By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
In mid-October 2012, a piece titled “Consolation Prize” appeared in this column. That dusty old “View” lamented painful season-ending Game 5 ALDS and NLDS playoff losses, on the same awful day, by the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals.
The agony of the defeats was offset by a strong, pre-loaded tonic of hope for the once hopeless. In 2012, baseball in Washington D.C. and Baltimore emerged from absolute and seemingly never-ending darkness. Prior to that magical summer, the Nationals hadn’t had a single winning season since arriving in the nation’s capital in 2005 and the Orioles, lost in the post-Cal Ripken Jr. desert of suffering, hadn’t won more than 79 games since 1997. More importantly, with talented cores and the in-season call-ups of young phenoms Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, 2012 felt like the cusp of a winning era for the Nats and O’s, one that would include regular postseason appearances and maybe even a beltway World Series.
That promising future was the “Consolation Prize” for losing on that October night in 2012. Fast-forward seven years and the sunny forecast proved to be fool’s gold, a vicious tease of a euphoric state never realized. Yes, the teams combined for six playoff appearances between 2012 and 2016, but neither ever advanced to the World Series. In Monopoly terms, it was not quite like going to jail, but area baseball fans passed Go without collecting $200 (in other words, no league pennants, no World Series championships…thanks for trying).
Now the hope of October 2012 - that feeling that we were on to something big, that future summers would be a blast and the falls would be victorious champagne showers - is gone. In its place is the depressing spring of 2019. Much has changed in seven years. Machado plays for the San Diego Padres and Harper is in Philly. There are still some familiar faces on both teams, but not nearly enough. As of this writing, the Orioles have the worst record in baseball and the Nationals, who have the MLB’s worst bullpen and regularly display fundamentals befitting the Bad News Bears, are well below .500 and in fourth in the NL East. The teams have won just 38 games combined, which is just a few more than several division leaders. Both teams just…stink. The boys of summer have been slayed by an abominable spring. Worst yet, with the Orioles’ glaring talent void and the Nats’ fatal flaws, it would be exceedingly difficult for even the most brazen optimist to find hope for improvement anytime soon.
Where for art thou, 2012? Gone to the ether. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. There were signs this was coming - aging stars like Ryan Zimmerman, jettisoned free agents like Nick Markakis and the predictable departures of Harper and Machado – but it feels like the wheels fell off in a flash. Contention now seems years away for either club. The only lame consolation prize from this abysmal situation is higher draft picks and cheap tickets at half-filled (if that) stadiums.
There might be another: To embrace this wild ride and the precious impermanence of any moment. So when the Nats’ bullpen blows another win or the O’s give up more homers to the Yankees, pause to enjoy your favorite meal. Watch Crash Davis’s b.s.-defying, conviction-fueled, waste-no-time “I believe” speech from “Bull Durham”. Pour a beer and watch the ascending bubbles cascade northward to form an inviting, foamy head. Hug your kids. Pet your dog. Kiss your spouse. Read, and re-read this quote from Hunter S. Thompson: “Let us toast to animal pleasures, to escapism, to unemployment insurance and library cards, to absinthe and good-hearted landlords, to music and warm bodies and contraceptives, and to the ‘good life’, whatever it is and wherever it happens to be.” Enjoy your work family. Listen to Baz Luhrmann’s “Sunscreen”. Appreciate the passive or not-so-passive “help” and judgment from your mother-in-law. Do it all with greater feeling and with the knowledge that nothing lasts for long - not pleasure, not pain, not life itself, and certainly not winning (or losing) baseball. Everything has an expiration date.