It still aches, the memory of Oct. 12, 2012 , the night 45,966 fans at Nationals Park — and thousands of others watching in sports bars and living rooms across the D.C. area — had their hearts broken by the St. Louis Cardinals. Nobody forgets a first love, which is what the 2012 Washington Nationals were to fans numbed by the District’s baseball past.
But time heals all wounds, even those suffered during Washington’s first baseball playoff appearance in 79 years. Those promises to “get back out there” have led us to opening day 2013 and the glorious early days of a growing fanbase’s first adult relationship . A weekly check of the box scores isn’t enough during the most anticipated season in Washington baseball history. From now through October, wins, losses, walk-off home runs, blown calls, wild pitches and DL stints are the stuff of daily obsession. It’s not about whether Washington cares about baseball; the question has become, how deep is the love?
We asked six die-hard Nationals fans to tell us how life has a way of molding itself around 162 games, whether that means planning your vacation around road trips or having At Bat alerts buzzing your smartphone. These are the romantics, the cynics and the fanatics who populate a baseball town.
74, New York
Television host and son
of famed Washington Post
sports writer Shirley Povich
“I was always a Yankee hater, but when I came to New York [in 1986], the Yankees were a terrible team. They were so bad in the mid-late ’80s that I started to root for them and I bought season tickets. Now, fast forward, I’m so in love with the Nationals that I have retired my Yankee tickets — I don’t have season tickets anymore — and I have purposely purchased season tickets to the Mets so I can see the Nationals nine times this year.
“Anybody who’s been around Washington baseball knows how disappointed we’ve been for so many years. And last year was just the thrill of our lives. I don’t want to set us up for a fall by expecting too much from the team.
“My brother David and I both have season tickets to see the Nationals in Washington. I only get down a couple of times a year, two or three times a year, but my brother must go to at least half the games.
“I would love to be there opening day, but I think I gotta work. In between segments, trust me: I not only look every time there’s a score, but I check the box score every half inning. I get At Bat [updates] every half inning just for the scores of spring training games! My father would have said, ‘You’re half-baked! You’ve gone nuts!’
“He would definitely like what he sees. There’s no question he would love the makeup of the team. He would love Davey [Johnson, the manager]. He always did admire Davey anyway, both as a player and a manager. He would get a big kick out of this particular team, because it’s his kind of team. He would especially love [outfielder Bryce] Harper in terms of the talents that he has.”
Occasional blogger and self-described “worst Nats fan on Twitter,” @needham_chris
“I would describe myself as a realistic optimist, someone who hopes the best is going to happen but realizes it probably isn’t going to.
“Last year, we had a season that I think everyone’s going to remember for a long time, but the team still lost, what, 40 percent of their games? There’s a lot of failure built into baseball, and even in wins there are lots of individual failings. You gotta have the low lows to also have the high highs. I was at Game 4 last year when Jayson Werth hit the walk-off home run. I was screaming so incredibly loud; I literally — using the actual definition of literal — didn’t have a voice for the next three days. I don’t think I would have been screaming as loud if we hadn’t had a half-decade of failure before that.
“During [Game 5], as soon as the ninth inning was starting to fall apart, I basically just kind of slumped in my couch and I didn’t move until about 2 a.m. Just kind of that comatose, stunned, ‘I can’t believe this is happening’ kind of feeling. The very next day, I went back and watched the replay of the game just to see what happened and to try to dissect it a little bit. I’m willing to punish myself a little bit I guess. I’ve moved past it. It happens. You roll on.
“I’m not the hugest fan of [Nationals Park]. It’s just a stadium. I get to my seat, and I’m happy in my seat, and I watch the whole game beginning to end. I’ll grab myself a plate of the Hard Times chili nachos and wolf it down over the course of three hours. I probably made it to five, maybe 10 [games] last year. But in general I’ll have the games on TV or the radio at home. I’ve probably caught 75 percent of them to some degree or another.
“I think the playoffs and the run-up to it showed that the city can be a baseball town. I think there was a lot of growing that happened last year, with more and more people realizing how much more fun it is to know a winning team than one that’s going to go out there and get its brains beaten in more often than not.”
57, Silver Spring
President/co-owner, InVisible Light executive coaching; artistic associate, Round House Theatre, 1992-2004.
“It was in the middle of a game at the old RFK that I realized I was done as an actor. I think it was the game that Ramon Oritz had a no-hitter working well into the ninth inning [Sept. 4, 2006]. And I got a call somewhere in the middle of the game that asked me, could I come in and record 12 commercials. A really good gig. I had decided in the spring that maybe I would take a year off from doing theater . . . but I would still make my money from commercials.
“Without even hesitating, I said, ‘No, I’m busy,’ because it would conflict with a game. Previously, I would skip a kid’s birthday, I would skip a funeral, I would do anything to get a job. And when it conflicted with the Nats, I just went, ‘That’s it, you really are done, Jane.’
“I cried like we’d won something big the day of the last game at RFK, but it wasn’t happy. I was so sad to leave it. Those bleachers, the way the bleachers would move and shake the whole stadium? I miss those. The rake was way better. You could see better in every seat at RFK. We have season seats and last year, I went to two games more than half. We plan our vacations around it.
“Every homestand, I go to the Senators Sausage. I try to go only once a homestand because two years ago I went every game and I gained so much baseball weight. The woman at the Senators Sausage knows me by face, knows exactly what I want. In our section and in most sections, you don’t boo our guys. Do not be mean to our guys. People show up and they start being ugly to somebody that’s in a bad streak, and we shut ’em down. Did you come from Philadelphia, or what?
