Thanksgiving is a time for sports fans to be thankful, and Washington Nationals fans are no exception. While fans of other teams may be thankful for other things, fans of D.C. baseball are just happy to have a team of their own.
For 34 years, Washington went without MLB baseball. The city lost two teams before the Montreal Expos moved and became the Nationals in 2005. In 1961, the original Washington Senators moved and became the Minnesota Twins. Eleven years later, the new Senators became the Texas Rangers. Both moves should have never happened, but they did.
In the 34 years after the Senators left, baseball fans in Washington went without the game. Some decided to root for the Baltimore Orioles and attend their games. Others rooted for whatever team appealed to them. Many turned their loyalties to the Washington Redskins of the NFL and the Washington Bullets (now Wizards) of the NBA. When the Washington Capitals of the NHL began to win, fans started attending their games. After losing two teams, it was assumed that the city would never see pro baseball again.
With no team to root for, an entire generation of young people began to turn away from baseball. When the Senators left, the game was still very popular in the D.C. metro area. Everyone played it in some form. There were baseball and softball leagues for all ages and genders everywhere. One could not travel anywhere without seeing a ball field.
As the years passed, these leagues and fields began to disappear. Where, once, children played Little League baseball, they were now playing summer basketball and lacrosse. Adults who played baseball and softball stopped. Televisions and radios that were once tuned to baseball began turning to other things. The sounds of baseball and summer were gone in D.C.
Then, the Nationals arrived. Fans that had traveled to Baltimore began to travel inside the beltway and attend Nats games. Ball fields began to spring up again. Though the game is not and will never be as popular as it once was, baseball has returned.
The Nationals have brought people, like me, back. By 2004, I had given up on the game. Things like the strike of 1994 and players using performance-enhancing drugs helped to drive me off. The fact that small market teams I grew up watching like the Kansas City Royals and Pittsburgh Pirates had little chance of competing for a championship made me less inclined to watch also.
Heck, even my father, who was a diehard Senators fan, had stopped watching baseball and the World Series.
We needed something to bring us back. The Nationals came along at just the right time for us and baseball.
Though most Washington fans still root for the teams of their youth or hometown, those who grew up in the D.C. area have taken to the Nationals. Men young and old can be seen sporting hats with curly W’s on them. The television set at the barber shop is tuned to Nats games. People are talking baseball again. Even my sisters watched the Nationals battle the St. Louis Cardinals in this year’s NL Divisional Series.
The loss to St. Louis may have been heart-breaking, but at least it happened to a team from Washington. When has anyone in my lifetime been able to say that?
There are many things that baseball fans across the country are thankful for.
Washington Nationals fans are happy just having a local team to root for.