An Amazing Season

Opening Day has arrived at last for the 2020 Major League Baseball season. In celebration, I present an “album” of snapshots from the miraculous 2019 postseason when, as my son Nate puts it, the Washington Nationals “won baseball.”  Here’s my Nats diary of Delights for the month of October. I hope Nats fans enjoy reliving that remarkable experience.

October 1: The small joys of my back-row solo seat at Nats Park: splendid views of the field and stands, breezes from the Anacostia River over my shoulder, a landing place for strolling friends, and the perfect perch for Nate — visiting from another part of the park — to drape his arms around me and lean in for a sideways kiss. (And the Nats won their first-ever postseason series! What a wild wildcard game it was!)

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I did not pose this picture; nor did I move to it. Sometimes delights just pop up in front of me.

October 7: Ok, I won’t pretend that a playoff loss is a delight. (I found something else to celebrate yesterday…) But it does nicely tee up a big WIN tonight. Gutsy pitching and timely hitting defeated swirling wind and rain — and the Nats’ talented opponent. Strangers exchanged high fives and hugs in the stands, and fan-led chants swept through the ballpark. Our soundtrack? The BeeGees’ “Staying Alive,” Smash Mouth’s “I’m a Believer,” and traffic-stuck car horns pulsing Let’s Go Nats, each in a different tone. Game Five will be what it will be. But 2019 Game Four belongs to us forever. 

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Go Nats! Game Four Victory! Those are fireworks, and we fans were certainly on fire. (I obtained this photo in a swap with the woman under the right-side umbrella, who liked my rainy portrait of her party. We shared high fives too!)

October 9: It started with a text: Uncle Loyd, a life-long Cardinals fan, wondered whether, ummmm, by scoring ten runs, St. Louis had just had a good first inning in their deciding playoff game. That triggered a slew of family texts as the Nats tumbled into an early hole in their own deciding playoff game. I went to bed, clinging to my good luck radio. Woo Hoo! Back-to-back homers to tie in the eighth, and then — OMG — a go-ahead Grand Slam in extra innings. This is “Howie” do it! The texts exploded, the radio exploded, my heart exploded. We are going to the team’s (and fans’) first National League Championship Series! Against the Cards. (I have asked the family to start a new text group without me for that one…) *

* October 9 post script: Always a good sport, in 2012 Uncle Loyd conceded defeat when the Nats jumped out to a six-rum lead over his Cardinals after two innings. Ha! We ended up conceding defeat to him. That Game Five is never discussed in polite Nats company.

October 11: I walked into our Peruvian chicken place wearing my Nats hat, Nats lanyard and Nats tee shirt. (Confession: if I’m wearing a tee shirt, it’s statistically likely to be a Nats shirt.) “Go Nats!” said the young man carrying his chicken and yucca across the parking lot. “Go Nats!” said the dad with his wife and child as they held the door for me. “Go Nats” said my neighbor an hour earlier as I trudged up the hill from the metro. I’ve decided that those two little words are better than “hello,” at least in October.

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This is a selection of my tee shirts, excluding the four in the hamper and the one on my back…

October 15: More fragments: An unexpected glimpse of the Capitol dome at twilight. A chorus —a cacophony— a city! — of birds saluting the setting sun from a single small tree. A small boat chugging up the Anacostia River flying a Nats flag. Then, suddenly, in the ballpark, Jeremiah dancing, Christmas Revels style, with knees high and each hand twirling a Nats rally towel. Finally, back outside at midnight, Nate bustin’ a move to a New Orleans-style jazz band. These pieces are the mosaic of a Curly W. This is also what a pennant looks like.

Thanks for the photo, Superfan Laura. And thank you, Nats. It’s true. It’s really true.

A Reader’s Note: From my dear brother-in-law Loyd, who is a loyal Cardinals fan and true friend: Hey! “Love reading your blog, Carol Ann! You don’t come right out and say it but last week’s post is infused with the glow of (OMG!! The National are going to the WORLD SERIES!!!) Go National League! Go Nationals!!!!”

Intro to Delights: October 16 to October 22: Can there be anything more delightful than a week bookended by an  NLCS championship and a Home 1 win? Well, maybe. But this week’s other delights are pretty great too.

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October 23:  My 10:13 pm text: “I know why it’s more stressful to watch a game from home: we have a thousand different things we can do to influence the mojo. Gotta try ‘em all. At the ballpark, it’s basically same seats (easy) and taking my jacket on and off. Onward to good luck position #17.” Laura’s text: “Yes!! I just totally changed rooms. And put on my pajamas.” Exactly. Nats break open a 2-2 tie and score six runs in the 7th, 3 runs in the 8th and 1 run in the 9th. My text: “Should I wear my ten-run PJs to the ballpark??!!” Loyd’s text: “Probably. You don’t want to mess with quantum mechanics.” Nats win Game 2 of the World Series 12-3, for a 2-0 series lead, and three games at home. Nate’s 12:10 am text: “what is happening?”

