It’s nice to meet you, Nats faithful. Let’s make some memories.
Sitting in a beach-front bar south of Houston in October of 2019, I never thought I’d be writing this piece for District on Deck. It was October 30th, and the mood of jubilation that had gripped Houston for half a decade was turning to despair with each passing strike. Daniel Hudson kicked and delivered, Michael Brantley swung and missed. Expletives, groans, and moans flew from every corner of the bar. The mighty Houston Astros had been beaten in the World Series by the upstart Washington Nationals.
I’m not and never really was an Astros fan. I spent my formative years at the Ballpark in Arlington watching the Rangers come close but ultimately fail. Josh Hamilton and Ian Kinsler were the stars of my childhood. Altuve and Correa just came along and one-upped them a few years later. Not that I was upset. Living in Houston, I was happy to lend my support as a show of Texan solidarity, but baseball, like life, has a way of changing unexpectedly.
It wasn’t long after the conclusion of the Series that the Astros cheating scandal broke. The news enraged most of baseball fandom – for good reason. The scandal was doubly bad when it was clear Houston fans were unapologetic, even remorseless. Texas Rangers fans who had lent our support to the Astros were incensed. When the scope of the cheating emerged, I regretted ever donning a Houston cap. Texas solidarity didn’t matter anymore – baseball solidarity was more important.
As for the Nationals, I didn’t give them a second thought. National League baseball is foreign to Rangers fans and Texans as a whole after Houston’s division realignment. The National League was where Albert Pujols crushed moonshots over the Crawford Boxes and delivered three doses of pain in the World Series. It’s not something I wanted to think about.
In 2020, I took a job offer and moved across the country to Washington. Sight unseen, I figured moving close to the Ballpark would be fun. Still indifferent to the Nationals, I went to my first game early in the 2021 season. It wasn’t long before I fell in love.
2021 was a rough season, but it could not have been more exciting for someone new to the National League. Max Scherzer was marching towards 3,000 strikeouts, mowing down batters at a furious rate. Trea Turner’s wizardry at short elicited pure joy from any observer. I’ll never forget where I was sitting on the third-base side when Kyle Schwarber launched another first pitch into the seats, extending his historic streak. Stealing, bunting, and manufacturing runs were normative. It was National League baseball and it was a joy to watch.
Then came the teardown. I had a feeling I was watching the end of something special in Camden Yards when the Nats let the O’s come back for the sweep. Days later, the team I had grown to love was gone. It was embittering, and I knew that months of empty seats lay ahead back at Nats Park. A Texas baseball fan, I was accustomed to hundred-loss seasons and having outfield sections to myself.
The fans in Washington, however, still came. The games weren’t sellouts, but healthy crowds still packed the Bullpen before games and still cheered their much-reduced team. Juan Soto put together a second-half as spectacular as anything I’d ever witnessed- even Josh Hamilton’s reign of dominance in Arlington. There was no room for hopelessness in Nats Park. Baseball in Washington isn’t about winning, though they have a recent history of it.
It was about a love of the game, a gathering of fans, and the simple pleasure of a Sunday afternoon in the park. Crowds still filed in off the metro, strolling past saxophones and peanut hawkers. Dads still kept score with their kids; young people still drank beer in the cheap seats. It became clear that baseball in the District is more than a contest; it’s a community. It’s a community I’m now happy to call my home.
With this in mind, I hope to bring a fan’s perspective to my contributions to District on Deck. Forewarning, it’ll be old school. There are more innovative writers who can break down a player’s BQR-S or LIPS, whatever those mean. For me, baseball is about moments and stories. I don’t remember what Ian Kinsler’s WAR was in 2011, but I’ll never forget my Grandfather explaining the importance of a 3-2 count to my little cousins and me.
Nothing can replace flagging down a hot dog vendor at a game with my Dad. Those moments in Arlington are rare now, and with time, everything passes into memory. But baseball, wherever it is, is a constant thread. The future is at Nats Park now, and I’m looking forward to new moments with all of you. Cheers to the next 162; there are stories to be written.