So here they are, the Washington Nationals, perched precariously atop their division, exceeding even the most optimistic expectations of their fans and the gloomy forecasts of the naysayers.

For all the controversy surrounding the team coming to Washington, the last-minute glitches about the stadium and the uncertainty about future ownership, we have a baseball team now -- and a darn good one, thank you.

No matter how the season turns out, I'd like to express my gratitude to the Nats for all that they already have done for us.

Thank you to the ballplayers who appreciate their fans' support, who tirelessly sign autographs and flip balls into the crowd, who seem truly astonished by the sight of hundreds of kids sporting the names "Wilkerson," "Guillen" and "Vidro" on their backs.

Thank you for being so conveniently located. My 11-year-old son can go to a game on a school night. Some of the cynicism that has, sadly, already tarnished his view of professional sports has been wiped away.

Thank you for giving my husband a reason to leave the office before dark and to get excited about his favorite sport again.

Thank you for giving this region something to rally around.

Thank you for the pink and lavender baseball caps.

Thank you for not putting the words to "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" on the big screen.

Thank you for providing sportswriters with an excuse to use great baseball metaphors when describing the late-game rallies, the one-run "nail-biters" and the "never-say-die" attitude.

Thank you for a guy named Brad (Wilkerson) who is not involved with Angelina Jolie.

Thank you for creating a story that is the stuff of baseball movies -- the scrappy players who find themselves transformed from the league joke into the dream team.

And thank you for giving even a marginal baseball fan such as myself a reason to root for the home team -- and not just because it ends the game sooner.

So maybe the food at RFK Stadium is on the lackluster side. And maybe this first-place thing won't last, and the fantasy of a Baltimore-Washington Parkway series is just that. The conventional wisdom predicts a slide into mediocrity for the team, but who cares? Let's enjoy what we have.

Thanks, Nationals.

-- Deborah Missal