By Ronald N. Guy Jr
In the immortal words of Buffalo Springfield, “There’s something happening here and what it is ain’t exactly clear.” But by the time you read this, the verdict will be in - the Washington Nationals will have won the World Series or have fallen painfully short – and I…we…will have lived, for better or for worse, what was previously unknown.
Crazy statement: The outcome doesn’t matter. Some context…
I worked with a Yankees fan in the early 2000s. A keen eye will recognize the timeframe as a glorious, multi-championship era (the Yankees won four championships between 1996 and 2003) and question my colleague’s authenticity. No need – “Bob” arrived in Southern Maryland from New York and the shadows of Yankee Stadium. He wasn’t a Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera bandwagon fan; the pinstripes were in his bones.
At the time, I had never had a baseball team of my own – the Nats wouldn’t arrive until 2005. I casually rooted for the Orioles as a kid, but once Cal Ripken Jr. retired, I abandoned them and Peter Angelos, their curmudgeon owner, altogether. Me and the O’s? There was never any love.
This is relevant because loving a baseball team is different from other sports. Baseball is beautifully antiquated, a unicorn of sorts in this otherwise instant and over-stimulated age. It forces us to slow down, to contemplate, to think carefully and notice little details normally smudged by life on fast-forward. During the regular season, sitting in the park on a beautiful summer day offers a therapeutic calm; during the playoffs, watching this untimed sport filled with mind-racing dead-time can torment like no other.
Bob and I worked together for about three years and his beloved Yankees made the playoffs every fall of our professional overlap. Sometimes things went the Yankees’ – and Bob’s – way, and sometimes they didn’t. Whatever the outcome, the games were usually long, dramatic affairs with an emotional, anxiety-inducing crescendo with every pitch.
I loved talking to him the morning after epic games (easier if the Yankees won). The outcome wasn’t my primary interest; instead, I was intrigued to hear from a true, diehard fan, what it was like to root for a baseball team - your beloved baseball team - during a deep October run to the World Series.
Bob had a light-up-the-room, beaming smile that was typically accompanied by a warm chuckle. I remember pressing him once after a particularly epic Yankees playoff game, “Bob what was it like for you watching that…pitch after pitch, inning after inning?” Bob grinned and said, “Ronnie, you can’t understand…it is like misery and joy at the same time.”
Bruce Springsteen is known to scream, “Is anybody alive out there?”, before ripping into his song “Radio Nowhere”. It’s a rousing pulse-check, just to make sure his audience is appropriately frenzied. This October, as the Nationals marched to the World Series, obsessive pacing, sweaty palms, guttural screams of joy and anguish and a permanent knot in my stomach became evening norms. Sleep…was in short supply. At all points, I felt very much alive. Or was I accelerating toward a premature, stress-induced demise? Maybe both?
Regardless, and like Bob earlier this millennium, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. The Nats didn’t just inject my October…our October…with adrenaline, they brought us together in a way that few things other than sports can. We rallied behind the excellence of Juan Soto, who just turned 21, the irresistible story Ryan Zimmerman, the 35-year-old, lifelong Nat, and “Baby Shark”, the Gerardo Parra walk-up song that galvanized Nats Nation. It was all highly contagious, memorable stuff.
Whatever the ending, we rallied together and shared much - ups and downs, hope and doubt, joy and anxiety. Curly “W’s became our trademark; wearing red, white and blue represented more than patriotism; and starting work days with discussions of baseball was certainly more fun than, you know, actual work. D.C. in the fall of 2019 transformed into the New York that was described to me so many years ago. What a time to be alive.
Wherever Bob is, I picture him smiling while he whispers, “Now Ronnie understands”.
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