“What I will still forever, ever miss is [former outfielder] Michael Morse. I think [‘Take on Me’] belongs to him. There are other people who say it belongs to the Nats, but we did it because we loved Michael. When we clinched [the National League East], even though we were losing, he just stood there and let us sing it to him. It was awesome.”
Digital Creative Director at White + Partners and co-founder
of Ballpark Bus, which ferries baseball fans from Ashburn and Reston to Nationals Park every weekend
“[Before Ballpark Bus started] I was a poster child for someone who’d love to go to more games. I went to some Nationals games, but I have a demanding job and a wife and children. Just the thought of driving or taking Metro [from Ashburn to Nationals Park] made me think, ‘Eh, I’ll just watch it on TV with my buddies.’
“I’ve always been the type of person where I’m happier if there’s a big event on my calendar where I know all my friends are going to show up. So right after Christmas 2011, I thought, ‘How cool would it be if you could buy a ticket on a bus to a Nationals game?’ I talked to my friends, and we figured out we’d need 25-30 people to sign up just to break even.
“We started last spring, leaving from Clyde’s Willow Creek Farm. By the time the playoffs rolled around, there were 40 or so people every time. [The bus holds 50 people.]
“I realized our idea had succeeded last July. We were going to a Braves game. I walked into Clyde’s to have a beer before the [Ballpark Bus] showed up, and there were 30 or 40 Nats fans sitting at the bar sporting their Curly Ws. It was great. People hang out beforehand, so you can talk to them and get to know them.
“We expect a nice full bus for opening day this year — maybe two. We’re going pretty conservative — we’ll have a bus going to every weekend game and all the special weekday games: opening day, Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. Clyde’s of Reston Town Center will become our second location — we anticipate making our first run from Reston on Saturday, May 11, for the game against the Chicago Cubs.
“We turn a little profit, but it’s not about that. If we didn’t have a passion for the fun this brings, it wouldn’t be very successful. We’re all huge Nationals fans. This is our contribution to Nationals Nation in our neck of the woods.”
Television news producer and season ticket holder with fiance Sam Cowin
“We moved here in 2008 when we graduated from college. I’m from Texas and grew up an Astros fan. Sam is from Chicago and all his family are Cubs fans. We went to some games that summer — our bosses and our friends would give us free tickets every once in a while. It was fun, but it wasn’t serious.
“In 2009, we just found ourselves caring. I work late, and every night, I’d find myself going on Nationals.com, checking the standings to see if the Nats were still in last place, and figuring out how many games they needed to win to get up to fourth place.
“One day, we decided to get a dog. We drove out to Woodbridge and picked up this cute little beagle, and on the way back, Sam was throwing out all these Nats-related names. He kept saying ‘Strass.’ I said, ‘We cannot name our dog Strass. That’s not going to work.’ So he kept suggesting names, and finally, he got to Zimm. And I said, ‘Okay, if we’re going to go this route, then let’s go with Zimm. That’s a nickname. That will work.’
“One Saturday last February, I woke up and there were photos of us scattered all over the floor, and every one was of us at a Nats game. There was a note that said ‘A car is coming to pick you up, and Zimm and I will be waiting for you.’ That’s when I noticed that my dog was missing. So [Sam] had a car pick me up, and the driver got lost — he didn’t know how to get to the ballpark. I essentially had to tell the driver to how to get to my surprise proposal! When we got to Half Street, the driver told me to close my eyes, and I was like, ‘Really? I know where we’re going.’ I mean, what else is on Half Street?
“There will be some Nationals elements to the [April 6] wedding: The groom’s cake will have a Nationals helmet as a cake topper — the kind you get ice cream in — and we’ll have a caricature of us there that we had done at the ballpark.
“We had to pick a day before the team announced the schedule, and we’re not going to be able to go to opening day. I feel terrible about it. I’m flying home to Texas on Saturday, and Sam can’t take any more time off work, because he’s already taking off for the wedding and the honeymoon.
“We’re getting married in Texas, and then we’re going on our honeymoon. The first thing we’ll do as a married couple in the States is to go to the game on April 14. ”
Anthony A. Williams
Chief executive, Federal City Council;
Former D.C. mayor and current season ticket holder
“My dad had a little league team. That’s how I got started. I was an indifferent player, but a good baserunner. The Dodgers coming to L.A., where I grew up, was a big deal, but I really became a Cardinals fan. I was a huge fan of Bob Gibson. He was an African American all-star pitcher — he was really in no-man’s land there. And they were a really fantastic franchise. Then I met my wife, who is from St. Louis, and it cemented the love of the Cardinals for me.
“When I came here, I really felt that Washington needed a team of its own. It’s your home. You have to be for your home team.
“We easily go to 30 games a year. It’s as many as we can get to. I like walking into the park. I like the pace of the game. I like that I can wear whatever I want — no one knows who the hell I am anymore — and just enjoy the day. I sit behind first base, and we always walk over to the kosher hot dog guy in right field.
“I know Washington is going to be a baseball town. We’re a big football town, but you can see it happening. It’s going to take time. We haven’t had that Bobby Thomson Shot-Heard-’Round-the-World moment that helps to build the mythology.
“I think baseball is going to grow again, in all parts of the Washington community. It was huge in the African American community, and I think it will be again. I think about what President Obama said: I love football, but if I had a son, would I let him play football now? I just don’t know.”