Matt Williams was asked August 16, after the Washington Nationals lost their fourth consecutive game, if the team, then trailing the New York Mets by four-and-a-half games, had reached "rock bottom."
"We're still in this hunt here, so no," the Nationals manager told reporters at his post-game press conference.
The Nationals went on to lose the following two games, and eventually stumbled into September at 66-65, and trailing the Mets by 6.5 games. September 1 presented a bleak situation, but not entirely hopeless. A few hot hitting streaks here, some corrected pitching there, and, somehow, the Nationals might still find a way to eke this once-heralded squad into the playoffs for the third time in four seasons. A relatively easy schedule—four games at home against the moribund Atlanta Braves—kept them scraping along.
It is now hopeless.
Among the many wonderful things about owning Redskins season tickets during the team’s 1980s glory days was one benefit for which I was especially grateful. It got me out of Hebrew school a half hour early.
Eight Sundays a year—give or take the occasional 4 o’clock kickoff or Monday-night matchup, or when I had to surrender one of my family’s two tickets to my no-account little brother (who cared nothing about football and only wanted to go for the nachos)—my father would pick me up at Temple Sinai on Military Road at 11:30. We’d zip through Rock Creek Park, past the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials, onto the Southeast Freeway, and into the RFK parking lot. At our first game, my dad innocently asked the attendant guarding the VIP compound, “Let a small car in?” and he waived us through—a ritual repeated for the next five years. At the last game of each season, we gave him a tin of my mom’s homemade lemon squares.
Local television news personalities rarely break from the demeanors they present on camera, even on other platforms, so it was a bit startling on Saturday when WRC anchor Doreen Gentzler posted on Facebook her personal assessment of the Washington NFL team's latest debacle, a marital dispute between general manager Scot McCloughan and his wife, Jessica, that has dragged in the name of ESPN reporter Dianna Russini.
In a string of since-deleted tweets, Jessica McCloughan accused Russini, who previously worked for WRC, carrying out an affair with her husband. The accusation—for which Jessica McCloughan eventually apologized—was fodder for tabloid websites. Most DC stations left it alone on their news broadcasts last week, but some gave it significant air time, prompting Gentzler to vent.
"Maybe there was a news story regarding the public display of domestic turmoil for the Washington football team’s general manager," Gentzler wrote on Facebook. "And some covered it that way. Was it a lead story? Was it worth 7 minutes of prime time news coverage? I don’t think so."
Washington's NFL team is in even more off-field chaos Thursday following the revelation that Jessica McCloughan accused her husband, general manager Scot McCloughan, of having an affair with ESPN reporter Dianna Russini. The accusation, which ESPN and Russini flatly deny, is quickly snowballing into Ashburnistan's latest public embarassment, complete with debunked claims of Twitter impostors, revised statements, and turmoil in the office of the general manager who was supposed to fix this woeful franchise. Below, a brief attempt to explain the team's latest episode:
Who is Dianna Russini?
Russini is one of ESPN's newest reporters and studio anchors, having joined the channel earlier this summer following a two-year stint at WRC in Washington. Russini joined the NBC affiliate to succeed sports reporter Lindsay Czarniak (who also now works for ESPN), and was promoted to lead sports anchor when Dan Hellie decamped for the NFL Network. During her time at WRC, Russini built up a reputation for more aggressive reporting on the Ashburn bubble—a far cry from the days of team patsies like George Michael. Her WRC colleagues thought of her as a diligent, hard-working reporter who drove the station's sports coverage. Russini appears to have continued building up that reputation at ESPN, like last weekend, when she broke the news that the team was finally ready to strip Robert Griffin III of the starting-quarterback role.
After a weekend filled with conflicting reports about the future of injury-plagued quarterback Robert Griffin III (his latest malady: a concussion sustained in a preseason game), Jay Gruden announced Monday that Kirk Cousins will be the Washington NFL team's starting passer when the season begins September 13. The team's fans sure seem excited to give him a chance to redeem the club after the last few woeful years:
The Wizards are now officially Washington's only professional basketball team, following a report from NBC Sports about the demise of the Washington Generals, longtime patsies of the Harlem Globetrotters. The Generals, Joe Posnanski writes, folded earlier this summer when the Globetrotters ended their 63-year-old business partnership with the ever-suffering club.