October 25: As I do most days when I walk through the metro parking lot, I picked up bits of trash. Yesterday and today, I dipped and reached until I had a fistful. Mostly it’s about protecting Four Mile Run and the walkers’ landscape. And just a little bit about sending more positive energy into the universe. I’m not wearing my ten-run pajamas at the moment. I think acts of kindness are better mojo anyway.

October 25: In the shadow of the ballpark, at a crowded patio bar by the river, we saw: fireboats on the Anacostia River shooting plumes of water into the sky; a strolling inflatable shark carrying a maroon handbag; the Budweiser Clydesdales right in front of us, calmly displaying their beautiful healthy flanks and the trust their handlers have earned; and people so so so excited to welcome the World Series to OUR HOUSE. Jeremiah and I cheered ourselves hoarse. The Nats’ lead is now down to 2-1. Win or lose (and we’ve still proudly won the National League Pennant!) we will never forget this October.

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The hands and wisdom of a Nats ballpark usher.

October 26: Tonight, my son Nate invited me to: (1) go with him to the ballgame when I was starting to wear out; (2) travel three stops past Capitol South to check out a used leather couch; (3) saunter past an unseen exuberant  marching band at beautiful Eastern High School ; (4) walk, not ride, to the ballpark, savoring the autumn warmth and views; (5) wander into Ophelia’s Fish House at Eastern Market for dinner; (6) share two cocktails named Cut the Lime and Last Word; (7) meet his favorite beer lady, who hugged me, signed my scorecard and comped me a beer; and (8) stand, not sit, with a bunch of awesome fans who had spirit and joy. Another Nats loss, series tied 2-2. I felt the love anyway.

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From our table at Ophelia’s Fish House

October 27: Nate said to me last night that the Nats went into the World Series with absolutely nothing to lose. And we were joyful, loose, loving, fearless. Their dugout was a party: And Now We Dance. Then, we took a 2-0 lead on the road; returning home, we suddenly did have something to lose. I’m writing this on Sunday afternoon, with the series tied, our last home game tonight, and home field advantage tipping back to Houston.  What do I clasp tight in my life? What’s one thing I can consign to the fear dustbin — and let myself go? Now, like the Nats, our Nats, our beloved Nats, we dance. Now I dance.

IMG_1087October 29: As I write this, you know the outcome of World Series Game 6. I do not. And that allows me, without reservation, to celebrate our joyous, incredible, unforgettable 2019 season. I consider this an elegy, not a eulogy. (Remember, I don’t know the outcome.) Elegy: pensive, poetic, nostalgic. With a won-loss record of 19-31 on May 24 (and <1% chance of making the World Series), we:

  • played the best baseball in the Major Leagues for the next five months;
  • discovered the joy of baby sharks, dugout hugs and home run conga lines;
  • won our first postseason series, and then another, and then another, as the lowest-seed team to play for the National League title;
  • redefined Game Five (NLDS: Nats win with an extra-inning grand slam) and Game Four (NLCS: Nats sweep the Cardinals); and
  • made a date to hoist the National League pennant above our ballpark — and emblazon the year 2019 on a flag that, for twelve seasons has fluttered forlorn and empty next to Washington’s last pennant, in 1924.

It doesn’t matter what happens tonight. We are champions. Maybe that’s not poetry. But my heart aches with pride, love and gratitude for this team. I’m eager for what will be and already nostalgic for what so recently was. Maybe we’ll seize the World Series trophy. Maybe we won’t. It doesn’t matter, in a way. We celebrate every win. We celebrate every hug. We simply never imagined being here. And that makes every moment — even the painful ones — something special. Kind of like life, huh? Go Nats.

October 30: Probably imprudently, I dashed — coffee in hand —to cross Pennsylvania Avenue as the walk sign faded. A man shouted after me, “Hold that light! Here comes a Nats fan!”

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Laura, in the Sanchez shades, Sara already savoring a Championship (even though this was Game Five) and me, with Natitude.

October 31: The kids burst through the front door, past midnight: Kasia in her pajamas, Jeremiah jumping up and down, Nate tackling me to the floor. The Nats won! The Nats won! THE WASHINGTON NATIONALS ARE WORLD CHAMPIONS!! No, it’s not possible. YES. We stayed in the fight; we finished the fight. Our miracle season.

