We’ve seen this story before Washington sports fans. An over-hyped, overrated professional sports team, destined to win the championship (Redskins (2000), Capitals (2009-2012), and now the Nationals (2015) because of its plethora of can’t-miss stars and talent comes up short, well short. Last night you could feel it if you watched the Nationals game (a 10-3 drubbing to the Brewers at home), a flat crowd, an even flatter team, coming to the fall-is-almost-here realization that they just don’t have it. It’s a lot of things: player chemistry, managers not connecting with the team, lack of discipline and effort, but the common thread, again, is that these teams fail to live up to wildly inflated expectations. It’s a Washington thing. We’re entitled to a championship therefore it must be. Not. What Washington needs to learn is that championships are earned, the hard way, through grueling work and effort. Don’t let the easy life around here fool you, the beautiful vistas, the sophisticated Washington parties, the Washington media enabling you and your greatness. You still have to work. Maybe that’s why professional sports teams from grittier cities do better (think Pittsburgh and Baltimore), they take on the ethos of the city. They know the only thing you can count on is work, hard work.
As I went for an early, end of week ‘beauty’ run this morning around the perimeter of a local soccer field in the tall, dewy grass, with only the sound of the crickets and a few birds, I looked out over the barren field and thought about that sweet time of the year when football teams all across America would begin fall practice. There are the welcoming sounds of pads and collisions, coaches barking instructions that echo throughout the practice field, the blowing of whistles, and a truant player or two running laps in tall grass around the perimeter of the field because he was late to practice. These are the morning sounds of early August America. And these are when championships are won, not under the lights, and the glitter, and the glitz, but when you have to get up in the morning when you don’t want to and get back out there. No guarantees. Just work.
It’s August; the days are growing a little shorter, the nights just a tad bit cooler, and the sweet murmur of the crickets at night now portend back to school and the coming fall (always has for me). For the long baseball season, the games are more meaningful, too. Those late inning battles in one-run games between teams at the top their division take on more importance. The contenders step up. The pretenders fade away. If you’re a Nats fan, this is not a good sign, particularly if you’re following this weekend’s series with the New York Mets. The Mets look like a real team, a team poised to take on the Nats and assume control of the NL East Division. You can see it their eyes, whether it be pitcher Jacob deGrom or first baseman Lucas Duda. During this series, the Mets have been winning those late inning battles with the Nats. Last night when Duda came up to bat in the 7th inning against Nats pitcher Joe Ross, after homering his previous at bat against Ross in the 4th inning, you just sensed trouble was in the offing. Duda had that look in his eyes, that August/September contender look, not to mention a hot home run swing that said don’t give him anything close to hit. If you’re the Washington Nationals, it’s time to put up or shut up and start winning. For whatever reason, what they’re doing right now, even with a healthy line-up, is not enough. Something’s missing, club house chemistry, cohesion, it’s just not there right now. There’s still enough time, but the season’s getting late, early.