As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
Three years ago, the Washington Nationals were in the midst of a lost season. Rock bottom had been reached weeks before, on May 23 to be exact, after a four-game sweep by the Mets left the Nats with a 19-31 record and squarely in the running for the most disappointing team in MLB. There was talk of manager Dave Martinez being fired and stars Max Scherzer and Anthony Rendon being traded. Even the most ardent optimist struggled to find a path to relevance, much less jubilation.
But truth is, indeed, stranger than fiction. In reaching these improbable depths and dashing all logical hope, the Nats created the foundation for one of sports’ most incredible redemption stories. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined in late May 2019, that on All Hallows’ Eve’s eve, I would be hugging my dad, my wife, my kids and drying tears in the wake of a Nats World Series Championship. But that’s exactly what happened. Somehow. Some way. It was like living through a fairy tale.
For Nats nation, the time since that late October night in 2019 has been hard to process. Star third baseman and postseason stud Anthony Rendon signed with the Angels in the offseason. COVID robbed the team and its fans of a 2020 victory lap. Stephen Strasburg got hurt, multiple times, and has started just seven games since being named World Series MVP. Howie Kendrick and Mr. Nat, Ryan Zimmerman, retired. Scherzer and Trea Turner, among others, were sold off in last season’s fire sale. Now the team itself is on the market, rumors are swirling about a possible trade of Juan Soto, and Martinez and General Manager Mike Rizzo, both with contract options looming, face an uncertain future.
Other than that, it has been steady as she goes. Does Meriam-Webster define “tumultuous” with a Nats logo?
As of this writing, the Nats are rocking a 21-35 record this season. It is similar on paper to the woeful 19-31 record in 2019, but there’s no comeback in the offing for this young, undisciplined, modestly talented, scrambling band of ballers. The organization is years from competing again. Meanwhile, many of its former stars are wearing other MLB uniforms (Scherzer, Harper, Rendon and Turner) and its best player not named Soto is rehabbing in the minors (Strasburg).
The disintegration happened so fast. In some ways, the realized fragility of that World Series experience has enhanced it; in other ways, it is hard not to feel gypped. Where was the afterglow? The happily ever after? Is there nothing to do other than file it away, hang some memorabilia to remember 2019…and move on?
Now almost three years removed from that magical World Series and with mostly strangers in Nats uniforms today, the team has morphed into a COVID metaphor. The ballpark is the same. The team colors are unchanged. Hot dogs and beer still fit together like peanut butter and jelly. But the familiarity is superficial. Rendon isn’t at third. Turner isn’t at short. Zimmerman isn’t at first. Scherzer isn’t on the bump. The Nats are like the classic Abbott and Costello skit “Who’s on first?” – literally. Watching them feels a little bit like life since COVID jumped species (or however it infiltrated humans). Everything looks the same, but something is off. It is still our house, but doesn’t feel like home. The missed family gatherings, disfigured school years and graduations, lost sports seasons, mass telework, weird supply chain interruptions (cars, microchips, furniture, baby formula), canceled flights, gas prices cratering and now spiking, inflation partying like it’s the 1970s at Studio 54’s peak, curbside take-out and grocery shopping, and masks strewn about – it all requires considerably more psychological processing.
In the meantime, life marches on. And there is little else to do, little more that needs to be done, other than to march with it. When the umpire yells “Play ball”, grab a bat or a glove, take the field and play. Who’s on first? What’s on second? Not sure who’s on third? Don’t mind the awkwardness. It will all feel like home again soon.