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Nationals Park in April 2017

I have baseball to thank for becoming a feminist at age 6. My family had moved to Kansas City just a year before because my dad got a job at Marion Labs. Ewing Kauffman, the owner of his new company, also happened to own the Royals. Employees of Marion Labs got a lot of free and discounted tickets, we went to a lot of Royals games during the George Brett era. I had just finished my own first season on a softball team when the Royals made it to the World Series against the Cardinals during the fall of first grade. “The I-70 Series,” they called it.

The Royals lost the first three games but made a miraculous comeback. My dad got two tickets to Game 6 and was going to take my older brother. I asked my mom why he was taking him and not me. “He’s a boy,” she explained, which infuriated me.

That game ended in a 2–1 walk-off, and the fans, including my dad and brother, mobbed the field. The next night, I woke up to my dad screaming in front of the television. We got up out of bed to find out that Royals had won the World Series in a blowout 11–0 game and danced in the living room in our pajamas.

It seemed like Kansas City was on top of the world, but it was all downhill from there. The Royals became perennial losers, but that didn’t stop us from going to games. It was at Kauffman Stadium that I learned about losing gracefully and accepting a peanut butter and jelly sandwich from your mother when you’d rather be eating a hot dog.

In college, I got to go to a Yankees-Red Sox game at Yankee Stadium courtesy of my friend Allie who grew up in Boston. We wore Red Sox shirts and midwestern me was shocked by the Yankees fans who yelled at us, dumped beer on our heads, and shoved us on the subway after the game. My brother and I later emptied our bank accounts on tickets to a game a Fenway when he lived in Boston during college, a financial decision we insisted we had to make for the sake of baseball history.

I moved to Iowa for grad school, and my friends and I discovered the Cedar Rapids Kernels, a nearby minor league team. Between innings, used cars for sale were driven around the field, and we posed for pictures with Mr. Shucks. My friend Rob and made the day trip to see the Field of Dreams near Dyersville. It was pretty amazing to see it in person, but everyone knows that Bull Durham is the best baseball movie of all time.

I moved to Washington, D.C. in 2008. I wasn’t sure if I really belonged there, and the fact that I was laid off nine months after I started my job felt like the universe was trying to tell me something. But I stayed for a few more months scraping by on unemployment until I got a contractor job at the Library of Congress. That in itself seemed like a miracle.

I moved to Capitol Hill and was soon introduced to another librarian named Rick by one of my coworkers. He was a gregarious music fan, always on the lookout for live shows. He came to our work happy hours and I soon found out he was a Nationals fan. I was impressed that he even had season tickets with another librarian named Dan. We both lived near H Street, and we started a trivia team at the Argonaut restaurant and bar. When I was desperate to move out of my group house and find my own apartment, Rick told me that the apartment below his was open. A few weeks later, we were neighbors.

Around that time, I went to my first Nats game with Rick. It was a day game, and playing hooky from work was extra thrilling. We could walk down New Jersey Avenue to Nats Park, under the I-695 overpass. Believe it or not, there were two horses that lived in a stable under that overpass until a developer bought this lot to build a high rise apartment building and a Whole Foods.

There was hardly anyone at the game, and it seemed a little eerie to be in this brand-new, empty stadium in the middle of the day. Rick explained to me who all the important players were: Ryan Zimmerman, who had been there since the team came from Montreal in 2005; Ian Desmond and Adam Dunn, our best hitters; and Jordan Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg were our new phenom pitchers. Just like the Royals, the Nats were perennial losers, but maybe that was about to change.

He explained to me that the Nats had started playing at RFK stadium, the crumbling abyss at the end of Capitol Hill known for its infestation of raccoons. Nationals Park seemed blindingly pristine to me, and it was right by the Anacostia River. The Nats lost that game against the Rockies, but I had an inkling I was going to be a Nats fan. Rick bought an enormous single barbecue rib, and for some reason I’ve long forgot, we thought the bone at the end of the game was hilarious. So I took a photo of it.

