Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Leaving Past Behind, Nats Changing D.C. Narrative

The Nationals beat the Marlins 2-0 on Opening Day. You probably knew that, living in Washington, D.C. and all. If you didn’t, a quick glance at that scoreline would signal a pretty unremarkable contest — the presumed top and bottom of a division doing battle in a game in which the result was most likely determined before the two squads even took the field. Not taking a second look at the home opener here in the nation’s capital, therefore, might be an easy move to make. It would also be a major mistake.

It was a game dominated by the District’s young guns. Bryce Harper, the walloping wonder kid, hit two homers in his first two at-bats of the year. Stephen Strasburg, the flame-throwing starter just 24 years of age, went seven dominant innings in his debut appearance of 2013. D.C.’s superstar duo put on a show and set the stage for what will be the year of the Nationals.

Almost impossibly so, the Nats are suddenly a force to be reckoned with. Of all teams, it is the Nationals that are bypassing the aging competition and making their case as the most dangerous team in baseball. And, above all, it’s thanks to those two homegrown virtuosos.

Strasburg was probably the most hyped prospect ever. Wild, exaggerated, surely impossible rumors of his 100 mph fastball and knee-buckling slider were ubiquitous prior to his arrival on the scene in 2010. Then he took the mound. Magic followed. He was everything the rumors said he was, and more. He had a Sports Illustrated cover two starts into his professional career. “National Treasure,” it read. The struggling, bumbling Nationals had struck gold.

Then they did it again with Harper. His swinging visage proclaiming him “Baseball’s Chosen One,” Harper adorned Sports Illustrated a full year before Strasburg. He turned 20 last postseason, so he didn’t even wind his way to the bigs until April 2012. But he made the most of his inaugural season in The Show, settling down after an inconsistent year to hit .330 with seven homers in September.

Together, the two have turned the woeful Nationals from cellar dwellers to World Series favorites. The upside — and the upswing — is off the charts.

It hasn’t always been this way, of course. It was a tradition. The cherry blossoms bloom. The baseball stinks.

Before their exodus from D.C., the Washington franchise calling itself the Senators enjoyed some bright moments during its existence from 1901-1971, including a scattered few championships in the pre-World War II days.

But baseball was not kind to the District. “First in war, first in peace and last in the American League,” the joke went. But it was no joke. It was all too real. Then one day, the crummy team left for that great baseball mecca of Montreal. And that was that.

No more baseball in D.C. Not a lot of great memories left behind, either.

33 years passed before baseball returned. And of course it returned. No matter how bad the legacy it left behind was, America’s pastime’s absence from America’s capital just felt wrong. In 2005, they were back, this time calling themselves the Nationals.

New name. Same old result.

In the first seven years, they had three managers. None were successful. None had a winning record. None even had one winning season. Collectively, they had a .434 winning percentage. Besides third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, it looked bleak. But it looked normal. It was, after all, baseball in D.C.

But along came Strasburg, and then Harper. And funnily enough, the two dynamos resurrected D.C. baseball in the most D.C.-baseball way possible. Strasburg brought hope to the nation’s capital during his storybook 2010 season. But like the Senators long before him, he was gone before he could achieve anything too great and sidelined by the always nerve-wracking Tommy John Surgery. His return was in question.

Would he ever be the same pitcher that somehow made the Nationals relevant during the dog days of the summer? Back and stronger than ever, like the Nationals as a whole, Strasburg is a top choice for the NL Cy Young this year, a dominant pitcher who is a sheer joy to watch every fifth day.

Harper, like the Nationals, struggled in the beginning to adapt to the new surroundings. It was unfamiliar territory for the man who had a 500-foot homer on his resume by age 16. Expected to make the transition to the majors quickly, Harper was instead stuck in quicksand for the majority of last year. By mid-May, he was hitting a mere .213. By the end of August, Harper had only raised it to .250.

But a resurgent September set him over the edge. Harper finished his rookie year with a .270 batting average and 22 long balls. After those early struggles, Harper is in the groove now. So are the Nationals. So is D.C. baseball.

Is this surprising? Absolutely. But in a town that knows a thing or two about progress, more than 100 years after its first game, maybe D.C. baseball is finally turning around.


Peter Barston is a freshman in the McDonough School of Business. RAISING THE BAR appears every Friday.

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