Should America Root for the Washington Nationals?

PHOTO: U.S. President Barack Obama throws out the ceremonial first pitch prior to the Opening Day game between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park in this April 5, 2010 file photo in Washington, DC.

We root, root, root for the home team -- there's nothing more American than that.

But what happens when the home team's hometown is sort of difficult to root for. What if -- gasp! -- it's Washington?

It's a town full of insiders, bureaucrats, lobbyists, operatives, D.C. journalists, even members of Congress. Many of those who live here don't think of themselves as from here.

So it is that the Washington Nationals seemed destined to be the team America loves to mock, if not hate. And since 2005, when a foreign franchise (Montreal) moved and revived a losing tradition of baseball in a district that isn't a state, people have paid to be among the mockers: Home crowds have notoriously rooted for out-of-towners, National Park thick with Phillies' red or Cubs' blue.

Yet something else is happening in the nation's capital this spring. The Nationals are actually expected to be good. They're likeable. Maybe even trendy.

Sure, they're full of "homegrown" talent that's no more from Washington than President Obama is from Chicago. But this is the kind of year (hello, Republican presidential contenders) when also-rans who stick around long enough can become winners.

This means America may face a dilemma. The team the nation is supposed to hate is going to win, and perhaps win enough to make you want to like it.

Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo, the architect of the team that's bringing hope back to Washington baseball, told ABC News shortly before the team's first pitch of 2012 that he's not looking to offer lessons to his adopted hometown.

But when he looks out and sees George Will and James Carville, both in the stands at Nationals Park -- and, yes, both are free with their baseball advice for Rizzo -- he can't help but think there's something larger at work.

"If they can agree on that," Rizzo said, "why can't we get them to agree on other things?"

Political punditry is easier than baseball prognostication, and spin gets you even less in baseball than it does in politics.

But plenty of smart folks think the Nationals will finish at least a few games above .500. That may be enough to grab one of the two newly available National League wild card slots.

Stephen Strasburg, whose Major League debut in 2010 marked the last time baseball brought buzz to the Beltway, is starting his first opening day, and is set to anchor a rotation built for contention.

Teen phenom Bryce Harper figures to be in the bigs by June, joining a vibrant, young, mostly homegrown offense. Dream just a little and you can see Harper as Darryl Strawberry to Strasburg's Dwight Gooden, a second limitless-potential prospect set to blossom under manager Davey Johnson. (Dream just a bit more and you see careers that are a little more enduring…..)

Playing in a polished new family-friendly stadium just blocks from the Capitol, in a neighborhood that's starting to deliver on its promise, and even people in Washington are taking time away from the GOP delegate race to notice that real, playoff-contending baseball is set to break out inside the Beltway.

"Nationals Park is going to be the place to be in the District," Rizzo said. "It's going to be the ticket in town. It's going to be the spot."

It's not enough just yet to get fans from other places to drop their primary allegiances. (Full disclosure: I'm a Yankees fan first, foremost, and always, but I'm hoping my two young sons grow up wanting Harper or Strasburg jerseys.)

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