The history of baseball in Washington is one of long and short memories. Ten years ago, Ryan Zimmerman christened Nationals Park with a walk-off home run. Three years ago, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred threw out the season’s first pitch, and announced the District would host the All-Star Game three years later.
That moment arrived Tuesday — and at a perfect time.
For the first time in a generation, Washington sports are at least somewhat the envy of the nation. The Capitals paraded down Constitution Avenue with the Stanley Cup barely a month ago. The Nationals are again competitive in the pennant race and boast perhaps the game’s preeminent slugger and pitcher. Beyond that … well, the football team has a new quarterback and the Wizards upgraded at center with Dwight Howard.
Sure, Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game celebrated America’s pastime Tuesday night, but for the bulk of the 43,843 in attendance, most rocking red apparel, this was a chance to glorify the District’s athletic accomplishments and stake a claim that the nation’s capital is indeed a major league sports town.
“D.C. sports are so hot right now,” said Natasha Franklin, a 32-year-old Montgomery County native and Nationals season ticket holder. “It’s what this city needs.”
“It feels like you can see light at the end of a long tunnel,” said Brian Romanowski, 30, with whom Franklin shares season tickets.
When the Nationals arrived in Washington in 2005, Franklin and Romanowski were both still in college. At that point, it had been 13 years since the city won its last championship.
Washington is now a title city, with perennial baseball and basketball playoff contenders.
Winning gives new life to Tripp Whitbeck’s stadium shtick.
The New York native moved to Arlington in 2008 and immediately adopted Washington’s teams, especially the Nationals. He went shopping for a sequined suit to show his team spirit, but ended up with four suits, glasses, socks and a few wigs. He tries to wear at least one piece per game.
Tuesday, he was decked out in an American flag jacket and trousers, with a white dress shirt, fake beard, Uncle Sam hat and curly W sunglasses.
“Some would call it weird,” said Whitbeck, 37, who plans his outfits days ahead of time for 70-some Nationals home games each year. “I call it fun.”
A friend texted him earlier in the week to ask if he was at the all-star FanFest. Nope, he was at home picking through costumes, trying to find the perfect ensemble.
Around the Nationals Park concourse, he stuck out as another of Washington baseball’s personalities.
“I’ve been embraced by the team,” he said. “The management [likes] me. The fans really like me.”
The last time the MLB All-Star Game came to the District, Mark Junkins, 65, of Springfield, was a fervent Senators fan. But now his wife Bonnie is the Washington baseball die-hard. She grabbed a Bryce Harper Home Run Derby shirt during pregame memorabilia shopping, saying she didn’t have to think twice.
The Junkinses were at the derby Monday night, though no homers came their way because they sat near third base. Bonnie Junkins likes Harper and Max Scherzer. Her reasoning is simple:
“Bryce Harper is Bryce Harper,” she said. “Scherzer is the best pitcher I think there is in Major League Baseball.”
She is also a Capitals and Redskins fan, and she said having the All-Star Game in the District, in addition to the Capitals’ Stanley Cup, will help elevate the city’s sports scene even further. When it came time to buying tickets for the game, she again didn’t think twice.
“It’s something that’s not going to come around [again] in my lifetime,” Junkins said.
The confluence of athletic success has some wondering whether they should just sit back and enjoy the ride, a bit of a foreign feeling to Washington fans, to say the least.
“I think we should be living in the moment,” Franklin said. “I keep saying this is the Nats’ year, and people keep looking at me like I’m crazy.”
Kendra Andrews, Sam Fortier and Emily Giambalvo contributed to this report.