Friday night’s World Series game in the District almost never happened because there almost wasn’t a Washington Nationals to begin with. Just as the Nationals reached the World Series this season by the narrowest of margins, it was the D.C. Council that in 2004 voted by the narrowest of margins — 7 to 6 — to fund a stadium for the team. Without that funding, Major League Baseball had threatened to move the Montreal Expos elsewhere.
The one-vote victory bringing baseball back to the District came after months of heated debate, and eventual compromise, over the use of public funds to build a stadium for a rich league with rich owners. It was a worthy debate for a city that, like most, has many needs far more important than baseball. But it should also be clear now, 15 years later, that the District and its immediate suburbs are better for having a hometown baseball team.
We can see the positive impact not just in the estimated $6.5 million economic boost of hosting at least two World Series games, but also in the explosive growth of the once-barren neighborhoods surrounding Nationals Park. The city should ensure that revenue from ballpark-related taxes, which have exceeded original projections, are used to support things much more important than baseball, such as schools and affordable housing.
The less-tangible impacts, however, are just as significant. We see them in the proliferation of curly-W baseball caps in and around the District, and in the spirit of the DMV during regular-season winning streaks and postseason appearances. We see them in the way the Nationals have become part of the fabric of the city, in a way that only a baseball team can — with 81 home dates a year (plus a few more this year).
No doubt it helps that the Nationals are a winning team and have been for several years now, despite previous postseason heartbreaks. It helps that their superstars are good role models. And it even helps that the team sets the right example in the way it treats its own, such as supporting pitcher Daniel Hudson’s decision to take paternity leave during the National League Championship Series.
When I pledged my allegiance to the Nationals in 2005, abandoning once and for all my support for that team from Baltimore I grew up with, I didn’t know how many seasons it would take for the Nationals to finish with a winning record (eight) or how likable the team would become (very). I also didn’t foresee the joy of watching and going to Nationals games with my future children, now 8 and 11, or that someday they would erupt with delight after a late-night (way past their bedtime) series-winning grand slam.
Win or lose this World Series, the Nationals have done what baseball teams are meant to do. They’ve given a city something to cheer for and rally behind. They’ve brought economic growth. They’ve contributed to the community. And now their success has shown our kids and all of us the value of hard work and perseverance.
For all of that, we should be happy that 15 years ago city leaders made the right decision to bring baseball back to the nation’s capital after 33 years without a team. We should continue to ensure the economic benefits are felt well outside the confines of the stadium. And we should always appreciate the significant role sports can play in bringing us together, especially at a time when so many forces seem to be driving us apart.