Love is the most important thing in the world, but baseball is pretty good, too.
– Yogi Berra
People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.
– Rogers Hornsby
In baseball the object is to go home! And to be safe! – I hope I’ll be safe at home!
Contrary to whatever expectations might be derived from the title of this composition, there will be little to nothing contained therein regarding politics or its corrosive effect on our culture. Although there was one particular moment in the pregame activities of game 5 of the World Series which delighted me. A politically noxious presence was roundly booed with an accompanying mantra like chant suggesting future incarceration. It was a more than satisfying moment of illustration regarding the old adage about what is good for geese being just as appropriate for orange colored ganders.
I am told the Packers Chiefs NFL battle out Nielsen-ed this game but that cannot even remotely dispel the pleasure of two excellent teams battling through all sorts of potential setbacks to give us one of the best World Series in recent years.
Full disclosure here, I am a fan of the New York Yankees who were ejected from the formalities of this American sports treasure by the team that lost this World Series, The Houston Astros. It should be further pointed out that although they similarly disposed of my Yankees in 2017 before beating the Dodgers of Los Angeles, in that World Series I rooted for them. I am loathe to admit however, that if the Nationals had not won the NLCS and the Dodgers were the Astro’s opponent in this Fall Classic I might have pulled for them this time. After all it has been a long time since Kirk Gibson limped joyously around the bases and their loyal, long suffering fans may have suffered enough. I have a good friend whose fandom of this franchise is painful to observe. Being that he is even a few years farther along than me, I would like to see him get one more before he is dispatched from here and summoned up to the real Show whose lineup card we all eventually make. He worships at the altar of Sandy Koufax. Both of them were born in Brooklyn but the great lefthander won most of his championships except for that first one in 1955, in Los Angeles. I suppose although extremely young at the time, the excitement of Brooklyn’ s lovable bums beating the hated Yankees must have lodged itself firmly into my friend’s quite considerable psyche. His youth might explain however his continued devotion to a team which many of the fans of the day turned on with their exodus to sunny California.
After the Yankees were dispensed with this time, my rooting interests crossed over from the American League to the National League representatives. This does not happen often, but it is not a first. For example, I dug in for the Cubbies of the Windy City in 2016. It was a hard choice and truth be told if The Cleveland Indians had won I would not have been the worse for wear. Me thinks they have never truly recovered from winning the 1954 American League Pennant with a then record 111 wins only to be swept by the 97-win NY Giants. Thanks in no small part to a certain magician named Willie Mays. Anyway, the city which hosts the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has not won since 1948 (at least not in baseball, a certain Mr. James assigned an NBA crown to them fairly recently) but I figure their loyal baseball fans are deserving of something better that being perpetual also rans. But the Cubs had not won since 1908, that extra forty years got my vote.
That World Series may have a slight edge over this most recent one. After all, aside from going seven games as well, that seventh game went into extra innings, the Indians came back to tie off of the Cubs best reliever in the ninth. The Cubs got a two-run lead in the top of the tenth after a 17-minute rain delay. In the bottom of the tenth Cleveland got one of those runs back but with a man on base and two outs the next batter grounded out.
It is hard to argue that the last two innings of that finale weren’t the best in modern years but it is also hard to find a better World Series team story than that of this year’s newly crowned champion. When Ringo Starr (another underdog all his life) sang It Don’t Come Easy he could have easily been singing about the 2019 Washington Nationals.
The last baseball team from the nation’s capital to win a World Series was the 1924 Washington Senators who won in dramatic fashion in seven games and in 12 innings, coming from behind. But this Nationals team made a habit out of coming from behind. They were a wild card team. They were behind in every possible elimination game including the single elimination wild card game against the Milwaukee Brewers. They won no games at home in this series and came back to the Astros ballpark down three games to two to sweep the Astros at home. They were also the oldest team in the major leagues. Ironically, they also possessed the youngest future superstar in the big leagues, a young man who turned 21 during the series. That’s correct, when this series started he couldn’t even have a legal drink. Don’t know what they would have done with all that champagne had his birthday been just a few days later.
Two of their biggest stars, one pitcher and one first baseman, were original draft picks of the team. Their manager, a baseball lifer if ever there was one, is the epitome of one who really has his heart in the game. So much so that in September of this year, just before his team’s playoff run his chest pains necessitated a cardiac catheterization. Their second baseman was a two time all star who bounced around to six different teams through the years and this was his second stint with this organization. He also completed an unassisted triple play in 2008 when with the Cleveland Indians. Their shortstop is possibly the fastest man from home to first base in baseball and never met a ground ball he wasn’t in the mood to race down the line. Their catcher became the first Hawaiian born player to homer in a World Series game. He also has founded a nonprofit dedicated to research of chronic illness and kidney disease. Their third baseman very quietly came up to bat in some of the most necessary moments and made enough big noise to move the needle of championship forward and then would very quietly go back to playing the hot corner with the talons of an eagle, a howitzer of an arm and a vacuum cleaner of a glove. His upcoming free agency should be very kind to him.
I have intentionally avoided names for each of the above-mentioned players because if ever I have experienced a team effort in baseball, not many have even come close to this. And there are just too many names to assign a mention to. No matter how far down they were at any point in the season or any individual game there was never any finger pointing, it was always just “next man up”.
In such times as these when it seems there is very little worth cheering for, when contrary to Tina Turner’s laments we do seem to need another hero, I submit 25 of them. They play a game called baseball out of a town that poses as our nation’s capital which is now more than ever sorely in need of as many heroes as it can find. Submitted for your approval the 2019 Washington Nationals, giving us all a reason to be proud of something in DC once again and maybe teaching us all a little something about the value of teamwork and the joy that may be derived from simply believing in each other.
Thank you as well to a valiant Astros team who took this all the way to seven games despite dropping the first two at home by winning three in a row on the road. It is unfortunate that anybody had to lose a series like this, but the true greatness of the winner can only be approximated by taking the measure of another champion. I hope next year the Yankees can take the full measure of both of you and come out standing at the end but until such time, I tip my cap to you both.
In the meantime, Nats, thank you for reminding us all that something good can still come out of Washington. Congratulations Washington Nationals, 2019 World Series Champions.