So in that spirit, as part of a day when nothing can be less than approximately perfect, I allowed my car to decide my route to the parade celebrating the Nationals’ World Series triumph.
Somehow, I went past RFK Stadium — still standing, still architecturally beautiful (if you squint). Then, to my surprise, I found that I was driving past Stanton Park, looking at the very spot where I had stood with my parents at the . . . streetcar stop to go see the Washington Senators at Griffith Stadium in the 1950s.
By the time I had parked near Union Station — I still know the parking tricks in my old neighborhood — and walked past the Department of Labor to a corner where every double-decker had to turn and the crowds (jammed at least 20-deep everywhere) could gather when a favorite player came into sight, I put my press credentials inside my sweater and said, “What the hell.” Being inside the ropes, in the media area, isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. Sometimes being in the crowd — the huge, shoulder-to-shoulder, can’t-see-much-of-anything-but-here-we-are mob — is better.
“It’s just a big happy throng,” said Libby Hernandez of Silver Spring, whose favorite color appeared to be red. (Sorry, red was everybody’s color, but I kept my red Nationals hoodie — you never know when it could get cold — tied around my waist, logo pointed inward.) “We’ve lived here since ’98 and been Nats fans from the beginning.”
Family discord has been avoided because Libby’s husband, Steve, who is “more of a Cardinals fan than a Nats fan,” subdued his allegiances last month. “She loves the Nats more than I love the Cards,” Steve said. “So I’m glad the Nats won. I was really surprised they won in four. But with this team this year, you can believe anything.”
“What I like best about this team is that they get stand-up guys. Only mistake was [former closer Jonathan] Papelbon,” Libby said. “That year I rooted for my mom’s team — Arizona.” Gesturing at my notepad, she added, “Sign Rendon.”
Sandy and Knob Moses, red from head downward, couldn’t stop smiling. Before the first World Series game in Washington in 86 years, they and their daughter, Ally, stood outside Nationals Park and watched the cost of online ticket prices drop as the game approached.
“Seeing a World Series game in Washington — and on my birthday — was on my bucket list,” Sandy said. “But [the cheapest] tickets were $1,400 each. So we had a price limit, $1,000 a ticket, and a time limit, 7:30. We waited and watched the prices drop as the game approached. Right at 7:30, we got all three tickets for $800 each. Oh, my God, it was awesome. But this parade — this is awesome, too.”
On Friday, Knob was on South Capitol Street near Nationals Park, and here comes Max Scherzer, just walking along. “I told him, ‘Congratulations,’ ” said Knob, who is career Navy, stationed in Washington often since 1980 and exclusively over the past 25 years. “He was so nice, so humble. We got someone to take a picture of us.”
And there on his phone was Knob with Max.
“That’s what I probably like about the whole team the most — all so humble. You look at Howie Kendrick — his smile lights up the room,” Knob said. “I don’t think they were always that way — not all of them.”
With that, Ally arrived. “Take off your jacket,” mom said.
Underneath, Ally was wearing her Bryce Harper jersey — on the back, the H, A and P of his name remained, but everything else was blotted out so C, M and S could be added. The result: The word on the back of her jersey was CHAMPS.
As for Harper’s No. 34, that was altered, too. Underneath 3 it said “losses at home,” under 4 “wins on road.”
“My wife’s design,” Knob said.
“Oh, other people have done it, too — believe me,” Sandy laughed.
The past 17 months must have been the greatest shock and satisfaction for the generation of fans who grew up in or moved to Washington during D.C.’s sports Dark Ages — no titles from 1992 until the Capitals won the Stanley Cup in 2018.
“The Capitals are my No. 1 team. The Nats are No. 2. But they’re both great. I love that [Alex Ovechkin] gets involved with the Nats, even though it’s so obvious he knows nothing about baseball,” said Matt Workman, 28, of Takoma Park. “Even when the Caps won, it still felt like the Caps-[Redskins] effect was in play — if you get your hopes up, you always got disappointed. But now that the Nats have won and the Mystics, too, you can’t say D.C. is jinxed or cursed anymore. Titletown! This is a Nationals and Capitals town now.”
How about that Washington NFL team?
“No, not anymore,” said Sam Roller, also 28.
Roller grew up rooting for the Orioles, and he still does, but he found it easy to transfer loyalty to the Nats this postseason. “I just got caught up in it,” he said. “A day like this, it just brings everybody together.”
Somewhere nearby, Nationals patriarch Ted Lerner was saying, “You can just call me Grandpa Shark.” And reliever Sean Doolittle, who has already declined an offer to go with the team to the White House on Monday, said: “Remember when we brought those camels to spring training [in 2018]? Everybody laughed at us. Who’s laughing now? What day did we win the World Series? Wednesday — hump day.”
Victory parades aren’t really parades at all. They are massive gatherings of a joyous, like-minded sports family. Some arrive and leave early, while others come late and stay until the end. No crowd-size estimate can be accurate because, for example, thousands were leaving at 2:30 p.m. — when thousands more were arriving.
By 5, as one Nats player after another had his say into a live mic, the same fluid scene continued on a gorgeous, sunny fall afternoon. Thousands were still coming, just to be part of the vast red vibe, as other thousands, a bit footsore or sated on shoulder-to-shoulder happiness, were leaving.
From the old with canes to the babies still in strollers but already in Nats hats, the demographic constituted no discernible demographic at all — just a huge, happy throng united under one flag and one faith.
The flag, a curly W. The faith, a certainty that D.C. has left a dismal quarter-century behind and henceforth can enjoy games in full possession of every fan’s inalienable right: hope.
More from Thomas Boswell: