A player’s fan
I remember when the Nationals came to DC in 2005. Baseball was barely my favorite sport at the time and I had been raised a Yankees fan by my father. I didn’t care much for the Nats back then because trips to RFK tended to be hot and sweaty affairs featuring obscure players who I now joke about (was John Lannan really an opening day starter 2 years in a row?!). They weren’t a great ballclub and my middle-school self was interested in other things: like getting my parents to buy me WoW, liking girls for the first time, and pretending to be Zac Efron from HSM. Something changed when the team moved into their new stadium. My interest in baseball and the Nationals increased as I made my way through high school. When Davey Johnson replaced Riggleman as the manager part way through 2011 I was intrigued enough to follow the team as they fought for, and almost achieved, their first winning record. Honestly I liked Riggleman a lot, but Davey was also easy to get behind. Then, during the summer of 2012 I became a true Washington Nationals fan. I went to about a dozen games over the 3 months I was back from college. As the summer went on and they continued to win it was amazing to see more and more fans show up for each homestand. I loved belting out Take on Me when Michael Morse came up in clutch situations, getting chills listening to Ready or Not when Tyler Clippard came out of the pen, and clapping ’til my hands hurt in rhythm to Thunderstruck when the starting roster was announced. When I went back to school I even got MLB TV and watched just about every game as they ran away with the division in September, completely smoking those pesky Bravos. I vividly remember where I was as I watched Jayson Werth hit the walk-off HR in Game 4 of the NLDS and how embarrassing my celebration was in our campus’ athletic center. Those were precious moments.
In the next couple of seasons the team lost some of my favorite guys like Sean Burnett, Roger Bernadina, and Steve Lombardozzi. The Beast got traded to the Giants and Clip got traded to the Mets. Each player who left created a small crack in my Nationals fandom. I’m a believer in team chemistry and the power of a clubhouse dynamics to push a team to the top. This past season the Nationals were prime example of a clubhouse that fell apart. Now I’m not going to pretend like I can throw around blame objectively, but when people like Scherzer and Papelbon are brought on for obscene amounts of money to replace Stasburg and Storen, respectively, I feel like an injustice has been committed by the front office. Many articles have tried to explain the Nationals demise this past season, but one by Barry Svrluga goes into immense detail with poignant quotes. In a late September Washington Post article about the season Svrluga writes, “‘we thought we were building a clubhouse here with players who were going to do things the Nationals Way,’ one player said. ‘But then they don’t keep some of those guys, and they bring in others who haven’t come up that way. What does that teach you? How does that breed loyalty?'”(1) Loyalty is exactly what I think MLB teams need to have a little more of and that’s why I am a player’s fan through and through. Why let a team owner decide what players you’re going to root for when you can loyally follow someone’s career as they go through the roller coaster ups and downs? Besides, it’s the players themselves who are going through the intense moments and digging deep down inside themselves to display greatness on the biggest of stages.
Anyway, I felt compelled to get that out of my system. I know people will argue that owners/team executives are just trying to win and yes that it what our society places value on in competitive arenas. However, I care more about how my team, my favorite players, and myself win. All of the true greats have cared about how they played. The effort the put out onto the field every single day. Didn’t Joe DiMaggio say something like, “there is always some kid that is seeing me play for the first time. I owe him my best,” and that “best” was all about how he went about playing the game. I like players who I can relate to and who play the game how I think it aught to be played. In today’s game when many players (exceptions include Boras clients) just get treated like cattle, I believe one must become a player’s fan. Otherwise you’re at the mercy of some detached owner who doesn’t care enough to reach into his vast pockets for a couple extra million dollars to re-sign your favorite player.
On another note, I promise that my next post will dive deeper into the reason why I began this blog. I’ll begin to share my story.