The next game I went to was just a month later with Rick and our friends from the Library of Congress. As we walked into a packed stadium on a Friday night, I had a high I realized I hadn’t felt since I was a kid walking into Kauffman Stadium. The feeling was exactly the same, and I still get it every time.

The next year I went with Rick, his girlfriend Gerry, and our new library friend Erik to a Friday night game in August against the Phillies. I had been watching the weather on my phone and knew what was coming. In the second inning, a torrential thunderstorm blew in and hovered over us for hours. The lighting was terrifying, and I was sure the stadium would be hit and we’d all go up in flames. The ushers ordered us to come down under the stands, and we huddled with other fans in a wet, suffocating pall. At hour two of this, I assumed the game would be canceled and rescheduled, so I texted my boyfriend Greg, trying to figure out when he could come pick me up.

But the storm ended and the game went on, starting up again around 10 pm. We went back up to our wet seats, and I wondered how I was supposed to stay awake through this. It turned out to be one of the most thrilling games I’ve ever witnessed when Ryan Zimmerman hit a walk-off grand slam after midnight. We cheered and fist-pumped with other fans as we walked out of the stadium. We weren’t going to the playoffs, we knew, but beating the Phillies always felt good. That was the game that took me over the edge into that dangerous territory of crazed fandom. It wasn’t just that I loved the Nats, I now felt like maybe I belonged in D.C. I never thought I’d be either one of those kinds of people, but there I was.

The next April, the Nats debuted a new catchphrase: “Ignite Your Natitude.” What the hell was Natitude? No one knew what exactly that was supposed to mean, other than we better show up on opening day because Phillies fans were again trying to fill the park to shame us on our own home turf. It was our mock catchphrase, something to say when joking about the team, but then it became something real. Jayson Werth, a former Philly, had been on the team for a year by that point, and the Nats were going to bring up the hottest star in baseball, Bryce Harper, known as Bam-Bam. Maybe we were going somewhere this season.

Since Greg was going to be in Afghanistan all summer, I decided I needed to get myself something special. I bought a partial season ticket plan to attend every Sunday game. I went by myself and sat in my nosebleed seat, sweating through summer, watching the Nats rack up win after win. Families in the stands looked at me with bewilderment and pity: what was this weird woman doing at a baseball game by herself, cheering like a lunatic?

As the summer progressed, I started reading the Washington Post’s wrap-ups every morning (some of the most brilliant writing anywhere, in my opinion). I listened to most games I wasn’t at in person on 106.7 with Charlie Slowes, whose voice puts me in some kind of nostalgic, blissed-out trance. Jayson Werth grew his beard out long and I, along with many other people, became obsessed. @JWerthsBeard and @TheNatidude launched on Twitter and the memes came fast and furious. The “Let Teddy Win” campaign was hilarious to us, as were our four mascot presidents running around the field and knocking each other down. I was spending a stupid amount of money on Nats gear and collecting ridiculous giveaway tchotchkes. Greg came back from Afghanistan in September and wondered who the hell I’d become in his absence.

That fall, the Nats made their first playoff run, and I was as high as a goddamn kite. Rick and Dan had gotten tickets for Game 3 against the Cardinals from their season ticket plan. But Dan couldn’t go, therefore I won what felt like the lottery. Rick and I walked over to the game and got our free hand towels with #Natitude on them to wave in the stands. There was a jet flyover by the Air Force and fireworks, all before the first inning started. To my right was a giant cardboard Jayson Werth.

There was no way we could lose, but lose we did. The next night, I walked home from work, listening to the radio on my headphones, and got home just as Jayson Werth battled in the ninth inning against 13 pitches for a chance to live another day. After his walk-off home run, I proceeded to punch every soft surface I could find in my house and tried not to scream so loud I would scare my neighbors.

