Washington Baseball Fandom: The Fathers and Sons Edition

I am the lost generation of Washington baseball fans. I’m still trying to figure out why we can’t start our top pitcher every other day. My dad and I have enjoyed hundreds of Washington Capitals games together since 1974, but we never got to watch a hometown team play baseball—until now. Last October, I took my 76-year-old father, a native Washingtonian, to the city’s first home playoff game since 1933: game three of the Nationals’ playoff series against the St. Louis Cardinals.

My dad was born in 1935, so he just missed the last one. He grew up a loyal Washington Senators fan but never saw his team make the playoffs. And I grew up here in the 70’s and 80’s and never saw any kind of baseball at all.

Instead of worrying about the Nats’ early-inning troubles, I tried to get my dad focused on finding our seats safely—my mom would never let me take him again if he stumbled down the aisle to our destination, about twenty rows behind the Nats’ dugout. But my dad ignored me; he was more interested in telling me about the beer garden at Griffith Stadium and about Frank Howard. 

The inconvenient history of Major League Baseball robbed me of the opportunity to watch a Washington team with my dad growing up, but the sports gods (and Ian Desmond and Stephen Strasburg!) roared back last summer to grant us both this playoff game.

The 8-0 final score didn’t matter. For one magical afternoon, my dad and I focused our gaze on a Washington baseball team in its first round of the playoffs ever. As I turned from the field to watch my dad that Wednesday afternoon, I couldn’t tell whether he was watching Bryce Harper try to connect on a Cardinals pitch or seeing Harmon Killebrew battle the Philadelphia Athletics at Griffith Stadium. Maybe a little bit of both.

After that game, the Nats trailed St. Louis two games to one in the best-of-five series. When the following afternoon’s memorable game four rolled around, Dad was safely back in his Northwest Washington home, on his couch, watching Ross Detwiler and the Nats on television—probably a safer spot for someone his age than competing with 45,016 other fans for a drink. So I raced from work to Lafayette Elementary School in Northwest DC to pick up my six-year-old son, Sammy, and head to the ballpark for the late-afternoon start. Sam remembered to wear red to school that morning; I didn’t even need to remind him.

My son knows the Nats starting lineup better than I do. I spent my childhood watching Mike Gartner and Rod Langway pace the Caps to plenty of playoff appearances. And Sam has hockey heroes in this town, too, but he gets to grow up both a Capitals fan and a Nationals fan. Since I missed baseball as a kid, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to appreciate the sport like my father and his generation or my two sons and their friends.

At game four, I was again leading the way through a red-clad crowd. Same ballpark, same teams, same seats, but this time with a companion 70 years younger. Sam was embarrassed as I sang loudly along with Michael Morse’s walk-up song, A-ha’s “Take on Me.” My arms remained tired for days from lifting my son to see over the standing crowd as Zimmermann, Clippard, and Storen struck out Cardinals batter after Cardinals batter to keep our season going. And we danced and cheered as Werth knocked that ninth-inning fastball out of the park and rounded the bases. Sammy high-fived everyone around us.

“Look daddy, fireworks!” he yelled, as Nationals Park celebrated the home run with its own aerial show.

Sam is not weighed down by sports history the way his dad and grandpa are; he may even think that all Washington playoff games end this way, though he found out the next night in the winner-take-all game five heartbreaker that they don’t. We stayed ‘til the end and then some—the celebration is the best part—bedtime be damned, I thought, but don’t tell his mom or his first grade teacher.

The week could not have gone any better. My dad and I witnessed history in playoff baseball’s returned to Washington. For us, that even being possible trumped the deflating final score. And then my son and I hugged and cheered as Jayson Werth pointed the way to a game-four win and Washington’s baseball future. It’s a shame we can’t bring every Washington generation along to witness the city’s great sports moment; but for one brief playoff homestand, I tried.

Don Fishman is the Washington Capitals’ assistant general manager and director of legal affairs. He is a graduate of St. Albans School and Harvard College, where he served as the radio voice of Harvard hockey. Growing up in Upper Northwest DC, Don played several years of street hockey for the Lafayette Firebirds but never played a day of little league baseball. He lives in Cleveland Park with his wife and two boys.