Photo by Rachel Levitin
The Washington Post’s Thomas Boswell raised a pretty good point this morning. “Baseball fans can win two ways,” he wrote. “Their team can be great. Or a player can be so sublime that his performance, year after year, almost every day for six months at a time, gives so much accumulated pleasure that his individual art actually rivals victory.”
Bryce Harper signing with the Washington Nationals is just one of a few ways Nationals fans will find victory while cheering for a team who has yet to contend in post-season play.
“Just five years after getting a team back after a 33-year absence, Washington fans are getting a reward that, while perhaps not as cherished as a World Series, ranks enormously high,” Boswell wrote.
What’s the reward? A team that went from hopeless, having lost over 200 games in two seasons, to a team full of hope.
When the word “hope” comes to mind in the context of baseball, I find myself turning to two teams for guidance on the subject – the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs.
Both the Rex Sox and Cubs have seen the likes of baseball adversity that is incomparable to anything else in Major League sports. Before the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series, fans suffered for 86 years without a ring. And those poor Chicago Cubs? It’s been 102 years since they won a World Series, 65 years since they played in one, and you better believe there’s no chance for them reaching October glory anytime soon.
But what is it about these two teams that keep their fans cheering no matter their spot in the standings? Hope. Now, the Nationals have it too.
“Few franchises ever have a moment even remotely similar to what the Nats are experiencing,” Boswell wrote. “Strasburg will be under team control through the 2016 season and Harper if he becomes a regular at 21, would be an indentured Nats employee until 2020.”
Washington has seen what Stephen Strasburg brings to Nats baseball. His Major League debut was an in-house electricity fest, compliments of a sellout crowd. Combine that with this city’s love of Ryan Zimmerman and there’s no denying that a singular player (or, in this case, multiple players) can have an effect on a city’s love for a team.
The presence of Harper, Strasburg, Zimmerman, and some of the other players on Jim Riggleman’s roster is why the Washington Nationals will continue to cultivate their ever-growing fan base in the next decade. Why? Because Washington will be watching these young men grow up. This is what Mr. Boswell says bonds a city to a team.
“For fans, there is nothing better than growing up with a team, watching young players arrive and adopting them,” team President Stan Kasten told Boswell. He’s right.
When asked about the new kids on her favorite team, die-hard Nats fan Cheryl Hauser responded with a glowing smile on her face, much like a proud mother on graduation day. “You know, I’m not gonna quit when they’re not winning and I love the underdog thing,” Hauser said. “It’s a long season, and each year there’s highs and there’s lows and they’ll always bring you back up. They’re awesome. I love them.”
The Nationals’ 10 millionth fan Mark Strattner loves his team but is ready for a winner on the field. “After six years it is time to stop saying ‘At least we have baseball back’,” Strattner said. “Now we want winning baseball. Next year we want winning baseball. We really do.”
“There have been a lot of exciting baseball moments [here] and I really think we’re going to have a lot more,” Strattner said. “I think we will finally one day have a playoff game. Notice I did not say World Series game, but at least a playoff game, which would be nice.”
But, no matter what the Nats produce on the field, both Hauser and Strattner will continue to love their team despite the standings. Hauser and Strattner have hope.
You know those songs you really like at first listen but lose interest in after every club, bar, restaurant, elevator and TV promo kills that loving feeling by overplaying the track? That’s what Federal Baseball’s David Huzzard compares Harper to; only Harper is the song that doesn’t get old.
If fans start attaching themselves to players like Harper, Strasburg, and Zimmerman in the next few years, then the increase in die-hard fandom could be comparable to the influx of Beatles fans after their debut on The Ed Sullivan Show. Stan Kasten and Mike Rizzo just have to keep playing their cards right.
Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, and Ryan Zimmerman are by no means the cure to what’s been ailing this team, but they’re sure to be a catalyst toward a successful future. That is something fans can look forward to.