Nate grabbed two screw-top bottles of beer, pushed us out the front door, and after shaking the bottles vigorously, handed one to me. We opened our Budweiser champaign and let the spray douse the air (and my six-run Game Seven pajamas). We whooped and danced. Then the kids told me to get changed. “We’re going to IHOP,” they said. For they knew: after the Nats’ final postseason games in 2016 (Dodgers) and 2017 (Cubs), I drowned my Game-Five NLDS sorrow in a 2 a.m. half-stack of blueberry pancakes, all alone and disconsolate. Tonight: again, our last postseason game, again an elimination game — but an unimaginable triumph. And the place was filled with red and high fives.

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Photo by Laura V. at the Game Seven Watch Party. It’s true. It’s really true.

I write this now at 3:23 a.m., I’ve ordered a ton of World Series fan gear. (Coasters? Check. Championship highlights DVD? Check. Hoodie, shirts, caps? Check.) I’m watching the game again, tingling to the broadcasters’ praise and awe. Yeah, I need to floss my teeth again. And get up for yoga in two and a half hours. And go to work after that. AND THIS IS AWESOME. 

Dad, I know you’re here with me, 50 years after our first World Series together, when the Amazin’ Mets stunned the powerhouse Baltimore Orioles and brought magic to a little girl’s life. The magic never left, and now it’s running around the room, pounding my shoulders with tears and screams. Love you, Dad. Love you, Nats.

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In faint letters along the top, you’ll see my Dad’s handwriting over this newspaper photo of another father and daughter. My Dad wrote: “Carol Ann and Daddy at Shea Stadium, 1969.” The caption: “There’s nothing like the first time you make it to the majors.” I’ll add, Or your first championship.

November 2: With a helmet brushing the wire and padded gloves ready to grip, I gazed down the mountainside and awaited my turn to zip down a slope scarier than a roller coaster. I inhaled, closed my eyes and …. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? I went to the Nats victory parade instead!!

IMG_1191Yay! I rose early from my mountaintop cabin, where my church enjoyed a weekend getaway, and drove back to DC to celebrate the last official day of an amazing season. Although frost sugared the mountain meadows and fog lined the valley, the parade route —and the people there — were sunny, warm and joyous. Five-year olds in their t-ball uniforms broke away from their marching teams to high five the fence-line fans. The racing presidents cycled close for photos, and the Clydesdales officially declared this to be a National Sports Event. Red confetti showered us when the World Series trophy went by. And the players, oh my players, right there, so close, so happy, so responsive to the love beaming at them. What a day. What a season. A memory forever.

IMG_1180.JPGNovember 3: I was back on the mountain this morning. Elephants (their metaphor) square danced and dropped doorknobs at 6:30 a.m. in the bedroom above me. But that was really 7:30 a.m. (hooray for the time change!) and I felt rested for the first time in a month. Offseason at last.

November 4: Back to work. By happenstance I was dressed in offseason Nats attire. (Red really is my favorite color.) Demurely, though: no earrings, no lapel pins, no argyle Nats socks. But I could grab a white Curly W cap and a pennant from my office collection — because suddenly I was holding a ticket to see my 2019 Nats one more beautiful time. From the south portico of the White House, the Nats gazed down at us. The sun was bright, the grass green, the vast crowd celebrating. One after another, the players told the true story of what makes a team. “We stayed together and stayed in the fight.” “We love each other, we love the game.” “Each of us matters.” “We believe in each other.” We believe in each other. Each of us matters. I’ll carry championship joy forever; may I carry the Nats’ wisdom too.

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November 5: Ok, one more Nats delight. Today is a Tuesday, and I aver that Tuesdays in October are very good days.

  • One week ago today, we won Game Six of the World Series in an improbable late-inning comeback, staving off elimination and creating that miraculous possibility of a World Series Championship.
  • Two weeks ago today, we shocked the baseball world by winning Game One of the World Series on the road against the 107-win and highly favored Houston Astros.
  • Three weeks ago today, we swept the Cardinals and won the National League Pennant for the first time since 1933. That empty forlorn pennant flying over the scoreboard at Nats Park — that signifier of nearly a century of despair — will now read “2019.”
  • Four weeks ago today, very early on Tuesday morning, we staved off elimination again, this time in the National League Division Series — a series we have never survived — and set the stage for Thursday’s extra-inning grand slam heroics.
  • Five weeks ago today, we staved off elimination yet again in what would be the first of many improbable late-inning comebacks. [July 2020 note: thanks to my MLB app, I’ve watched the Wild Card game against the Brewers over and over and over again. God’s finger had flicked Juan Soto’s single out from under the Brewers’ glove and cracked open a piñata of euphoria.]

That first win, our first victorious postseason series, launched a month of delights that none of us ever imagined and that none of us crazy Nats fans will ever forget. Fight finished. Miracle wrought.

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