I was unable to find time to venture out to the old ballpark last week. But I think the story of baseball in Washington is worth sending, particularly since the Nationals are in their prime time mode.
Professional baseball was absent from the Washington, DC area for 33 years. The old Washington Senators left long ago, ultimately to be replaced by the Montreal Expos in 2005. In 2008, Nationals Park was opened, after playing the first three seasons at RFK Stadium. By 2012, the Nationals won their first division championship built around young stars like Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, and Ryan Zimmerman.
The Nationals became the third DC baseball franchise in history. The first began back in 1901 as the Washington Senators, who left in 1965 to become the Minnesota Twins. A second version of the Senators, an expansion team, operated here between 1961 and 1971. They left to become the Texas Rangers, owned at one time by now former President G.W. Bush. Baseball in Canada was a rather short time affair, at least in Montreal. Toronto seems to be holding its own, so far.
National Park’s capacity is 41,487, and located in the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood of DC. The best and easiest access for me is the DC Metro stop at Navy Yard-Ballpark on the green line, a mere half block from the stadium. Inside the ballpark is a branch of President Obama’s favorite, Ben’s Chili Bowl. I hear the main attraction at the Red Porch is the Strasburger (named after the pitcher) weighing in at 8 pounds. The Shake Shack serves their classic hand-spun shake for dessert.
The Park is the first major professional stadium to be LEED silver certified by the US Green Building Council. It is also located near the Anacostia River, with views of the Capitol. The Nationals (formerly Expos) are one of only two major league baseball teams (Seattle Mariners are the other) that have not played in the World Series. Several other cities were considered before moving the Montreal Expos here to Washington.
“W” threw out the first pitch in 2005 (I prefer the “Lefty” Prez Obama)
Most remarkably, the area is home to another nearby team, the Baltimore Orioles of the American League. In fact, the Orioles franchise handles the television and radio rights to Nationals games as part of an agreement to protect the Orioles from any financial harm the Nationals might present. The Nationals are the only team in major league baseball that does not own its own broadcast rights! I cannot imagine that scenario here in the Bay Area with the Giants and A’s.
So, fast forward to the 2012 season when the Nationals won the National League East Division and posted the best record in major league baseball at 98-64. However, they lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 5 of the Division Series. St. Louis then played the future World Champion San Francisco Giants in the National League Championship Series. And we all know the rest of that story!!!
The current stars of the team are pitcher Stephen Strasburg and outfielder Bryce Harper. Harper won the Rookie of the Year Award, and was also voted to the National League All-Star team. He ended up batting .270 with 22 home runs and 59 runs batted in. Strasburg was the first pick in the 2009 draft. His 2010 season was marked by a torn ulnar collateral ligament, requiring Tommy John surgery, causing him to miss most of the 2010 and 2011 seasons. But he had a breakout season in 2012 with a 15-6 record, with a 3.16 ERA, and 197 strikeouts in 159 innings pitched.
Though my Giants will not be in town to play the Nationals in April, I will wander out to a game against either the Chicago White Sox or Atlanta Braves. I do remember the old Washington Senators, mostly as a doormat to the dominant Yankees teams of the Fifties and Sixties. The current manager is Davey Johnson, the former 2nd baseman of the nearby Baltimore Orioles. The catcher for the Nationals is a Japanese-American, Kurt Suzuki, formerly of the Oakland A’s. He is from Wailuku, Hawaii, and played college baseball at Cal State Fullerton. His team won the College World Series, and Suzuki was voted the Johnny Bench Award as the top college catcher.
Oh well, Go Giants. Perhaps we meet the Nationals in the playoffs later this year.