Thursday, July 07, 2005

Baseball (in DC) is Life

Almost forgotten amongst all the furor about the attacks in London today, they played baseball in the Nation's Capital this afternoon. For those of you who haven't been paying attention, we haven't had baseball here in 33 years, and the love affair with our brand new team is on.

The Washington Nationals (formerly the Montreal Expos) weren't given any chance of doing anything this year, and yet, at the All-Star Break, my hometown team has the second best record in baseball. That's right, the team everyone laughed at, the team with one of the smallest payrolls in the major leagues, the team that has sent player after player to the disabled list, continues to find ways to win. For once, the nice guys are finishing first.

And the city of Washington, the butt of so many jokes, the city that everyone says is bland and boring, lacking in culture and fashion and fun--the city that is divided by so many things--is being brought together by this improbable bunch of misfits and rejects, and we are having the last laugh. Attendance has far exceeded expectations and shows no signs of slowing down (today's game was yet another sellout). And the team is responding in kind, refusing to give up, pulling out game after game in all sorts of gutsy ways.

Today, having just sent yet another one of their best hitters to the DL, the Nats gave it their best shot (as always), and held their own into extra innings before being bested by (in this homestand anyway) a superior bullpen. And in the end, it didn't really matter, because we were all there together-kids seeing their first big league game, fathers and sons, moms and daughters, businessmen (and lobbyists) playing hookey, African-American, Latino, Asian, white, urban, suburban, young, old--we were all there together, and everyone was having a great time.

It is still unbelievable to me that after so many years of waiting, hoping, praying, of having hopes crushed again and again, that on a humid July afternoon, I could get on the subway, ride a half hour down to funky old RFK stadium (where I have seen so many amazing times), and buy a $15 seat behind home plate to watch baseball. How long we have waited here in Washington, and how disheartening the wait has been! And yet, here we are, in 2005, watching America's Pastime in the Nation's Capital.

I have been to several games since opening day, and still I pinch myself each time I walk down the long approach to that venerable old sports facility on East Capitol Street. And today, on a day when I really needed to get away, to escape from the latest horror stories abroad and here at home in Washington, to forget about the personal baggage that often seems more than I can bear, baseball saved me.

The Nats' improbable luck may continue, and then again, it may not. After all, that's baseball, and indeed, that's life. But in the end, that's not what's important. In the end, baseball is back in Washington to stay, and that is all that matters.

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