AFTER GEN. Charles Cornwallis's surrender at Yorktown in 1781, which signaled the end of the Revolutionary War, the British band played a tune called "The World Turned Upside Down" to express the general amazement over such a turn of events. This summer, going on 224 years later, it's just the National League that's turned upside down, but that is no small accomplishment as far as the Washington area's baseball fans are concerned. More than 44,000 of them marked the occasion with renditions of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" and "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch at RFK Stadium on July 4.
What gives here? The stadium is full, and the Nationals are clinging to first place in the East Division as they head into the All-Star break. This is a place where no Washington baseball team has finished for 72 years. What's happened is not such a mystery, really -- in fact, it's been done in plain view of well over a million people at RFK. As one student of the game noted, the Nats don't walk many batters, and they catch the ball. As another pointed out, they get some timely hits, which is not necessarily a matter of luck. Above all, they play the game hard -- hard enough to assemble and then play through a collection of injuries that would have sunk any other team we can think of. Underrated, disrespected and not at all fazed by any of it, they're doing their own tableau of Gen. George Washington and his men crossing the Delaware, though with a slightly higher payroll.
The prospective return of baseball to Washington caused a lot of joking about Guccis in the grandstand, box seats filled with lobbyists, lawyers and freeloading congressmen eating catered lunches instead of hot dogs. What we've had instead is a great mass of everyday Americans in all shapes, sizes, ages and forms of attire, including a surprising number in shirts bearing the names of people who, a year ago, many had scarcely heard of: Guillen, Loaiza, Castilla, Schneider, Hernandez, Johnson, Cordero, Vidro, Wilkerson, Guzman.
It's reported that, on average, about 7,000 ticket holders don't show up for Nats games. They are, most likely, people who can afford to buy tickets and not use them. What's left in our old, nicely fixed-up ballpark -- so retro it's revolutionary and doing just fine without luxury suites -- is a loyal and enthusiastic bunch that belies the distorted image of Washington as arrogant, distant and imperial. The home team feeds off their support -- as more than one player has made clear. A great many ordinary people are hanging on every pitch these days in Washington, hoping the new team in town can hang on for the second half of this season and do something truly extraordinary.