My freshman year of high school I was a very different person. I was aware of baseball as a sport but had no team to follow and even though I did try to follow Baltimore for a bit I found it impossible as I could make no emotional connection to that city. As a freshman in high school I had not yet found my joy for baseball but because of an assignment in my freshman drama class I was about to be exposed to a bit of Washington baseball history.
I don’t remember if I knew at the time that Washington DC had once had a baseball franchise or if this was the first time I had heard about it, but this assignment was to watch a play and review it. When I told my father of this he saw it as an opportunity for a good family outing and looked to see what was playing at the Kennedy Center. It just so happened that soon a production of Damn Yankees staring Jerry Lewis as Mr. Applegate was on the docket.
The most striking thing to me about this show wasn’t any of the performances or the story line, but it was the first time in my life there were real people in front of me wearing the uniform of a Washington baseball club. I am not sure I was smart enough at the time to realize the implication of such things or if my emotions now are being transferred to my past self, but there is some part of me that will always feel robbed by the fact that I didn’t grow up with a baseball team.
Seeing people in uniform of the Washington Senators on a stage is one thing, but it is a much different to walk into the ballpark for your first time. The one thing I remember when I went to my first live professional baseball game was how green the grass was. That is a common occurrence for people at their first game but it is a true thought. Aside from a PGA golf course a person rarely comes across grass manicured to the point it is at a professional ballpark.
I don’t remember much about the play itself or the reason for it to exist, but years later I discovered the original book on which it was based, The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant by Douglas Wallop. The opening scene of a man sitting despondent on his porch listening to the Washington Senators lose yet another game and fall even further into the second division was one I could easily relate to during the 2008 and 2009 seasons. This was such a theme of Washington baseball that the old vaudeville gag of first in war, first and peace, and blah blah blah started to make a comeback.
The only difference between real life and the fictional universe of the 50’s was that the part of the Yankees was being played by the Phillies and now the Washington baseball club played in the NL. Of course things have changed a bit this season, but with the Yankees in town it is something to be remembered that there was once a baseball club in Washington whose fortunes were so dismal that the only way it was thought that they could win a pennant was by having a fan make a deal with the devil. For all we know Bryce Harper is the real life version of Joe Hardy and at some point this season he will be returned to his porch to listen to the Nationals fall once again behind the Phillies as they take another NL East crown.