Of course, the Generals, who lost an estimated 14,000 games over their run, had no actual connection to Washington beyond their their name. The team was created in 1952 by former Baltimore Bullet Lou "Red" Klotz with the explicit purpose of giving the Globetrotters a permanent opponent as the more famous team toured arenas across the United States. While the Globetrotters—who were actually formed in Chicago, not Harlem—started out as a competitive, barnstorming team, the rise of the nascent National Basketball Association turned them into the comedy act they're known as today.
Leon Vessels hadn’t picked up a tennis racket in a few years. The DC native had received an All-Met honorable mention during his senior year at DeMatha Catholic High School in 2005 and ranked as high, he estimates, as No. 150 in the US junior rankings, but he was nervous. It wasn’t some recreational player standing across the net.
It was summer 2010, and Vessels had just graduated from Hampton University, where he was supposed to play tennis but never joined the team because he was “gassed out.” As a summer job, Vessels landed a spot with the operations team at the Citi Open at Rock Creek Park Tennis Center, maintaining the grounds for the week-long tournament.
But American pro Rajeev Ram needed a practice partner, and a tournament official asked Vessels to step in.
“He got me pretty much good with the cobwebs out,” Vessels says. “And once it was like, ‘Oh, he didn’t complain?’ they kept sending me out there.”
Vessels, 28, has become a staple on the Citi Open’s practice courts, preparing players for their matches and rediscovering his passion for a sport he had fallen out of love with.
In the middle of the best summer of his tennis career, Denis Kudla is frustrated.
Despite a breakthrough at Wimbledon by reaching the round of 16 and reaching the semifinals of an ATP World Tour event in Atlanta last month, the 22-year-old isn’t satisfied, especially after a three-set loss to Slovenian Blaž Rola on Tuesday at the Citi Open.
Since turning pro in 2008, the Arlington native has played his hometown tournament five times. He has yet to win a match.
“It sucks,” Kudla, sporting a black Washington Nationals cap, says after his latest defeat. “This city has been behind me for a long time. I love playing here, but again, the results aren’t all there.”
Kudla first played the qualifying rounds of the tournament in 2009 and 2010, before receiving main draw wildcards in 2011 and 2013. But he missed last year's tournament with a severe case of mononucleosis that kept him off the court for almost three months, a spell that dropped him to a ranking of No. 150 as recently as April.
On August 1, Ryan Shane will play his first qualifying match at D.C.’s annual major tennis tournament, the Citi Open. Just two days before the match, he keeps bringing up examples of his relative naïveté when it comes to professional tennis.
The annual tournament is one of just a handful of US events to include a men’s and women’s tournament concurrently.
World No. 3 Andy Murray, a two-time Grand Slam champion, headlines a field that also includes both of the finalists from the 2014 US Open: fifth-ranked Kei Nishikori and fellow Top 10 player Marin Cilic.
The Top 6 American men will also be in Washington preparing on the hard courts. Veterans John Isner and Sam Querrey are looking to capitalize on the North American hard court season after months in on the clay and grass of Europe. Up-and-coming star Jack Sock is looking to make a breakthrough against some of the top players on tour.
Although the women’s tournament in Washington has to compete with the higher-level Bank of the West Classic in California the same week, it was still able to attract many of the WTA’s brightest young stars.
Two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka is continuing to work her way back from injuries and is undoubtedly looking forward to getting back on her favorite surface. Youngsters Eugenie Bouchard from Canada, Americans Sloane Stephens and Christina McHale, and Britain's Heather Watson have all made runs in major tournaments and will be searching for more consistency in the nation’s capital.
The all-time great doubles duo of Americans Mike and Bob Bryan will also take their 16 Grand Slam doubles titles to the court next week in an effort to win the tournament for the first time since winning back-to-back-to-back titles in DC from 2005-07.
This weekend will feature qualifying matches featuring a few local players before the upper echelon of players get going. Denis Kudla, a 22-year-old from Arlington who reached the final 16 at Wimbledon this year, and Ryan Shane, the 2015 NCAA singles champion from Falls Church, will both attempt to qualify for the men’s main draw in their home city.
The draws and schedules for the tournament will be announced at a ceremony Friday. You can find more information and ticket prices on the tournament's website.