My beloved Washington Nationals won the 2019 World Series in thrilling fashion. There’s lots to learn, and not just about baseball, from the World Champions. Here are nine reasons to love the Nats:
Nevertheless, they persisted: That the underdog Nationals won should not have come as a shock; they’re a very good team, and anything can happen in a series of five or seven games. What’s remarkable is how they won. They played so miserably in April and May that, after losing 31 of their first 50 games, FanGraphs gave them a 22 percent of chance of making the playoffs and a 1.6 percent chance of winning the World Series. During the postseason, they played five games in which a loss would have ended their season. They fell behind in all five and still prevailed. That’s unprecedented. It’s worth remembering when pursuing anything that’s hard. Never give up is a cliche. It’s also useful advice.
Immigrants! They get the job done: The Nationals’ season turned around not long after signing Gerardo Parra, a journeyman outfielder from Venezuela who had just been cast off by the San Francisco Giants. Coincidence? I think not. Parra’s on-field performance was unexceptional, but he and Anibal Sanchez, a pitcher and fellow Venezuelan, brought a sense of fun — dugout dance parties, orange sunglasses and, of course, Baby Shark — to the team. “We didn’t start winning until Gerardo Parra came in May. We’re lucky to have these guys here — the Latin guys,” reliever Sean Doolittle told Tom Boswell of The Washington Post. Juan Soto, Victor Robles, Wander Suero (all from the Dominican Republic), Yan Gomes (the first Brazilian-born major leaguer) and Asdrubal Cabrera (another Venezuelan) round out the team’s Latin posse.
They don’t just dance. They hug: These guys really like one another. Importantly, they are not afraid to show it — or say it. While celebrating the World Series victory, Brian Dozier told Brittany Ghiroli of The Athletic that winning the World Series is “not a life changing thing.” Dozier said: When all of this is gone and the champagne fades, what we are going to really remember and hold on to is the chemistry we’ve built here. The camaraderie.” If you think that doesn’t matter, you’ve never worked with a bunch of people you can’t stand.
They value their elders: In a sport and a society that valorizes youth, the Nationals are an exception. With an average age of 31.1, they are the oldest team in the big leagues. Victor Robles, the team’s 22-year-old centerfielder, calls his teammates “Los Viejos” — Spanish for old guys — and the old guys embraced the idea. Fernando Rodney, at 42, is by far the oldest player in the majors. Ryan Zimmerman, Max Scherzer and Aníbal Sánchez are 35. Howie Kendrick, 36, had the best year of his career at the plate, hit game-changing home runs against the Dodgers and Astros and was named MVP of the league championship series against the Cardinals. Viejos, indeed.
They believe in second chances: The Texas Rangers gave infielder Asdrubal Cabrera his release in August. He went on to drive in 40 runs in 38 games with the Nationals. Pitcher Daniel Hudson was given his release by the Los Angeles Angels in spring training, after being dropped by the Dodgers. Hudson latched on with the Blue Jays, was traded to the Nationals and recorded the last three outs of the World Series, retiring, in order, George Springer, Jose Altuve and Michael Brantley. Not everyone will capitalize on a second chance, but too often we give up on people prematurely.
They are family-friendly: This tweet sums it up.
Sean Doolittle: The lefty bullpen ace and his wife Eireann Dolan may be “baseball’s most ‘woke’ couple,” as Chelsea Janes of The Post wrote last year. They support LGBT rights and raise money for veterans. This season, Doolittle tried to shop at an independent bookstore in every city visited by the Nationals.
Anthony Rendon: He speaks softly and carries a big stick. Good glove, too.
They aren’t the Houston Astros: The Astros are tough to beat and hard to like, as Ben Lindbergh said the other day on the Effectively Wild podcast. It’s not the players who are the problem; it’s the owner and general manager who disgraced themselves. If you missed the story, see this from Ben, this from Jeff Passan, and this from Sports Illustrated’s Stephanie Apstein.
Evidently, the baseball gods were watching.
[Photo credit: David J. Phillip/AP]