News & Politics

What It Was Like at Nationals Park When Washington Clinched the NL East

A thank-you letter to the team.

A scene from Monday’s Nationals game. Photograph by Carol Ross Joynt.

Dear Nats,

What you did last night should land you a place in the hearts of Washington sports fans for decades. And no, it’s not that you won the NL East, though that is a sensational accomplishment for you and for DC. What put you over the top was the major-league display of generosity. You retreated to the locker room for the obligatory pop of Champagne and then, just as fast, returned to the field to share the joy with the fans, which was where you remained for the next full hour. The fans welcomed getting doused with Champagne and arcs of just-popped beer. It meant so much to see you, as a group, circle the field, waving and pointing at the fans and telling them, “Thank you.”

Yes, it was a little weird to watch a game in which the Nats were losing to the Phillies 2-0. But everyone in the stadium who understood these things—which was most of the baseball lovers who would come out on a drizzly Monday night—knew to keep an eye on the score of the Pittsburgh-Atlanta game, showing on the board. Most of the evening it stayed locked at 2-1. An Atlanta loss (which eventually happened) would guarantee the Nats the NL East title. Fans just had to cool their jets and wait for Washington’s frustrating home game to end so the championship party could begin.

The slowly building excitement was tangible. The sense of specialness was so strong that in the fourth inning, when the Presidents Race occurred, there was a general consensus that consistent loser Teddy Roosevelt would win. There was even a video clip earlier of Arizona senator and former presidential candidate John McCain saying he could relate and telling Teddy, “I know you can do it.” But Teddy, out in front almost until the finish line, was eclipsed by George Washington. The fans groaned. Scuttlebutt in the stands was that Teddy was waiting for a playoff game to score his first victory, or maybe the last home game of the regular season, or maybe the World Series.

Spirits stayed high. Even in the eighth and ninth innings, with Washington still scoreless, fans did not stream out to the Metro or their cars. They sat on their signs that proclaimed “NL East Champs” and others that voiced dreams of the World Series. At the stalls where team gear is sold, workers began to organize the stock of T-shirts that said “Champions,” but they said none could be sold until the game was over. So folks waited. And then, boom: standing ovations, fireworks, party on.

When I got home, the party was still happening in the stands and on the field, and thanks to MASN’s cameras, it was possible to view the goings-on in the locker room. Knowing boys will be boys, management was prepared. They covered everything with plastic secured with heavy tape (which eerily reminded me of one of Dexter’s kill rooms). But this was an exuberant place. It was a delight to watch you hug one another, chest bump one another, and dump copious amounts of beer, cranberry juice, orange juice (basically whatever was left in the kitchen), and buckets of ice over one another’s heads. Those of you who wore snorkel goggles get props for an inspired fashion statement. You doused anybody who was on the field with you, too, including wives and friends—with the exception of owning-family matriarch Annette Lerner. But she was wearing her “Champions” T-shirt along with the biggest smile. Gio Gonzalez, you know how to spread happy.

As a longtime Washington resident and Nats fan, I want to say thank you. You got yourselves, and us, to October. Today there’s no way to know what will happen over the next few weeks—though we’re hoping for the best—but we’ll always have last night and this season and who knows how many great seasons to come.