I couldn’t even pretend to hear the announcers over the excited rumblings of the bar crowd, all eyes on Daniel Hudson as he readied his next—and potentially final—pitch against Michael Brantley in Game 7 of the 2019 World Series. I held my breath, my heart pounding, as Hudson threw a perfect fastball down and in, and Brantley swung, down on one knee—and then the screaming started. The Washington Nationals had won the World Series.
Amidst all the shrieking, the hugs, and the tears, I at some point managed to make my way to the exit, holding my friend—who had never followed baseball before the past two days and was born in a country where baseball was not the national pastime—by the hand as the crowd streamed out the front. Swept up in the moment, with smiles wide on our faces, we ran down Half Street towards Nationals Park as fans poured out of every door. The Nationals were at Minute Maid Park, over a thousand miles a way, but it didn’t matter. Everyone needed to revel in the moment and be close to the stadium, where the “Finish the Fight” electronic signs had already turned to “Fight Finished” with the trophy graphic underneath. Even as the crowd eventually faded away, after the helicopters overhead had left and the front-page newspaper copies had been passed around, it didn’t feel real, and I couldn’t get the smile to leave my face.
My personal journey to the Washington Nationals—to that moment, and to where I now spend a not insignificant portion of my time thinking and writing about them—is short. I didn’t grow up watching the team as so many did: I grew up in New Jersey, and my house was a house divided (the Subway Series was always fun). I didn’t have a team, but as I didn’t follow baseball too closely at the time, that didn’t seem to matter much. Nothing really changed when I went up north for college: I could never root for the Red Sox (my father would never forgive me), so I stayed without a permanent team, content to watch games when I could but not getting too invested.
In June 2019, two weeks after graduating college, I packed my bags and moved to DC. I had fallen in love with the city during a summer three years prior, and I promised myself I would move there when I finally was able to. Baseball was not yet a thought in my mind, and the Nationals even less so. At that time, I was only concerned with my job, extricating myself from a difficult relationship, and finding a bed to sleep in.
All three of those things proved difficult, and Washington was not kind to me. My job was not what I thought it would be, and I had to adjust my expectations significantly. I remained stuck in this difficult relationship, unable to move forward, and it fundamentally changed my sense of who I was. And for my first month and a half in DC, I could not find a place to live: I went from couch to couch, Airbnb to Airbnb, living out of a small suitcase while going to my full-time job every day. I barely ate, as I didn’t have a kitchen to prepare meals and couldn’t afford to eat out every day. There were evenings where I stayed out after work, just walking, no sense of purpose or direction, delaying my return back to a friend’s place because I felt so guilty taking up space in their home.
I eventually found a place to live and got settled into my job, though the unhealthy relationship situation remained and sapped my sense of self. As a lifeline, I tried hard to regain the sense of wonder I had initially felt at the idea of moving to DC. I pored over books about the District and immersed myself in the history of my neighborhood. I listened to Go-go music on the Metro and listened to WAMU podcasts ad nauseam while I worked. I went out of my way to try new foods here and brag to all my friends in New York about how DC was an underrated food city. Maybe, somehow, if I felt like I belonged in DC, I would feel whole again.
None of it made me feel like I belonged. Sadness was stuck in my soul, and I felt alone in a city I so desperately wanted to be a part of.
To this day, I do not know what exactly pointed me to the Washington Nationals next. I do not know if it was the headlines of the sports section, or something someone said in my office, or a baseball game playing on mute at a bar. Whatever it was, I am forever grateful to it, because one day in September, the Nationals caught my eye. The local baseball team is trying to get to the playoffs, huh. Seems like some people are excited. Let me see what the fuss is about. That September evening, I popped open my laptop, found a streaming site, and watched. I watched the full game, all nine innings, after not having watched a full baseball game since I was little. I was hooked.
I watched every game from then on, becoming more invested every time I popped open my laptop to watch the next game alone from the comfort of my bedroom. I quickly committed the roster to memory, reading everything I could about the players. Ryan Zimmerman was the veteran, the time-tested darling of DC who had stuck with the team through thick and thin. Howie Kendrick was the firebomb, making clutch plays at the most unlikely of moments even though no one had expected him to. Max Scherzer was insane, pitching near-perfect games even through injury. Stephen Strasburg was the golden boy, the first overall pick of the 2009 draft who was incredible but had not yet pitched to his potential. And Juan Soto was the near-rookie who had torn through the minors and was turning the game upside down with his talent and charisma.
I had felt so alone in a city I desperately wanted to be a part of. The Washington Nationals were the only piece of the city that made me feel whole. Every time I opened my laptop to watch a game, I felt that I had a purpose and a passion outside of work and outside of a complicated, unhealthy relationship. I was a piece of the fan base of that magical run—the smallest piece in the world, of course, but a piece nonetheless—and it made me feel like I could keep going when the world seemed desperately, scarily dark.
I quickly became the expert in my office on baseball and the Nationals, too. As they wound their way into the playoffs and through each series, coworkers would come to me to ask the status of their playoff bid, or what the lineup was for the coming night, or what I thought about their odds. With every answer, as with every game, I became more and more invested, and I took coworkers to watch games at local bars while providing a running commentary. On nights where that wasn’t possible, I went back to watching on my little laptop with dingy speakers, savoring every pitch and every hit.
Over the course of a magical two months, the impossible happened, and the Washington Nationals became champions. It was incredible, and I celebrated as we all did, with screams and pictures and alcohol and parade-watching. As the season closed, however, I wondered if I would still love the Nats a month into the off-season, when all went quiet, after the confetti had been swept away and the shine on the trophy was a little bit duller. I am the type of person who pours herself into new hobbies and obsessions, learning everything possible about whatever new topic piques her interest, for about six weeks before moving onto the next thing. If the love lasts longer than six weeks, I know it’s a love that’s here to stay. What would I feel about the Nationals in six weeks? Would I get swept back up in my isolation and unhappiness?
As I’m sure you can tell by the fact that you are reading this article on a Washington Nationals blog, my love for the Nats only increased. I continued to remain involved and invested, even as the 2020 season was delayed and the world felt like it was ending. I continued to root for the Nats, even as I remained drowning in that same difficult relationship for another year. I continued to root for the Nats, even as I moved temporarily back to New Jersey to be with my family during the scariest, early portions of the pandemic.
Now, as I write from my apartment in DC, finally and fully finished with that harmful relationship, happy and healthy and here, I can say with certainty that the Nationals over the past two years played no small role in that health and happiness. I would not be the person I am today without this team.
It feels almost silly to talk about a baseball team as a catalyst to my joy. How could a team that I’ve been a fan of for only two years so fundamentally alter my life? But being a fan of the Nationals has returned to me my sense of self. Watching them, through the good times and the bad, through a World Series win and a difficult rebuild, is something that I love to do, and that no one can take away from me. The Nationals have been a comforting constant in my life during a time when nothing else felt fixed or safe, and it has been a privilege cheering for them, even in the worst of times. And regardless of where I go next, I look forward to being a Nationals fan for the rest of my days.