We’ve all joked about them before. Either because you live in the DC/Metro area or because you remember them as that team who spelled their names wrong on their jerseys. You poked fun at them for finishing dead last and playing the kind of baseball that makes you wonder how on earth this team is still in the league. How bad was it? Baltimore, a team that hasn’t been competitive in their own league for 15 years was considered the big brother of the beltway. That is how bad it was, folks.
The Washington Nationals were the very definition of a joke. I remember the punctuation on that sentiment, for me, was a game I attended back in 2007 at RFK when the Nationals still considered it home. They were playing the Detroit Tigers who had gone to the World Series the year before but were showing signs of scuffling heading into the All-Star break. They lost 15-1 and I’ll never forget the two thoughts I had as I left the stadium.
RFK should never be considered a baseball facility, and the Nationals will never contend for anything besides best between inning entertainment.
Then came 2008.
Nationals Park opened and was a very exciting achievement. They played the Braves on opening day and won it on a walk-off home run by their franchise player Ryan Zimmerman. From there things began looking up for this franchise. A lot can happen when you get a new stadium. A lot can also happen when you string together a few bad seasons. You can supplement that new stadium with a few number one picks such as Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. Then when revenues come in from the new park you can start adding pieces like Jayson Werth (although he is overpaid). You have to have people who know what they’re doing as well right? Enter Stan Kasten, Mike Rizzo and Davey Johnson. Now you have the makings of something special.
Rumor has it the Nationals are the front-runners to acquire Prince Fielder. If this happens two things will be true. Miami’s move will be nullified by this one signing (and trade of Gio Gonzalez with the impending arrival of Bryce Harper and return of Stephen Strasburg) and Washington will have the best top to bottom lineup in the National League. Can they win their division? I don’t see it just yet with the Phillies, although old, still bringing their rotation to town and the Braves, despite their collapse, putting together an impressive young nucleus of their own. Washington stands at the time to be the beneficiary of an expanded playoff courtesy of the new CBA ratified at the end of last year. if rumors are true of the set up I would not want to see one of their top three starters in a one game playoff to decide if I move on.
That 2008 season a buddy of mine took me to a game and we sat field level next to the dugout of the Braves (Braves won that game). I remember thinking to myself how different the atmosphere was from the game I attended the summer before. The stadium was beautiful and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. It is a testament to how quickly things can change for a franchise. If the rumors are true, and Prince Fielder does sign on to join the Nationals the landscape of the National League East will change just as quickly.