I came to baseball the way most of us do, through our parents. I grew up in Chicago and spent many a day at Wrigley Field with my dad. We would watch WGN and lament the heartbreak that was the Cubs. Even after leaving Chicago, we followed them.
I moved around a lot for work, so I would usually adopt the hometown team to watch since the internet didn’t exist and I couldn’t afford the MLB package on cable. I always chose the American League team, which was okay with my dad, as long as I didn’t forsake the Cubs. But that all changed in 2004.
When I moved to DC in the mid-90s, for some reason I couldn’t adopt the Orioles, likely due to the horrendous owner. Then, in 2004, the Expos were on the move and I was THRILLED! National League baseball was coming to DC. For all but six or seven games a year when they played the Cubs, I would cheer for the Nats.
Even though the Nats were atrocious the first six years, my allegiance began to shift. Slowly but surely my first love was being replaced. With the Nats being as bad as they were it wasn’t like I was jumping on the bandwagon of a good team. I think my dad appreciated that. I saw players developing. I saw a plan being put into place. I saw a foundation being built.
I remember in 2010 talking to him about Stephen Strasburg, Ryan Zimmerman and this kid Bryce Harper. My father’s health was failing. My father lived 75 years and only saw the Cubs in the playoffs a handful of times. He told me before he passed that he was glad that I was cheering for a team that had a future. He didn’t want me to suffer with a losing team like he did his entire life. He passed away just before Christmas of 2010.
In the summer of 2011 things really began to change for the Nats, Jayson Werth came, Riggleman was out (I think my dad had a hand in that, he never like Riggleman when he managed the Cubs) and Davey Johnson was named manager. Davey’s first game managing would have been my dad’s 76th birthday.
On July 4, 2011, I took my nephew to the Nats-Cubs game. We were both dressed up in our Cubs gear sitting in Section 312. It was a good mix of Cubs and Nats fans, but mostly Cubs fans. It was a bizarre game for me. On the one hand the team of my childhood was in town and on the other, my new team was really beginning to show promise. I was having a crisis.
Over the course of what would be 10 innings that day, my allegiance slowly shifted and was cemented. By the 6th inning I was full on cheering for the Nationals. Jordan Zimmermann was getting little support as usual and I just couldn’t stand to see this promising team lose to what would be another terrible Cubs team.
It all culminated in the bottom of the 10th inning. Jayson Werth led off with a walk and up comes Livan Hernandez. God, I love Livo. For a big guy, he is such an athlete. He laid down the perfect bunt. As Werth dashed to second base, Livo just chugged down the first base line admiring his work and looked like he was laughing because he knew it was a perfect bunt. At this point, my nephew and I are going nuts.
Cubs closer Carlos Marmol entered the game to face Ivan Rodriguez. The Cubs fans around me started to pack up and leave, they knew what was coming, they had seen this before. Werth sees that no one is paying attention to him and basically walks over to third base. A Cubs fan next to me looked at me and said “the Nats are going to win on a walk off wild pitch because that is what Marmol does.” Sure enough, Marmol throws the wild pitch and Werth comes home. BEDLAM!!!! My nephew and I were going bonkers. As we were walking back to the car, my nephew said “don’t you think it’s time to put away the Cubs gear?”
I haven’t worn any Cubs gear since that day and somewhere I know my Dad approves.