The next night for Game 5, I convinced Greg, one of his work friends, and Erik to come out to a bar on H Street to watch the game. I laughed hysterically in the third inning when the score was 6–0. What a cakewalk! The Nats were going on to a pennant race! We ordered two beer towers, and I proceed to get trashed in celebration. By the ninth inning, I was staring at the TV screen, completely shit-faced and confused. The Nats had lost. I wasn’t sure how, but that’s what the scoreboard said. I stumbled home with Greg in the dark, and the tears started flowing down my cheeks. When we walked inside, I started a full-on drunken, sobbing jag. “I have nothing to look forward to!” I shouted and heaved. This was when he started to get truly concerned. Perhaps an intervention was in order.

The next spring, Greg agreed to a Sunday ticket plan if he could bring a book to each game. To him, baseball was the most excruciatingly boring game, and he remarkably didn’t even really understand the rules. Somehow in a weird twist of fate, I had become the sports fan in a relationship with a guy who couldn’t care less about baseball. But he liked learning the weird vocabulary (pickle is his favorite term), and eventually he decided Kurt Suzuki was his favorite player.

We lived through more ups and downs of the playoffs in 2014, although I had learned my lesson from 2012: never get emotionally invested. At least not that emotionally invested. I brought my dad to a game where he nearly broke his finger catching a foul ball, and my best friend Karissa came to several when visiting me in the summer. She thought it was hilarious that I could go through the motions of sitting, standing, singing, and waving my hat between each inning by rote while carrying on conversations with her. My friends and family could not get over my Natitude; it was completely baffling to them.

In what seemed like a nadir at the end of the season in 2015, Jon Papelbon choked Bryce Harper in the dugout. I was at that game, although since we were sitting on the first base side, we saw some kind of commotion but didn’t know what was going on. I had forgotten all about it when we went down on the grass after the game for Yoga in the Outfield, a new event. At the end of the yoga practice as I was laying on my new Nats mat on that pristine grass and looking up at the sky, I watched the clouds roll by and a flock of birds fly over me. Somehow, that made me feel like whatever happened with the Nats in the future, it would all be okay.

2016 felt like some kind of nuclear bomb had gone off, and by the beginning of the next year, Greg and I knew we had to get out of D.C. We had been thinking about moving to Tucson, where Greg grew up, for years. Escaping this apocalypse for the desert was tempting, so that summer, I got a job there and we moved. I went to one last game with Rick and the gang and was fighting back tears the whole time. I had a weird feeling that the Nats would win the World Series soon after I left. They made the playoffs that year, and I made a Natitude nicho, but still, for the fourth time, we could not make lift off out of the division series.

I continued to watch pretty much every Nats game on MLB streaming from Arizona, and Greg brings me ice cream in my Nats mini helmet ice cream bowl. We went to two Nats games against the Diamondbacks at Chase Field in Phoenix, a soulless air-conditioned stadium with a retractable roof. It was fun to see a few games of a blowout Nats sweep, but being the only Nats fan there, my cheers echoed into the eerie silence. It was weird. And I hate snakes.

Back in June of this year, I came to D.C. for a library conference. It was the first time I’d been back since moving. Rick, Gerry, Erik, and I met up for a game against the Braves, who were leading the division. The Nats were working their way out of a deep hole they had dug in May. Now, they were red hot and we imagined the possibilities for fall. They beat the Braves that night, and we walked out of the stadium thinking anything was possible. If not the division, the wild card for sure! We still believed in the Nats, like the goddamn addicts we still are and always will be.

Every game of this playoff run has nearly given me a heart attack. The Nats are on a tear making it look easy, and their sweep of the Cardinals was so, so sweet. Getting to the World Series is more than enough for me. If they win, I’ll miss those underdog days, sweating my butt off at Nats Park and wondering when our time would come. If they lose, I’ll keep wearing my Nats hat in Arizona, fending off people’s stupid Walgreens jokes. As Nationals fans, we can take the heat, any time, any place. See. You. Later.

Written by

Archivist, librarian, historian. Author of A Well-Read Woman: The Life, Loves, and Legacy of Ruth Rappaport (Little A). https://kate-stewart.com/

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