Like quirky baseball? The 2019 Nationals are crushing it.
They dance in the dugout, fans sing along to Gerardo Parra’s walk-up song, and the clubhouse includes “old friend” Fernando Rodney (cap askew, arrows airborne) and Sean Doolittle (Star Wars nerd with a lightsaber always close at hand).
Given the Nationals’ convoluted history, it’s refreshing to see some fun going on in the nation’s capital. And don’t you dare make fun of their “Baby Shark” battle cry.
Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo has credited the Latin players on the ballclub with bringing the team together and keeping the clubhouse loose. (Federalbaseball.com, 9/30/19)
I mean, just look at the shimmy Stephen Strasburg does with Parra at the end of this LCS celebratory dance.
But the franchise’s history has not always been so joyful, and even now, there are Expos fans unhappy with how things have played out.
The history of professional baseball in DC dates to 1859 when the Washington Nationals Baseball Club was formed.
The team was officially the Washington Nationals but was popularly known as the Senators, a nod to the club’s founder, Sen. Arthur Pue Gorman.
DC lost its team to Minnesota in 1962, got it back, then lost it again to Texas after the 1971 season.
There was even an attempt to buy the Padres(!!!) from financially-strapped C. Arnholt Smith in 1973 (fortunately, Smith sold the team to Ray Kroc instead).
In 2005, baseball returned to DC for the first time since 1971 when MLB approved the move of the Montreal Expos. The Nationals are now owned by self-made, Jewish immigrant, real estate developer Ted Lerner, and the team is headed by his son Mark.
Ian Edward Russell Smith (@SDRedBull8) grew up an Expos fan as a young child in upstate New York until his family moved to San Diego in 1997. Early memories from Olympic Stadium in Montreal and watching Moises Alou (his favorite player as a kid) forged the Expos as his first baseball love.
Feeling uprooted after the family move to San Diego, Ian tried to cling to his Expos allegiance as a familiar beacon. One day at Qualcomm, he booed the introduction of Greg Vaughn with all of the vehemence his six-year old body could muster. It was at that moment when his father laid down the rules:
“Stop it. We’re in a different town now. You can’t boo the hometown team, or else you’re going to get us shot.” -Ian’s dad.
Ian still follows the team but says that feeling a true “connection” is difficult.
“Most Nationals fans don’t care about the team’s past in Montréal. Washington wants nothing to do with Montréal. Montréal wants nothing to do with Washington.”
1994 is an especially sore subject with Expos fans because the team’s greatest season vanished overnight when the World Series was cancelled because of a labor strike.
So, who are the Nationals fans these days? Well, it’s complicated.
Most Nats fans will tell you that the fan base has many layers, including:
Casual fans cheering on a team as they live temporarily in the DC area.
A diehard core of fans with generational ties going back to the Senator days.
Fans who live there now but come from places without a pro team – so they’re “all in” on the Nats.
John Conniff (@JohnConniff), who covers the Padres minor league system for MadFriars, has lived in the DC area since 1994. He moved there from Poway to attend graduate school at American University.
John follows the team and has quite a few friends who are Nats fans.
John pointed out a recent article published on television personality Maury Povich, who was a batboy for the Senators in the 1940s and also the son of legendary Washington Post sportswriter Shirley Povich. Check it out for some great anecdotes of baseball in DC going back all the way to the 1920s! (Washingtonian, 10/16/19)
I asked John whether he likes Nationals Park.
“I do like the park, although its different than Camden Yards because of its modern design.
The best thing that they did when they built the new stadium was that they tried to incorporate the history of major league baseball in Washington and the Negro Leagues. So if you go there you will learn about Walter Johnson, Goose Goslin and Josh Gibson.“
“The President’s Race is one of the better promotions in baseball.”
“As for the design, the biggest negative are the press boxes, which are really high up. But I think Ted Leitner has let everyone know that he is not fond of them.“
As noted above, the Nationals and Expos are not exactly bosom buddies. However, according to John, the team does embrace its history with Washington’s past.
“For most of their history the Senators were a bad team – ‘Washington, first in war, first in peace, and last in the American League.‘
But for a short period of time – 1924 to 1933 – they made the World Series three times: ’24, ’25 and ’33.
The team’s lone championship was in 1924, when they won in 12 innings in the seventh game with Walter Johnson getting the victory.
Mostly here to promote fun baseball! My focus is on our experiences as fans and shared connections in the baseball community. I also produce content on social media, including vlogs and event coverage. Instagram: Michelle_baseballfan247 Facebook: Michelle Frost; Member: IBWAA, SABR