Try as I might, I can’t really recall exactly how and when I became a baseball fan. My parents were born in England, where they met and married before immigrating to the United States in their mid-twenties. I was born a few years later and some of my earliest memories were of my dad yelling “goal” at the TV while the Spanish-speaking broadcasters screamed an endless “Goooooooooooaaaaaaaaaaaallllll.” My dad was an avid soccer (football) fan and would watch whatever game was on, which in those days usually meant listening to the games in Spanish.
We moved from New Jersey to Southern California when I was in third grade and the soccer games on the TV became even more commonplace because of our proximity to Mexico. But somehow, even with all the soccer on in my home and virtually no exposure to baseball, I started following the Los Angeles Dodgers in the late 1970s/early 1980s. I think it was because we only had one TV in the house and my parents didn’t allow me and my sister to watch it much. So I spent a lot of time with the radio and somehow found Vin Scully. I don’t need to say anything more about that because Vin is a legend and his call of a game can pull a listener in like no other.
As my fandom grew, I somehow got my dad to take me to a few games, including some in the Dodgers’ run up to their 1981 World Series championship title. To this day, my mom likes to remind me that the first (and last) baseball game she went to was for my 15th birthday party at Dodger Stadium. Thankfully my dad supported my new interest and he became hooked too. It was a special thing that we did together—baseball games at Chavez Ravine—and I’m so grateful for that time with him. In high school, I taught myself how to keep score and found myself a job as scorekeeper for my school’s team. I did the same thing in college and got to travel with the team, serve as head scorekeeper for the spring break invitational tournament and work with the local newspapers to give them the box scores and other highlights to write their stories.
After college, I got married and in 1992, we moved to Washington, DC for my then-husband to take a job on Capitol Hill. I went to grad school, we bought a house and had a baby, and I grew distant from baseball because it wasn’t in my backyard any more. I went up to Camden Yards a few times, but I never felt the passion that I had felt for the Dodgers. Like everyone else, when the Nationals came to town in 2005, I was excited. But it wasn’t until Nationals Park opened in 2008 that I really began more faithfully following the team. It was a hard few years because the team was so terrible, but there were two games that cemented the Nats as my team. The first game was sometime in 2010 and I went with my next door neighbor (recently moved from LA) to see the Nats play the Dodgers. I wore my Steve Sax jersey, but felt a little weird about doing so. Somewhere in the middle of the game I took it off because I wanted to openly cheer for the Nationals to win. I realized then that my heart had truly stopped pumping Dodger Blue and was now undeniably pumping Nationals Red.
After that realization, coupled with the exciting debut of Stephen Strasburg and the signing of Jayson Werth, I decided to become a season ticket holder for the 2011 season. I felt that the Nationals were on the brink of something special and I wanted to be a part of it. Fast forward to June 21, 2011, and my son and I were in our seats in 132 to see the Nats play the Mariners. It was a warm night, but because it was a Tuesday, the stands were half full. As the innings wore on, the stands emptied further because the Nats were losing 5-1. So as we often did in these situations, my son and I started to make our way down and over toward the dugout as people left. By the bottom of the 9th, we were in the first row behind the dugout, which was the perfect place to watch a spectacular ending unfold.
We put our obligatory rally caps on and things started to happen. Two runs scored and two men were on base when Wilson Ramos came to the plate. We were on our feet and cheering because the Nationals actually had a chance to win the game, which didn’t seem like even a remote possibility just one inning prior. With one sweet swing, Ramos hit a walk off home run and the Nats won 6-5! I was screaming, I was jumping up and down, I was high-fiving my son and others around us, and in all the hysteria, I rammed my thigh, just over my knee, into one of the cup holders attached to the dugout. It hurt, but I didn’t care. I just couldn’t believe they had won the game.
The next day I woke up with the nastiest bruise I’ve ever had in my life. It was all sorts of shades of black and purple, and was the size of, ironically, a baseball. It was visible for weeks, but thankfully had faded by my late August beach vacation. What didn’t fade was the pain. For maybe 6-8 months, I could touch that spot and still feel soreness deep in the tissue. But every time I felt that soreness, I smiled because it reminded me of the incredible euphoria I had that warm June night. It reminded me that a baseball game isn’t over until the last out is recorded and never to leave early because there is always, always a chance. But most of all, it reminded me that baseball gave me a second chance at fandom with the Washington Nationals and I will forever be grateful for that.