everything about the first season of the Washington Nationals has been true to baseball, even if it has not always been true to our wishes. In fact, that is what has been best about this exhilarating, exhausting, frustrating, satisfying and complex season.

Washington has not encountered some fantasy version of baseball in which instant gratification carries the day or success comes as an automatic reward for a 33-season wait. This hasn't been "Field of Dreams" with ghosts in cornfields. It's been "Bull Durham," where you play hurt for months, dream big but end up losing as often as you win (81-81) and, above all, show up every day like a hardball professional until, finally, the only words left are, "Wait till next year." Then you pack up, shake hands, go home to heal, from knee and shoulder to heart and soul, until you show up for spring training to do it all again.

That fascinating 162-game process, chockablock with low comedy and high character, broad theater and telling personal details, has finally been returned to Washington after a third-of-a-century absence. So how does it feel when such a season, which has some of absolutely everything the sport offers, but not enough of what you want most, finally comes to an end?

"It's sad," said Chad Cordero after a 9-3 loss to Philadelphia before a crowd of 36,491 that elevated the Nats to 11th in major league attendance (33,728 average).

Sad because the Nats were 50-31 on the Fourth of July, then finished the season exactly the opposite, 31-50? Sad, perhaps, because you watched your team get worn down by injury, clubhouse friction, sparse starting pitching and more gifted foes?

"No," said Cordero, "it's sad because we won't see each other for five months. And we won't see the fans, either."

So after all they've been through, the coast-to-coast flights and the weeks on the road, the losses that seemed to wreck a season and the victories that resurrected their chances time after time, the real loss for the Nationals on Closing Day is being deprived of the game itself. Even if, everybody always promises, it returns in the spring.

Sometimes, the game speaks. This was a day for the players to have their say. From the time they showed up hours early until they had signed endless balls, tossed hats into the stands and given away their bats to the crowd -- why didn't anybody think of that sooner! -- the Nats wanted to unburden themselves of their gratitude, disappointment and excitement for the future.

"We ran the whole gamut of emotion," said backup catcher Gary Bennett. "We fed off these fans all the way."

"The excitement of the first half was incredible," said pitcher John Patterson. "The second half was like somebody punching you in the gut."

"This city has been great to us," said Brad Wilkerson. "It's been a love affair. I hope it's not just a honeymoon."

"I have found a real home here. After the things I have been through in other places, I take it to my heart," said Jose Guillen. "I still owe something to these fans. This didn't end the way we wanted."

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