"It's a long season."

Right about now, Washington Nationals fans are repeating this age-old baseball saying. The Nats are struggling at the plate. They are losing close games. And a season that looked like it was going to be a magic carpet ride to the playoffs is turning into a tough grind.

Major League Baseball does have a long season. Teams play 162 games stretched over six months. The season starts with the promise of spring, drags through the dog days of summer, and ends in the chill of autumn. It's almost as long as your school year.

No baseball team wins every game. The best teams often lose more than 60 games each season, and every team has a losing streak or two.

Baseball is not like football, where a team gets psyched for one game a week and dreams about going undefeated. Baseball teams play nearly every day. They can't get too excited when they are winning or too down in the dumps when they are losing. There's always another game to play.

Watching your favorite baseball team over the course of a long season can teach you a few things. After all, if you want to accomplish any goal -- whether it's to make the playoffs, get better at a sport or learn algebra -- you have to keep at it. You can't get discouraged when you don't do well. Most things, just like a baseball season, are not an unbroken string of triumphs.

Chances are you won't accomplish your goal all at once. I coached baseball and softball for years and can still remember times when some of my players would have a great game -- get some hits, make some sparkling plays -- and then would show up the next day thinking they had the game all figured out. They usually went 0 for 4, with a couple of errors.

Becoming a good ballplayer (or math student or reader) doesn't happen overnight. You have to be patient.

So, is the Nats' dream of making the playoffs over because the team has hit a tough stretch? No way. But the players have to be patient and not give up on the season. (It would help to get first baseman Nick Johnson off the injured list and back in the lineup.)

The Nats have to keep playing hard, stay together as a team and hope that things get better. Because if there is one thing everyone knows about baseball . . .

"It's a long season."

Fred Bowen writes KidsPost's sports column and is the author of sports novels for kids.

The return of Nick Johnson from a heel injury should give the Nationals a boost.