What Politics and History have to do with Baseball in Washington, D.C.

Nationals Park over the waterWashington, D.C. is not a baseball town. It never has been, and I’ll argue that it will take a major cultural transformation in order for it to become one.

The capital region has one big business–politics. It’s impatient, it’s unforgiving, it’s greedy. And its participants share similar traits.

Impatience has no place in baseball; the most impatient quit the sport before they even play on real teams. Greed can run someone into the ground faster than they can take delight in their gains. The priorities of a society, of a city, of a people are reflected in not just their work, but their leisure just as much.

And the overwhelming culture in the District of Columbia and its surrounding areas is only conducive to one trait it can have in common with baseball–winning. For the sake of sports popularity, winning carries inordinately more stock in the Washington area than it does anywhere else in the nation.

Think about it. New York is the fashion capital of the country, and arguably the world. The baseball pride of that city, the Yankees, are fashionable, are a brand. Look on any city street in the U.S., take a listen to a Jay-Z song, study the map of baseball fandom. Anywhere you look in this country, the Yankees are as much a fashion as they are a team.

How many people who wear the “NY” hats can even tell you if their beloved pinstripers won the previous night? Can they name a current player besides Derek Jeter? It doesn’t matter. As long as New York remains a cultural powerhouse, which may be forever, people will sport their brand. It certainly helps that the Yanks have won 27 World Series and no other team has even half that mark. But the truth is evident and the brand is established, record and personnel are not important enough details to influence public opinion.

In Boston, 86 years of sans-championship seasons did not scare fans away. For sure, the end of the World Series drought rejuvenated the fan View from atop the Green Monsterbase, but Fenway Park saw much excitement while the “Curse of the Bambino” reigned. Ted Williams, Carlton Fisk, and Wade Boggs (to name just a few) were, and are, icons of the city of Boston. It’s a town that revels in its heritage and history. Since baseball has been a part of that for over 100 years, winning remains an afterthought in the grand scheme of things.

Take a gander at the Chicago Cubs. They haven’t won a Championship in one hundred and six years. If nothing else, they pride themselves on being the most loveable of all losers. But Wrigley Field is the second oldest ballpark in the country (two years younger than Fenway), and the Midwestern folk are so patient and loyal to their team that there’s no sense in giving up now.

Washington, D.C. was created to cradle the functioning of our nation. And if baseball is truly “America’s Pastime,” should the nation’s organizational center cultivate the sport as well as any of its subordinate cities? A peek at the history of baseball in Washington does not suggest it has.

The Washington Nationals franchise was founded in 1901, and was known as the Senators after 1905. They moved to Minnesota to become the Twins in 1961, just as cities in the western part of the country began skyrocketing in population. In the prior decade, the Giants and Dodgers moved from New York to California, yet the Big Apple still had two teams of its own.

In 1962, a new Washington Senators team competed in the capital, but only for a decade. In 1972, they became the Texas Rangers. The District was without a baseball team for quite a time. Washington, D.C. was succeeding as the country’s economic and political facilitator, broadening its power to the southern and western parts. However, baseball in the city fell victim.
Paul taking a selfie with GeorgeFor more than 30 years, Washington locals pulled for the Baltimore Orioles, teams from other “hometown” cities, or just stopped caring about professional baseball altogether.

In 2005, the Nationals finally returned, although the original franchise is not actually an ancestor of its namesake. But even after the team returned, even after a new stadium was built, fans did not flock. Maybe in 100 years the Nationals will be a brand in D.C. the way the Yankees are in New York. But a much quicker path to popularity is in victory (and GARDEN GNOMES), and this season has exemplified that.

Even still, attending a Nationals game is a social event for the yuppies of the District, not a partaking of America’s pastime. Outside of old men and young children, no one brings his or her glove to Nationals Park. The most popular food destination is in center field, behind the scoreboard, out of sight from the field. A lot of people at Nats Park still don’t care about the actual game. But at least they’re there.

If the winning keeps true and the Nationals build up any sort of dynasty and string together several division crowns, Washington may turn into a baseball town at least during the season. And the Nats could be on the fast track to becoming the next brand, the next icon of Major League Baseball.

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