2012 is upon us – as is the start of the Major League Baseball season – and the Washington Nationals are a team on the minds of many.
Last week I found myself at Reagan National Airport talking baseball during the Harvard-Vanderbilt March Madness game. During that game, I discovered a strange truth: a DC-based Cardinals fan told me, flat-out, that he was more excited to watch the Nats this year than his beloved Midwestern red birds. At first I thought this guy was a fluke of nature but upon further review I realized he wasn’t.
There was a piece in Chicago Magazine this week that brought up the topic as well:
“I’d rather root for the Royals, Nationals, or Marlins this year than the Cubs or Sox. Those teams have new players worth watching, some works in progress that should be interesting to follow.”
While it’s important to remember how poor the Chicago baseball clubs are likely to perform this season, the quote also sheds light on how baseball fans outside of DC view the Nats. At the risk of sounding cliché, 2012 is a good year (if not the best thus far) to be a Nats fan.
That, of course, is the optimistic route to choose.
The warranted buzz over prospect extraordinaire Bryce Harper, the thought of having Stephen Strasburg pitch for a full-season (until his pitch count bottoms out due to an on-going Tommy John surgery recovery process), the option of an actual five-man starting rotation, Ryan Zimmerman locked-in at third base for the long haul, and manager Davey Johnson at the helm are only a few reasons as to why Nats fan are ready to watch some baseball.
There’s also the skeptic that lies deep within even the biggest baseball enthusiasts in town. Their points are valid too.
Will Jayson Werth step it up or will his batting numbers in 2011 be an indicator of what to expect in 2012? Will Adam LaRoche fulfill his role on this team or will Michael Morse pick up the pieces for him? Will the Tom Gorzelanny experiment end? Will John Lannan make it a full season before the front office decides it’s time to deal the chips (so to speak)?
For as many things as there are to get jazzed about, there are just as many questions. But one thing’s for certain: no matter where your allegiance lies on the Nats fandom spectrum (optimist, pessimist, and anywhere in between), this season might be the year tickets sell.
Imagine it now: Harper gets the call to the Bigs while Strasburg’s still in the starting rotation. It’s not a far-fetched fantasy.
There’s also the addition of a second wild card by Commissioner Bud Selig in 2012. The second wild card is far from being a guaranteed playoff berth for Washington. It is, however, an opportunity. A third place finish in the National League East in 2011 is not an indicator of an eventual playoff berth as much as it is a tangible showing of growth. That’s what Washington will see in its Nats this year: growth.
If anything, that’s a start.