I am not superstitious or particularly spiritual. I don't believe in fate, and I remain agnostic on the power of prayer. But I am also a guy, so I understand, deep in my soul, assuming we have souls, that the beliefs and behavior of a sports fan have a direct bearing upon the team for which he roots. I mean, that's just common knowledge. Ask any guy.
And so it is that, in the last few months, I have been living a Guy's Worst Nightmare.
This year, Washington got a new baseball team, and I decided to become a rabid fan. I bought the paraphernalia.
I followed batting averages. And, of course, I began going to the games.
The first game I went to, the Nats lost. Second game, same result. Third? Not a charm. (This was during a time that the team was winning most of its home games and leading its division.) At this point, friends and colleagues began to beg off going to games with me, since I seemed to be a jinx. So for the fourth game, I brought my kids. Loss. For the fifth game, I dragged my wife. Loss.
I consulted a statistician. He calculated that, based upon the team record at the time, the odds of my having attended five losses and no wins -- assuming it was a matter of pure chance -- were less than one in 200.
And so I did what any devoted guy fan would do under similar circumstances. I stopped going to games. When I mentioned this tragedy in an online chat, a reader named Jeremy Weiss volunteered that he had been to eight games and that the Nats had won them all. He had the ticket stubs to prove it. He offered to go to a game with me, to break my curse.
Now, I am not an irresponsible person, given to impetuous actions that could have unforeseen consequences. I explained the situation to Paul Steinhardt, a theoretical physicist at Princeton University. He holds the chair named after Albert Einstein.
Me: So, if I go to a game with this guy, from a standpoint of quantum physics, what is the probability that this confluence of immovable object and irresistible force will cause the world to end?
Paul: We can't rule it out.
So on the one hand, by going to this game, I maybe could purge my curse and start attending baseball games again. On the other, the universe could explode. It was a hard choice. Ask any guy.
Jeremy and I met at the stadium. He is 25, good-looking and self-possessed, a long-distance runner. He's in the Coast Guard and has served as a weapons officer on a cutter. He has fired machine guns. He's a toughie. It's in his genes: His mom teaches adult ed to sexual deviant felon lifers at a state pen.
Now, I don't want to sound as though I was jealous of Jeremy, merely because he is exactly the kind of guy I knew in college who got all the hot women, leaving for guys like me the engineering and ag majors.
For several innings, the score was knotted at 1-1, and then the Nats went ahead by one run. I'd seen this sort of tease before, of course, in games I'd attended. It was about time for the Sudden Collapse, like a marionette after the puppeteer drops dead.
At the start of the seventh inning, Jeremy left to use the bathroom. When he returned, he stared at the field and said, "What the hell's been going on here?" I looked down, ashamed. He'd been gone maybe five minutes, during which I was in charge. The bases were loaded with Cincinnati Reds, and there was not one out.
Jeremy took his seat. It was last call for beer. I asked if he wanted one, and he snapped: "No. I need to stay focused."
The first batter hit a sharp grounder, cleanly fielded by the first basemen, who threw home for the force. One out. Next batter, strike one, two, three. The last batter grounded wanly back to the pitcher.
It was the Reds' death knell. They never again mounted a serious challenge. In the bottom of the eighth, I called my daughter and told her I was at the game and the Nats were actually in the lead. "Listen to me, Dad," she said, deadly earnest. "You've got to leave now." But I knew I didn't. I had Jeremy.
The Nats won, 5-3.
As we walked out, I felt mostly elation. I could safely go to games again. And it really didn't bother me all that much that Jeremy's mojo was bigger than mine, that he was Mr. Mojo Risin'.
Size doesn't really matter. Ask any guy.
Gene Weingarten's e-mail address is email@example.com.
Chat with him online Tuesdays at noon at www.washingtonpost.com.