THE POWER OF SPORT - Halimiz
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7 November 2019
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7 November 2019
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Photo: Jim Stevenson

One of my husband’s most prized possessions is an old baseball bat — yellow, scuffed up and showing its age.

He got it as a little kid at a Washington Senators game – a souvenir from a franchise that left the capital city for good in 1972, breaking the hearts of countless fans.

Now, there is nothing but joy!

The Washington Nationals —the team that brought baseball back to D.C. in 2005— has defied the odds to win the World Series championship. They, “Nats”  did it with heart, grit, and and a strong belief that they could overcome any obstacle that stood in their way.

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The Nationals unified this city in a way that, perhaps, only sports can. Baseball may be the “great American pastime” but the ability of a team to bring a community together even in the toughest of times is universal.

This is especially true when the team’s rise to the top was totally unexpected — a surprise built on hope, talent and the ability to work together to reach a common goal.

That is the lesson of the 2019 Washington Nationals.

Their season did not get off to a good start back in late March. By the end of May, they had one of the worst records in professional baseball. But they caught fire in the heat of a Washington summer and against all odds, made it to the play-offs.

It turned into the greatest postseason upset run in the history of baseball — an emotional roller-coaster ride that left both fans and opponents breathless.

The Nationals became the talk of the town — bringing the World Series to Washington for the first time since the old Senators did it in 1924. This, despite the fact that odds-makers back in May put the Nats chances of of wining the championship at 1.5 percent — virtually nil.

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Photo: Jim Stevenson

Others might have given up after such a poor start to the season, but the Nationals never lost hope. As the weeks progressed, they brought  in a few new young players and relied heavily on a group of baseball veterans in the twilight of their careers. All of a sudden, this was a team that was having fun and their love of the game clearly showed. The bad days were gone.

The man responsible for building the team reveled in the change. “This is how this group plays,” General Manager Mike Rizzo told reporters. “Even when things were bad, even when it seemed like there was no way back out in the spring, they were total pros. They never wavered. They had something special.”

Indeed they did.

Others may have counted them out — and they had their fans on the brink of tears more than once — but as the playoffs progressed, the Nationals continued to do the unthinkable. Five times they were faced with elimination. Five times, they came from behind to win.  No team in American professional baseball has ever done that.

Veteran sports writers in town — well-known for their exquisite prose — were almost at a loss for words.

Tom Boswell of the Washington Post put it this way: “This October has been an out-of-body experience for Washington baseball fans, who seem to levitate over their world, barely believing what they are seeing, game after game, series after series.”

Finally, with one last comeback win on October 30th, the Nationals — who had been written off by so many early in the season — clinched the first World Series title for Washington since the Senators won the championship almost a century ago.

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Photo: Jim Stevenson

And when they all spilled into the middle of the baseball field at the end of the game, after overtaking the favored Houston Astros, the true strength of this team was on display for all to see. There was a togetherness… a camaraderie… and a display of shear happiness.

That is what they gave the city of Washington at a time when we needed it most — a reminder that even in these days of impeachment and trauma on so many fronts, there are things that bring us all together… that bring us joy.

You could see it in the crowds that turned out three days after the Nationals won the World Series for a victory parade down Constitution Avenue in the heart of D.C.

After decades without baseball, and a series of lackluster seasons, fans in Washington had something to celebrate. And celebrate they did.

Dressed in team colors, they lined the streets to catch a glimpse of their favorite players as the athletes made their way along the parade route in a caravan of double-decker buses.

We laughed. We cheered. We shared. We waved signs and roared with pride.

As the last bus made its way down the avenue, the back door swung open. Mike Rizzo — clenching a cigar between his teeth — jumped out. So did coach Davey Martinez and Ryan Zimmerman, the only player on the team who has been with the Nationals since their first game in Washington in April 2005.

They held the championship trophy high and ran over to the crowds so their fans could get a closer look.

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Photo: Jim Stevenson

“This is for you!” exclaimed Rizzo, as he showed off the trophy, “this is for you!”

It was for the “real” Washington.

So often this city is seen as “just a government town” filled with bland bureaucrats. And it comes as no surprise that when people talk about sports uniting D.C., they tend to speak in political and ideological terms.

But Washington is so much more.

Yes, we have a lot of government workers here. But we also have teachers, carpenters, artists, engineers and store clerks. We have citizens from all over the world… and as many colors as a rainbow.

In some respects, we are unique. But in many ways, we are an all-American town.

And so, what the Nationals did was bigger than giving Republicans and Democrats a breather from politics. They brought all Washingtonians together: urban and suburban… rich and struggling… young and old. With their spirit, they merged a diverse community racially and ethnically into one big yelling bunch of fans.

On a cool but sunny Saturday afternoon in early November, we cheered ourselves hoarse at the sight of our team.

Military veterans in wheelchairs rose on unsteady legs as the parade went by.

Little kids perched on their parents shoulders for a better look.

And more than a few grey-haired adults—who cheered on the Washington Senators as children— got a lump in the throat and a tear in the eye… including one who still treasures the yellow baseball bat he got as a boy engraved with the words “compliments of the Washington Senators.”

 

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Paula Wolfson

Paula Wolfson is a veteran Washington correspondent who has covered three presidents and six presidential campaigns. She was the White House bureau chief for the Voice of America before switching to commercial radio, where she reported on science and health care policy, Recently she returned to her first love and is writing once again on American politics and foreign policy for halimiz.com

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