Wednesday, March 18, 2020
As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
The late nights have ended. The confetti has scattered to the wind. The steady flow of beer has run dry. The shirtless players at Capitals games and the euphoric mobs that lined Constitution Avenue have gone home. Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon, among others, are free agents and shopping their considerable wares to all of MLB. Sports headlines have turned to other towns, other sports and other teams.
On the surface, life has moved on. I’m still stuck in late October.
It has been just over two weeks since the Nationals won Washington’s the World Series – two weeks of awe, jubilation and now reflection. Are you still in shock? I was not prepared for all of this. A playoff berth felt like a resounding success. After beating Milwaukee, I felt we were playing with house money; beating the mighty Dodgers seemed but a dream, the kind of stuff that happens in other sports towns. Now I am debating what “Fight Finished” and World Series championship gear to request from Santa Claus. And as I type, I am surrounded by various editions of The Washington Post that captured all the fabulousness – tangible proof of this glorious, if not yet fully absorbed, reality.
How did this happen? No, seriously…how did this happen?
The well-known storylines - Bryce Harper’s departure, a rash of early season injuries, 19-31 in May, coach on the brink of being fired, a historically bad bullpen and the presence of clearly superior teams in both leagues (Braves, Dodgers, Yankees and Astros) – left little hope for a jubilant fall. In full disclosure, I sent this tweet on May 18: “Embrace the panic. It's over. Done. End the Martinez watch; a change is inevitable. Start the Rizzo watch. Put odds on trade deadline sells. The spring claimed the boys of summer.” Facing a complete organizational reboot, I was gripping. We were all gripping!
And then something special happened. Actually, a lot of things…little things that turned into big things. Journeyman free agent Gerardo Parra was signed on May 9. Parra immediately brought positive energy to a lifeless squad…and then he added the Baby Shark phenomena. The rest of the roster gradually got healthy, Juan Soto got hot, Mike Rizzo, Vice President of Baseball Operations, cobbled together a serviceable bullpen, the starting pitching remained stellar and Anthony Rendon played like an MVP.
The wins added up, the outlook changed and by September, we were all dancing to Earth, Wind and Fire’s song of the same title as the Nats sashayed into the playoffs. In October, the Nationals beat better teams on paper (Dodgers, Astros) and accomplished what other more talented Nats teams could not. Trophy presentations, parades and pandemonium followed.
It defies logic. But it happened. How? My theory: Somewhere on this journey, the Nats became a case study and a data point validating long-held principles of team achievement. The dugout was filled with a diverse cast - various ages, ethnicities, nationalities, skill-sets and, no doubt, political leanings. In the end, the differences where insignificant as compared to their common cause. In May, that cause was getting back to respectability. Then it was getting into the playoffs. By October, it became about “finishing the fight” and winning the whole thing. The inconceivable journey required resilience, steadfast leadership, individual and collective accountability, contributions from every player and a complete commitment and sacrifice toward a shared goal.
Reflecting now in the afterglow of the World Series, the 2019 Nationals have become more than just a baseball story. This team, what they accomplished together, and how they accomplished it, is worth pondering on a national level. As outlined in our founding documents, Americans have a unique moral, ethical and legal foundation that binds us. Collectively we share this common cause and a responsibility to preserve it (to include holding accountable those in opposition). This great idea of America transcends politics, party and personal gain; it is beyond reproach from individual, institution or leader. We don’t always agree, but on that fundamental point we should be as tightly aligned as locker room sharing a champagne shower or mass of fans witnessing a championship parade.