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At 11:50 PM last night, there was an old man with tears in his eyes in Ashburn, watching the ending to a baseball game.
His wife will readily tell you that old man has always been a sap, so this isn’t surprising. But when the final pitch was thrown and the Washington Nationals had won the 2019 World Series, it was hard not to get emotional.
It wasn’t so much because of the sports accomplishment, although it has been a long bumpy road watching the professional baseball teams that have represented DC finally win a title. It was more for the people I met on the journey following baseball since I was 10 who are no longer with us that would have really enjoyed the moment.
My Dad was a baseball fan, but the notion he would ever get to attend a World Series game was as remote a thought as being an astronaut and landing on the moon. My close friend Paul, who literally kidnapped me every opening day and forced me to go to Nats games with him, fantasized about the team in a World Series. We sat together on opening day of 2012, four days before his death, and all he talked about was whether this would finally be the year the Nats made the playoffs.
You should have been here, Paul.
Then there was the group of people I met at spring training in West Palm Beach in March, when after over 60 years of waiting, I finally went. They were all in their 80s, many could barely walk, but they were the Boys Of Summer, coming back every year to see their team, hoping again that this might be the year their team finally won it all.
This year it finally was.
I thought of my old friend Tim, as the two of us called Virginia Tech baseball games together on campus station WUVT back when we were seniors. He was another huge baseball fan and one afternoon in 1978, after we had watched the Washington Bullets beat the Seattle Supersonics for an NBA title, Tim said we’d one day watch Washington win a World Series together. The fact the Senators had left DC 7 years prior didn’t seem to matter to Tim. We would see it in our lifetime.
We were 21 at the time, full of all sorts of foolish notions. But last Friday at Nats Park, now 63, we got together for a fist bump and a picture of two old men. We had made it to the World Series as promised. Back then, the Bullets coach was Dick Motta, and down the stretch, he kept saying “It’s not over until the fat lady sings,” as many times the Bullets looked out of it, then came back to win.
That day the Bullets won the title, Tim said “the fat lady finally sings” with his arms held high in celebration. Last night at 12:02 AM, there was a voice message on my cellphone from Tim simply saying “the fat lady finally sings…again.”
Championships get won every year by any number of teams in different sports, but this one was different. The long wait certainly made it special, much like the Washington Capitals winning the Stanley Cup last year. But it was also the character of the team and the odds they kept defying every step of the way that made you feel like you were lucky to be aboard this train, and that what we were watching would probably never happen again.
This team, as I’ve said several times, just wasn’t as good as some of the other Nats teams of the last 7 years, and those teams failed far earlier in the playoffs. I wasn’t even sure manager Davey Martinez was going to survive the month of June, and the bullpen was at times like dairy products left out in the hot sun for days at a time.
They could score a lot of runs for several games, and then without notice the offense would require an amber alert they disappeared so quickly. They gave you both highs and lows, many times over the same weekend, and even as late as mid-September, you could not feel confident they could put an extended run together.
Somehow they did. They had been left for dead on the side of the road dozens of times, yet kept picking themselves off the canvas time after time. The night they trailed the Brewers 3-0 going into the 8th, I was certain there were only 6 more outs of baseball left in the season. But Juan Soto had other thoughts, and the Nats survived and advanced.
During the Dodgers series, when Howie Kendrick seemed to make error after error in the field, I was telling the television he needed to go sit down. Fortunately, televisions don’t listen, and Kendrick would hit a game-winning grand slam in extra innings. The Nats once again survived and advanced.
That seemed to be the central theme as the story continued. Players who had made mistakes got a chance at redemption and made the most of it. They swept the St. Louis Cardinals – the team that started all the misery with a Game 5 comeback in 2012 – then went down to Houston and won the first two games to send us all into emotional overdrive.
I was convinced, however, that it was all over after the three straight losses in DC. The Nats team that scored one run a game and looked bad in the process had returned. There was no way they were winning game 6, and I sat down Tuesday night expecting to watch the last night of the baseball season.
It didn’t happen. Last night down 2-0 and having connected on only one hit going into the 7th, there were similar doubts. It didn’t happen then either. It was as if the universe decided this team had come too far for too long, would probably never be back in this position again in my lifetime, and since they were so close, they might as well win it.
Kendrick again made me feel bad for ever doubting him, clanging one off the foul pole to finally give the Nats a 3-2 lead.
Then I knew in my heart it was going to happen. The rest was just nervous waiting for the game to end.
So at 11:50 PM, as players jumped up and down and celebrated a World Series title, I felt lucky. Blessed. Extremely fortunate that after 41 years of waiting, I got to see a Washington team hoist a World Series trophy.
All while looking up at the ceiling and telling my Dad, Paul, and a host of others no longer with us, that we finally did it.
All while also wiping a tear or two from my eyes.