I’m a long-suffering baseball fan whose team often seems on the brink of turning things around, only to take a step back, or two, or three. In 2012 thus far, my Washington Nationals have looked inspired at times. Since we’ve been down this road before, many of us guard against rising expectations, which almost inevitably lead to disappointment. We know that first place in spring is fool’s gold … that it’s better to take the long view than to sweat every game … that such a great sport should be enjoyed for its inherent greatness and not taken too seriously … that it’s a marathon and not a sprint. Try talking sense to a true fan.
Even in the midst of winning, a lot has gone wrong. The starting pitching has been truly extraordinary … the hitting, not so much. The depth of the organization has been built up from the starvation level it subsisted at during its last years in Montreal and its first two years in D. C., when Major League baseball “owned” the franchise and let it die on the vine. That depth has been tested, as the multitude of injured players has reached curse-like proportions. Ritual sacrifices of rubber chickens have been utilized to try to appease whatever baseball gods hate us so much. The closer role is one of many important jobs that has required a committee. One of the candidates who might have grabbed the job, the talented but erratic Henry Rodriguez, threw so many wild pitches in crucial situations that his catchers developed shell-shock before succumbing to injuries themselves.
The national attention this team is getting for the first time is a bit unnerving. The nation enjoys watching two phenomenal talents, pitcher Stephen Strasburg and outfielder Bryce Harper, whom the Nationals were able to draft with the first picks in back-to-back years because the team was rock-bottom bad during those two years. Harper, the nineteen-year-old whom the manager calls “The Kid,” is developing before our eyes as he replaces his injured mentor, Jayson Werth, in right field. Will he come into full focus and carry this team with him to glory… like, say, Mickey Mantle once sparked the Yankees?
That spark can only happen if the rest of the team is at least solid. Weaknesses will continue to be exposed as the marathon goes on, and the team may prove to be not quite there—not this year. Glory recedes, at least temporarily, but that’s fine. Heartbreak is part of the experience.