Washington Nationals might have found right time to be in this place
By Tracee Hamilton,
Timing is important in business, comedy and track and field, among other things. It’s hard to make supply meet demand at just the right time, and harder to force demand to match supply.
For the Lerners and Washington Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo, we may be seeing a rare example of near-perfect timing. Simply put, the Nationals are becoming the talk of the town. Monday morning — with no Wizard in the NBA all-star game and Nicklas Backstrom likely out for the rest of the regular season because of a concussion — the Washington sports team getting the good buzz was the Nationals and their re-signing of home-grown third baseman Ryan Zimmerman.
The Washington Nationals — winners of nothing, dwellers of cellars, stocks of laughing — are coming into their own as one tenant of Verizon Center struggles to make the playoffs and the other just plain struggles.
Of course, as in business, comedy and track and field, there are caveats. First, the Nats have yet to play a game. They are paper tigers, but not yet Tigers (no Prince Fielder!). Still, even the most curmudgeonly of the curmudgeons say the Nats will not be awful this season.
That’s right: not awful. Put that in your electronic cigarette and vaporize it.
The second caveat, of course, is the Redskins, who loom large over the local sports scene. A blog post detailing that the repainting of the lines in the FedEx Field parking lots can be enough to crash the interwebs. If the Redskins were to (A) sign Peyton Manning or (B) trade up for Robert Griffin III, the Nats could hire Brad Pitt as GM and no one would notice.
(I am still against the Manning and Griffin scenarios, for previously stated reasons, but I can’t deny the impact they would have on a restless fan base. I could live with Pitt as GM, I guess, although I’d miss the other guy . . . what’s his name again . . . oh, yeah, Rizzo, that’s it.)
But unless or until those things happen, the Nats have an opportunity this summer to gain some ground in the D.C. sports market. The summer always has been theirs simply because no one fought them for it, at least until training camp opened. However, the spring has belonged to the Caps in the playoffs and the NFL draft, minicamps, OTAs, CPAs and PDAs.
The spring this year may be entirely up for grabs. First, weather-wise, we apparently are already in the midst of spring, so by April, we may well be into summer. I expect to have to turn on my air conditioner any day now, don’t you? Warm weather equals baseball weather. The Caps can still squeak into the playoffs, but Backstrom’s absence won’t help their efforts to get there. The Wizards . . . well, the Wizards. What can you say about the Wizards?
The Nats, on the other hand, are the product of careful — some might say painstakingly slow — rebuilding. They have tremendous young pitching talent, so much that they have actual competition to make the opening day roster. This is unusual in the long and storied history of the Nats, which stretches all the way back to 2005.
They’ve got their problems, but it is impossible to believe that Jayson Werth could have a worse season than last year — when you shake his 2011 bobblehead, it blushes — or that Adam LaRoche can’t fully recover from labrum surgery. They still have holes, but they’re close enough to draw new fans to the park, keep ’em there and probably get them to come back again. The Nats have a core of very loyal fans, but 2012 is their opportunity to build on it. Think of it as the Nats’ Summer of Glove, if you will.
And while the Redskins still set the tone in this town, cracks are beginning to show in their large and now angry fan base. Mike Shanahan’s arrival was greeted with cautious optimism, but consecutive finishes of 6-10 and 5-11 — and the entire lack of a viable NFL quarterback — have pushed many fans to the brink of the previously unthinkable: giving up on the Redskins.
In a perfect world, there’d be enough fans and fan dollars to go around, but we don’t live in that world right now. It’s every team for itself. The Nats may end up being the best team in town this year. If so, they certainly will be the team with the best timing.
For Tracee Hamilton’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/