It seems like ages ago in another universe. Remember the “Take Back the Park” promotion way back in early May?
Back then, the Washington Nationals were worried about supporters of other teams outnumbering the home fans. The mighty Philadelphia Phillies were coming into town for their first series of the year with Washington’s promising young team. Heh.
Today, the Phillies are 20 games behind the Nationals, in 4th place in the NL East. Twenty. Average attendance is over 30,000 and good tickets are getting increasingly difficult to get. Television viewing is through the roof.
Remember how thrilled we all were when the Nats opened the year 14-4 and we went to TEN games over .500? We were all whipping out our calculators. “Let’s see, if the Nats go .500 from here on out, we probably get a wild card slot!” Heh.
As of today we are 31 games over .500. Thirty-one.
Then there was Throw-back Day at Nationals Park. The players were dressed nattily in the cool white uniforms of the 1924 Washington Senators, the last team from the nation’s capital to win a World Series. Inspirational videos played on the big screen of that magical season from long ago when a pebble altered the direction of a baseball and gave the Senators a World Series victory over the New York Giants, the predecessors of the San Francisco club that was in town for that nostalgic promotion last July.
The Nationals won that day in a heroic come from behind effort in the 8th and 9th innings built largely against a pitcher who previously in the season, had thrown a perfect game. We ended up sweeping the Giants in that series last month and went on to take two out of three from them on their turf later in August.
Been to the stadium lately? It is a raucous, noisy, nightly spectacle. At last night’s game against the Atlanta Braves, every one of Stephen Strasburg’s ten strike-outs was cheered like it was the final out.
These days, the handful of visiting team jerseys in the stands are as sparse as a land mass in the Pacific Ocean. Not only do they no longer inspire wrath of any kind, they, instead, elicit a certain amount of sympathy. Oh, you poor dears. We welcome you to the Lion’s Den. Please, enjoy another beverage.
Nats mania knows no bounds. Why just last weekend while attending a friend’s annual summer party in distant Rappahannock County at an otherwise lovely home that didn’t happen to get MASN on Direct TV, I distinctly recall three of us climbing into a parked car, desperately seeking out the latest score, huddled like lonely baseball refugees, hungry for any tidbit of the game that could make it through the static of the radio signal.
Yes, the team and its fans have gone through quite a metamorphosis this season. Akin to the launch of a Saturn rocket; slow at first and then gaining speed, altitude and momentum. We are now sky-high.
But it’s not September yet. There are about 40 games left in the regular season. There is much work and more cheering yet to go. Strap in, fellow travelers. There is a still-to-be-determined ride ahead of us yet.