I remember the last time they came to town. Back in 2006, it was like anticipating a game between the Harlem Globetrotters and the Washington Generals, and we on the Generals’ side of the aisle. The Generals may make a few baskets, but in the end, there is no question that the Globetrotters can hit the highlight shots and win whenever they choose to do so. When the Bombers came to visit in 2006 after a 38 year hiatus, they had all the swagger, all the stars (all the payroll), all the fans, all the rings. We had nothing but hope and a few career bench players, but hope cannot be underestimated when considering a crowd that waited 37 years before cheering a home baseball team.
The 2006 interleague visit was a Father’s Day weekend series just like this upcoming one. Game One at RFK, the retrofitted football stadium on life support, was on a Friday night. Yankees won. No surprise there. It was shaping up to be a ho-hum beat down with Goliath crushing the weaker and smaller David.
My son and I went on Saturday for Game Two, a spectacularly sun drenched day at the packed ballpark. I prepped my 7 year old for a torrential downpour of profanity that was sure to rain down on him and his Nationals’ ball cap in a stadium dominated by displaced New Yorkers. The crowd swelled to over 43,000, more than double the average attendance for any other game that year. The Yankee fans wanted blood. We Nats fans just happy to be there and wished only to survive 9 innings with an intact shred of integrity.
We got more than that from the home team. As I remind my son every baseball season, he was there to witness history on that sunny Saturday. He got to see Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer in the history of the game, blow a lead to the lowly Nationals on June 17, 2006. The Nats trailed 9-2 in the 5th inning, and 9-6 in the 7th and when Enter Sandman appeared, he uncharacteristically blew it. The Nats chased the Yankees with 2 in the bottom of the 7th and 3 in the bottom of the 8th to stun the Bronx faithful. The profanities never sounded so good, and my high forehead sunburn seemed a little less painful that night. A curly W was in the books.
I was not there for the rubber game of the series, a Father’s Day afternoon special. Nats starter Mike O’Connor battled Yankee star Chien-Ming Wang (eventual 19 game winner that season and future Nats reclamation project) pitch for pitch until Nats reliever Gary Majewski allowed the Yankees to take a one-run lead in the 8th inning. The Nats came to bat in the bottom of the 9th trailing, but they would not face Rivera on this day. Joe Torre decided to give his relief ace the day off after pitching the previous two games. It was Wang’s game to finish. The Nats were 12 ½ games out of first and fading. Sticking with Wang was not a tough decision for Torre, but it would prove fateful.
Marlon Anderson hit a one-out single, and up came Nats’ 21 year old Rookie of the Year candidate Ryan Zimmerman. Zimmerman, who had never hit a walk off home run at any level, would hit his first of many for the franchise, a no-doubt-about-it shot over the left field wall to ignite the largest single game crowd in RFK history. The DC’s love affair with Ryan Zimmerman was born with the crack of that bat on that day. Happy Father’s Day.
The Nats fans’ flames of that day were to be doused by a string of 100 loss campaigns, while the Yankees annually played meaningful baseball in October and won the whole thing in 2009. The glory of that summer weekend seemed as distant as the days when Walter Johnson dominated as a Senator.
That was then. The Nationals line up of Ramon Ortiz, Jose Vidro, Jose Guillen, Robert Fick and Brian Schneider has been replaced with Harper, Strasburg, Morse, Desmond and Clippard (who was on that 2006 Yankee squad – thanks for trading him to us). Now Father’s Day weekend is no longer the Globetrotter vs. the Generals. It is a Clash of the Titans, two first place teams riding 6 game winning streaks. You can call this weekend series a World Series preview and not be laughed at. The tides are turning in Natstown.
Some things haven’t changed. The Yankee payroll is still equal to the 22nd largest economy in the world. Jeter, A-Rod and Pettite are still there. The Yankee fans will again try to take over the park and colorful cursing will again fill the air. I will not be there to see it, however. Years of mediocrity have conditioned me to enjoy the intimacy of 22,000 in paid attendance and the ability to sit just about anywhere for my $10 admission. The thought of fighting the game day traffic, only being able to watch from my assigned seat and missing an inning while waiting on a long line to pee is too much. Instead of sharing a beer line with some drunkard in pinstripes chanting “27 rings”, I’ll watch on TV and plan a trip to the Tampa Bay series next week. I can’t share the stadium with a fair weather crowd.
2006 was a long time ago. It’s a new team. It’s a (sort of) new stadium. Dare I say, it’s a New Natitude? Can the Nats win this weekend? As our teenage superstar with the excessive eye black said this week to a reporter in Toronto, “That’s a clown question, bro.”
According to The Week, a man from Connecticut is suing the local hospital, claiming that the staff ignored his persistent erection in order to watch a baseball game causing him irreparable damage. Should the Nats complete their 3rd consecutive series sweep this weekend by vanquishing the hated Yankees, there could be some season long untreated erections amongst loyal Nats fans in the DC market.
With every victory over stiffer and stiffer competition, we’re getting more excited in Washington, that’s for sure.
Welcome, Yankees. We’ve got a surprise for you.