Washington Nationals Playing Ball


You have to be an older fan to remember the unflattering slogan that used to follow around  the Washington Senators when that town ran through two teams with that nickname. The sarcastic joke went like this: Washington, first in war, first in peace and last in the American League.

This is the third time around for a Major League team in the nation’s capital and the last time the team–the original Senators–did anything noteworthy in the standings, Walter Johnson was on the mound. Walt has been dead for 65 years now, so it would be handy to have access to Mr. Peabody’s wayback machine if you want to study the 1924 World Series, the only one won by the Senators.

The original Senators, probably named that way to get on the good side of the policitians initially, lasted until 1960 and then became the Minnesota Twins. Major League Baseball, trying to stay friends with the federal government, tried again in D.C. with the expansion Senators in 1961. They lasted in Washington through 1971 and then became the Texas Rangers. Now we have the Nationals, in the National League for a change of pace, formerly known as Prince. I mean, formerly known as the Montreal Expos.

Since relocating to Washington in 2005, it seemed as if the only difference between the old ditty about war and peace and last place was that the Nationals were in the National League. Well, no more. In one of the most dramatic investments of money and energy sport has seen in recent years, now the Nationals are trying to win. I am not sure if America is prepared for a pennant contender, or division contender, in Washington. But the Nationals are giving it their all and if they do start to win they might become trendy underdog fan favorites.

Just Wednesday, the Nationals sought to milk good publicity out of their recent signing of Gio Gonzalezfor five years and $42 million at a press conference. For a young man with what is considered to be oodles of talent, Gonzalez has bounced around a bit for being only 26. He has already been with the White Sox organization and Oakland. The southpaw won 16 games last season and made the All-Star team, so Washington might well be scooping Gonzalez up as he moves into his prime years.

“I love the pressure situations,” Gonzalez said at his press conference.

I’m not sure if the Nationals have had any pressure situations since coming to Washington, but that’s a good thing to know if it ever comes up. Of course, the hiring of Gonzalez is supposed to signal to the D.C. electorate that the Nationals want to be winners. They made a run at Prince Fielder, t0o, but probably weren’t interested in matching the Tigers’ dollars and years with a contract. There is already a great deal of attention on the deficit in Washington.

More significantly, we are all waiting to see what Stephen Strasburgdoes over a full season. Probably the most heralded newcomer in a decade, the fireballing Strasburg did not make it all of the way through his rookie 2010 season without injury and he only returned for cameo appearances at the end of 2011.

Strasburg is supposed to be what Justin Verlander became. If he is, there will be lots of smiles in D.C. If he is only an average pitcher then the Nationals won’t be nearly as close to winning as they hope they are. Now that’s a pressure situation for Stevie.