After winning the NL East Champions for 2012 last night, Ian Desmond was asked to describe the feeling. “Freakin Awesome,” he said. Desmond exemplifies the spirit of the Nationals better than anyone. He worked his way through the Montreal Expos organization to become the Washington Nationals everyday shortstop in in 2010. But this has been his year. Like the whole of the Washington Nationals team, there has been something special about this season, a break out year for the entire team. One that has been very freaking awesome for everyone.
The description could fit a thousand different situations including the two radio broadcasters, Charley Slowes and Dave Jaggler who asked Desmond the question. The play-by-play team arrived with the Nationals in 2005. Slowes has twenty-five years of experience and Jaggler only seven, but neither has ever won a championship anywhere. They have endured the 100-loss seasons and Slowes has kept his sense of humor through it all. They are like the fans who bought in at the beginning and have not gone away, like the old Senators fans that have come back and brought all of their memories with them. Freakin awesome, dude.
Ryan Zimmerman arrived as a regular in 2006 and like all of the players who have played no where else, this is his first winning season in Major League Baseball. I interviewed him at spring training in 2007 and he was hopeful that that team was going somewhere. He had all the hope in the world that spring. He knew the Nationals were building a winner, but I don’t think he saw it taking five more years to finally bears fruit. But for the 28-year old anchor of the team, I am certain it has been worth the wait.
There have been so many special moments this season in DC. There has been watching Bryce Harper blossom into a force of nature on the baseball diamond. Finding a niche for him is really almost impossible. A dash of Pete Rose, a touch of the Mick, but in the end he is his own man who is going to carve a huge space for himself in this game that he clearly loves as much as anything else.
When he leaves the batters box, all eyes in the stadium are on him because there is no telling what he might do. Will he go for second on a routine single? Will he score from first on a scratch double? Will he hit one so hard that it buries itself in the outfield wall itself?
When a team relies on pitching as the Nationals have most of the season, there are endless tense moments as the team battles its way toward the final innings with a precarious lead or no lead at all. That is the kind of season it has been. Forty-eight of their games this season have been decided by a margin of a single run, almost one game in three. There haven’t been many laughers for Washington this season.
Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann have been as good as any threesome in the game and all of the attention on innings has obscured the quality of the pitching from top to bottom. It carried the Nationals in the first two months of the season and is still the reason they have as good a record as anyone in the game.
Gio Gonzalez is the ace of the staff, the focus of the cameras when he is on the mound, but he commands almost as much attention when he is not pitching. The broadcasters spend more time speculating about why everyone around him in the dugout is laughing all the time. And after the game concluded last night, after the celebration was in full swing, there was the clown prince, running up and down the foul lines cheering the fans, exulting everyone to get involved in the fun.
There was laughing a plenty at Nationals Park last night. We suffered through another close one, a 2-0 loss to the Phillies. But by the last few innings everyone was paying as much if not more attention to the Atlanta-Pittsburgh game. The Pirates went ahead in the fifth inning by a 2-1 margin and from that point there were two tense games to watch. The Nationals bench players were sneaking down the tunnel to watch the game between innings and reporting the score back. iPhones were tuned to the game.
Everyone wanted to win the title outright, to watch the players dog pile in the middle of the field, but it was not to be. Winning 96 games, still tied with Cincinnati for the best record in either league, gives the Nationals the right to win however then can. They don’t really have to care too much about the style points.
The Braves have been tenacious in their desire to give Chipper Jones’ career a proper send off and it may yet. And that would be freakin awesome too. When you have won your first Championship, it is kind of special. Charley Slowes admitted that even he felt there was something especially sweet about the first time. And when you are in that kind of special place, everybody is your friend, everyone is smiling at everyone else. It is just freakin awesome.