Washington is smiling.
You may not know that from the paralysis in Congress or the deadlocked, often petty race for president that’s grinding along.
But as summer turns into fall, the nation’s capital is preparing for something that hasn’t happened since FDR was a rookie: The baseball team is going to the postseason.
Playoff baseball is nothing to celebrate, not by itself, in sensible parts of the country that don’t hang banners for wild card berths.
But given the tortured history of baseball in Washington – losing not one but two franchises, with futility that spawned the line about D.C.’s being “First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League” – this is a major development that deserves celebration.
Since D.C. stole away Montreal’s franchise in 2005 – that plus-one for the U.S. of A., thank you very much – the story hadn’t been much different. First in rundown RFK Stadium, then in gleaming but, sadly, mostly empty Nationals Park, the futility continued, with the franchise famously sending a player on the field with a jersey that misspelled the team name.
Now, that’s more distant a memory than balanced budgets and bipartisan breakthroughs. The best young infield in baseball has been eclipsed only by the best young pitching staff in the league – maybe even without Stephen Strasburg, shut down prematurely and controversially.
Sprinkle fiery young Bryce Harper and crusty old Davey Johnson into a homegrown franchise with local, steady ownership, and you begin to understand why James Carville and George Will can cheer together this fall.
As the season began, blinded by the giddy expectations of spring and oblivious to the classic superstitions of sport, I tentatively suggested that the Nationals might be good enough to snag a wild card spot this year.
That they’ve done, as of last night, and they’re not finished yet. Sometime in the next two weeks, absent a total collapse that I’m surely tempting by typing these words, the Nationals will clinch the National League’s mighty East Division, over powerhouse franchises from Atlanta, Philadelphia, New York, as well as the preseason darling, the Miami Marlins.
The Nats may even secure the best record in the National League, or all of baseball. There might be – again, apologies to the fates again being tempted here – World Series baseball in Washington for the first time since 1933.
Purists and skeptics and cynics will join skittish fans in noting that winning a division title isn’t the stuff of legends.
This is a team that will be remembered or forgotten in October, as all teams that reel off wins at a .600 clip must be judged.
It’s just possible that this team is comprised of players green enough not to know they don’t belong with the grown-up franchises. But for a moment, at least, it’s worth savoring the fact that Washington can produce good news from time to time.