ON A SUNDAY afternoon when sports fans all over America tuned their televisions to the Olympic spectacle of swimming, basketball, volleyball, soccer — and water polo players apparently trying to drown each other — a sizable audience in greater Washington was watching nothing more exotic than the old ball game. Yet, quite a game it was, as the Nationals came back multiple times before finally defeating the Milwaukee Brewers, 11-10 in 11 innings.
And so, as we head into August, Washington’s baseball team stands among the game’s elite — leading its National League division with a record of 61 wins and 40 losses and holding its best chance in, oh, about 65 or 70 years of getting to play in October. What is going on here?
Perhaps the most exciting thing is that Washington may be on the verge of becoming a baseball town at last. This year’s team has captured the local imagination, and it has enough youth and enthusiasm to promise good years into the future. The cast of stars — the two Zimmerman(n)s, Harper, Strasburg, Desmond, Gio Gonzalez, Morse, LaRoche — is supported not only by a number of promising regulars but by a group of role players, some obscure, some up-and-coming, who have produced clutch hits and fielding plays time after time this season. The manager, Davey Johnson, long regarded as one of the most brilliant people in baseball is now, at age 68, also seen as one of its wisest.
Crowds are growing at Nationals Park, and even the best, high-priced seats may become hard to get. But those aren’t the only ones that count.
A baseball team that is at one with its fans — as this one is now — thrives on the noise from the upper deck and the outfield seats. There sit the kind of people who belie Washington’s image as a city of the elite and privileged, people who have been showing up pretty regularly over the seven years since baseball returned to the District. Their numbers now are growing, and it is they who will make Washington’s future as a true baseball town — a place where you’ll have no doubt who the home team is when the Phillies, Red Sox or Yankees come here to play.