The Sports Sermon: Nationals bring hope to Washington

April 3, 2014

The Washington Nationals are different from all of the other professional sports franchises that call D.C. home. No, they haven’t won a title, but the simple fact that it seems likely that they might win a championship is unique among the sports teams of this city.

The Capitals looked like a championship contender in their heyday, but hit a block in the early rounds of the postseason. Now, they are playoff bottomfeeders that will give some excitement in the postseason, but never seriously threaten to win a Stanley Cup. The Wizards and the Redskins are similar.

Though the Skins are one of the most awful messes in the NFL, two seasons ago, despite the team making the playoffs, few believed that a deep run was in the making. The Wizards have been the same. In the Gilbert Arenas years, fans knew that no success lay beyond the first round. Even today, John Wall and friends are locked into a playoff spot, but only a fool would say that they would be able to compete with Indiana or Miami over the course of a seven game series.

The Nationals have disappointed come season’s end the past two years, but the oddsmakers and fans agree that the team is a very real threat to be playing in late October.

That’s a very rare mindset in this town. Earlier this week, as I talked about Opening Day and my fears about the season at work, a colleague approached me and said, “Oh, please. I don’t want to hear it. I’ve had to watch the Pirates lose for two thirds of my life.” I didn’t have the heart to put him in his place.

The Montreal Expos moved to Washington and became the Nationals in 2005. Until 2011, they weren’t just bad, they were horrific. A .500 season in 2005 was deceptive as the team tanked for the next five years, losing a league-worst 103 games in 2009. In 2011, as the team started to look up, my friends and I literally went to Nats Park and cheered for the team to reach .500. They didn’t. You could say, “Oh, five bad years isn’t so horrible. Look at how Cubs fans have had to suffer. Look at how Red Sox fans used to suffer.” The difference here? Forgetting the years before my time, I bet most of those Cubs fans got quite a bit of enjoyment from seeing Jordan’s Bulls win six titles and seeing the Blackhawks win two Stanley Cups. Boston fans had it bad? Even as Red Sox fans were in the midst of their drought, the Patriots won three Super Bowls. Poor Pittsburgh? The Steelers and Penguins have both won titles in the last ten years. The Redskins haven’t won two consecutive playoff games since 1991. The Wizards haven’t even made the Eastern Conference Finals since 1979. The Capitals have never won a Stanley Cup.

This overwhelming tradition of losing over the last two decades is what makes the Nationals such a significant force in Washington sports. The lineup has everything you look for in a championship contender: strong role players, established veterans, young stars, and a strong rotation. With the other teams in Washington, losing trends have curtailed any optimism I would usually have. Even after the “spectacular” 2012-2013 football season, (by the way, this decade-best performance was a 10-6 record) I knew that no success was in store for the next season. And, of course, the Skins stumbled to a 3-13 record, including an eight game losing streak to close the season. The Wizards have young pieces in place this year, but I am unwilling to believe that the team will ever be a serious championship contender with only their current mainstays.

What do you look for in a team? Winning. If you believe that your team has a ceiling, there comes a point in the season where watching a game is a waste of time. This is the case with every Washington team, except the Nationals.

I believe that Bryce Harper can be the best player in baseball. I believe that Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez can lead the best pitching staff in the country. I believe that Ryan Zimmerman has all the leadership that you could ask for. And I believe that all these factors will come together this year to get what all sports fans want: wins.

Hope is what keeps us watching, and it’s certainly not abundant in Washington. But, with the Nationals, despite what has happened in the past,  I refuse to believe that failure is inevitable.

Chris Almeida
Chris Almeida was an editor for The Georgetown Voice and graduated in 2016.


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