Remember when Buster Olney went on Baseball Tonight and predicted the 2007 Nationals would just be historically bad, but they would be lucky if they could win 42 games. Or remember when columns like this one from Jeff Passan were the norm with catchy little puns like, “National Disaster.” At times it is hard to even remember the bi-gone days when Jason Simontacchi, Mike Bacsik, and Micah Bowie were key figures in the Nats rotation.
What makes it even harder to hold on to those memories of the bad Nats are columns like this about how the Nats could be historically good. In the terms of history five years is nothing. The build up of World War I started with the Bosnian Crisis in 1908 and didn’t officially start until Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in 1914. The build up to historic events is a mention in a paragraph on the actual history itself. Those five years from 2007 until 2013 are throw away lines in the book that will be written if the Nats can manage to be historically good.
It is almost head spinning to think about how quickly the Nats progressed. Mike Rizzo took over before the 2009 season and couldn’t salvage the wreck Jim Bowden left him. then in 2010 the Nats won 69 games, then 80 in 2011, and 98 last season in 2012. That is how fast history moves. Entire seasons reduced to clauses between commas. Yet here we are. Living in the moment always takes longer than remembering the moment, and from all estimations 2013 is going to be something to remember for the Washington Nationals.
That doesn’t mean we should forget the past. I remember my first trip to Pittsburgh in 2009. Andrew McCutchen hit three homeruns and the Nationals were getting creamed by the Pirates, the Pirates. I had done a lot of sight seeing that day, and the cheers of the seldom happy Pirates fans around me was not helping my mood, and then Ron Villone came into the game. I turned to my wife and said, “Let’s go.” I do not walk out of baseball games. In 2007 I sat through the Tigers putting up 13 runs against Jason Simontacchi, and a year later I would sit through Jason Marquis allowing ten runs in the first inning. Ron Villone drove me to madness, and that is worth remembering, because we fail to appreciate the now if we don’t remember what came before.
2010 was the real turning point. Think about all the terrible players the Nats put up with in 2008 and 2009, but before the 2010 season Elijah Dukes was cut and unlike Ron Villone or Mike MacDougal when Brian Bruney was terrible he was cut. Or he was cut after he refused an assignment to go to AAA because, “He wasn’t a minor league pitcher.” In more than a few ways Brian Bruney stands for all that was bad before 2010 and all that was good to come. The Nats were suddenly infused with a sense of responsibility and simply having a modicum of talent wasn’t enough for a player to survive. One by one the less talented and the trouble making players fell by the wayside.
2010 remains the height of good Nats memories. The teams was good enough to be entertaining but bad enough to be fun. A trip to the ballpark was a stress free adventure where the team might win, they probably wouldn’t, but at least they would put up a fight. It also didn’t hurt that Nats fans got to witness first hand the self destruction of Nyjer Morgan and the big glimpse of the future when Stephen Strasburg debuted. Still there to entertain and charm us were those expiring gentlemen Willie Harris, Wil Neives, and for most of the season Cristian Guzman. 2010 was fun because it was filled with remnants of a not too distant awful past along with echos of the coming success. Strasburg, Storen, Espinosa, and Ramos all made their debuts and it was the last season of Harris, Neives, Guzman, and Bergmann.
There are very few Nationals fans who don’t have some 2010 memory they will smile about. It is the nexus of the old and the new. It was the door through which we stepped to leave behind a haunted past and arrive into the glorious future. Next time you see a Nats fan on the street walk up to them and say, “Wil Neives.” and damn if they won’t smile fondly and respond, “Who?”