The Nationals, A Love Affair

E on DC

With August ending, I’m praying baseball will be more than a summer love. I want to be seduced by the playoffs and maybe married to a World Series – forever. That how I feel watching the Washington Nationals right now. I fell in love with this team after being a New York Yankee fan since birth. Sports in Washington can break your heart. I can’t believe I once owned a Wizard’s cap. Talking heads for a moment, it’s easy to measure the wonderful success of the Nationals by simply counting the number of African Americans around the city wearing red caps with a curly W. Remember when this head gear was code for being Republican and a Bush supporter? No way one could hustle those red caps in some of our wards. The poet Jody Bolz gave me a red one last year and I only wore it while working in my yard. Today I swear allegiance to the Nationals and my hat is on a peg near the front door.

D.C. needs good baseball. I want life to be decided now and then by one pitch. Who doesn’t’ cheer for a rally after staring at a small paycheck? There is something about the game that encouraged me to return to it after I turned 50. Almost every evening this summer, I’ve found myself turning on the television in order to catch a game. I immediately became a Bryce Harper fan. “The Kid” for a spell was the straw stirring the drink, at bat, on the bases and in the field; he made things happen. His presence was not a promise or a tease. It has been a date with success and fulfillment.

Winning is not simply contagious, it’s addictive. This summer I found myself becoming slightly depressed after a National’s loss. How quickly one relies on a relief pitcher to get the job done, and when they fail it’s like Pepco telling you about your power. You’re angry and ready to kick anything, even a tree. When a player suddenly stops hitting, it reminds me of a child not listening anymore. Just swing. Take a pitch. Clean your room.

Why do I have to keep repeating myself?

I prefer watching baseball at home alone. I’ve never been a fan of sports bars. I’m very selective with who I attend a game with. It’s like dating and realizing by the third inning one’s tongue has nothing in common with another person’s lips. But I’m a romantic and need to see the ball park several times a year. I’ve always been curious about old black men who sat near street corners or in front of their apartments and homes. What are they thinking about when the sun starts going down? At 61, the game of baseball has slipped back into my life like a funny knuckleball thrown at my head. I’m amazed and dazzled by how it floats and dips. I’m surprised by how much enjoyment it brings and this makes me proud and happy for our city.

There are those moments between pitches when there is nothing to do but wait. Maybe the batter has stepped out of the box or the catcher wants a new ball, or the pitcher wants a new sign. This is what one sees at weddings. Heads turning around waiting for the bride to walk down the aisle. Or a lover waiting near the altar. Baseball is what you learn to cherish when you hear the crack of the bat and it lifts you from your seat. What happens next is why you take vows and say prayers.

I want to see a few miracles this year. I want to witness something amazing. In 1969, I was a student at Howard University going crazy in Cook Hall as the New York Mets defeated the Baltimore Orioles in five games. Nets manager Davey Johnson was playing second base for the Orioles and made the last out in the series. Where have you gone, Donn Clendenon? It would be nice to feel that excitement again; to be a city where champions reside. I want the ball park to bring us together. I want to celebrate this American pastime under the sun and the night sky. I want to turn and high five a stranger’s hand, stare at the scoreboard and count the outs needed for another win. This is the game I wanted to play while growing up; this is the game I continue to watch while growing old. This is baseball. This is life.

In my office at home there is a ball that I caught in the late Sixties at Yankee Stadium. I never thought of myself as being lucky. But maybe there were moments in my life when I was and never thought about it. A few years ago I caught a second ball at RFK Stadium.

How many people attend more games than me and never come close to catching a ball?

Once at the Nationals ball park a man dropped his child while attempting to catch a baseball. I was in the crowd surrounding him and everyone was shocked by what he did.

Was a baseball worth risking the safety and well being of a love one? What was the man thinking? What is it about the game that intoxicates us? What pulls us even backwards to catch a foul ball or a home run?

This is why I’ve started writing more about baseball . I think there are questions and answers in wild pitches, stolen bases and errors. I think a dropped ball, a missed tag or a sacrifice fly becomes a metaphor for the mysteries that surround us. Baseball is the “beautiful wonder” every generation embraces.

E. Ethelbert Miller is a literary activist and author. His last book is a second memoir The 5th Inning.It was the first book published by Busboys and Poets. Mr. Miller is also the board chair of the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), a think tank located in Washington, D.C. www.eethelbertmiller.com