Out, but not down. An appreciation of the 2016 Nationals

against the at Nationals Park on October 2, 2016 in Washington, DC.
Max Scherzer celebrates with Matt Belisle after getting his 20th win of the season. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

By Will Beverina

My name is Will. I am 23 years old and was born and raised just 40 minutes outside of DC. I was born too late to witness the Redskins winning the Super Bowl in 1992—the last championship won by any DC-area sports team—and was too young to appreciate the Capitals’ Stanley Cup run in 1998. I have never seen any of my professional sports teams make it to the conference finals. I am a DC sports fan. Glad I could get that off my chest.

I’m devastated. This was a tough pill to swallow. I’ve had far more bitter, but that doesn’t mean it gets any easier. Year after year, I watch as RGIII pushes himself too far against Seattle, LeBron James crab dribbles his way to a game-winning shot against the Wizards, and any Caps team blows a 3-1 series lead or loses to an 8-seed after winning the Presidents Trophy.

So I understand it when I see other fans in the area lament our teams. I mean, why us? What did we do to deserve this? With every elimination comes the updated statistics of DC sports impotence; yearly reminders of the constant and unrelenting failures of an entire city. The news outlets pile on, the fans make sure to remind everyone of how bad they have it, and the decrees of never having hope again ring out through the walls of Facebook and the Twittersphere. I get it. I really do.

But don’t be too quick to attribute the misfortunes of the past onto this year’s Nationals squad. This was a flawed team that had a better season than most could expect. Winning 95 games and a division title is nothing to sneeze at. Developments like the emergence of Trea Turner and the resurgence of Jayson Werth made for a memorable and fun season.

And from the perspective of being purely a fan of baseball, the last week has been a showcase of what the sport can be. A 5-game series with one of baseball’s greatest pitchers ever and three one-run games is a delight. Yes, the Nationals ended up on the wrong side of history this time, but the highs and lows of this NLDS are why we watch sports in the first place.

Besides, this team did not roll over and play dead. This was a hard-fought series, and the Nationals scrapped their way through every game. The aforementioned three one-run games were all Washington losses, meaning they did not give up anything. The Nationals wanted it. But they lost to a good Dodgers team that got two starts and a closed game out of Clayton Kershaw. This is a series that could have happened to any team in baseball, whether they belonged to a so-called cursed city or not (except maybe the Cubs but you get the idea).

And so we wait another year. I’m not any more happy about it than you are, but let’s appreciate this team for what it was and how it played. Before we wallow in our DC sports-induced self-pity, let’s remember how fun it was to see Werth fist-pumping after making a sliding catch, or Daniel Murphy letting out a few primal yells after juking Yasmani Grandal and scoring in game five. Don’t let the end result take away the emotions of the ninth inning of game three or Chris Heisey’s 2-run jack in the seventh inning last night.

Because what happens at the end isn’t always what sports are about. Don’t look at this season as a waste because it didn’t end in a World Series victory. If that was the only reason anyone watched, most of us could just go home and not bother most years. In sports, it’s not about the big picture, but those little moments that extract the biggest emotions from us.

We can talk about all the negatives: Dusty Baker’s game five managing, Anthony Rendon’s incompetence with runners on base, Danny Espinosa. But for what purpose? I know it’s what we do as fans of any sport, but in this case, we aren’t helping ourselves.

Instead of focusing on all of the worst parts of every postseason so that we can continue to build a narrative of failure, we can remember the good times that got us there in the first place.

So let’s appreciate these Nats. There may come a day when we wish the team was as fun as it is now. And if we’re lucky enough to see them in the 2017 playoffs, I know you and I will be right there to watch them and go through it all over again. And once it happens, when a team finally wins it all, it will be that much sweeter.


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