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HINGTON -- On the eve of playoff baseball's return to the nation's capital, Nationals Park offered few signs of what a monumental day Wednesday will be for the area and its fans.
After the Nationals and Cardinals finished their workouts and media obligations, the stadium was mostly empty. The grounds crew meticulously fixed up the field to get it ready for the game. Television reporters filmed segments in front of empty bleachers. Nothing too out of the ordinary.
Except, that is, for some additional decorations along the rafters and two emblems painted on the grass between the infield and the dugouts that read "2012 POSTSEASON."
It's been a little more than 79 years since Oct. 7, 1933, the last time Washington hosted a playoff game. The New York Giants beat the Washington Senators, 4-3, that day, then postseason baseball disappeared from this place for nearly three generations. That will change on Wednesday, when the Nats host the Cards for Game 3 of the National League Division Series on MLB Network, finally showcasing playoff baseball before their city's fans.
"I think we're excited not only for ourselves and all the hard work we've put in this year but to bring a playoff game to D.C.. It's something that's been a long time coming," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "They've been through a lot, a lot of tough years. I think it's an exciting time in the Beltway."
As long as the Nationals' journey from Spring Training 2005 through consecutive 100-loss years to finally winning the National League East and making the playoffs has seemed, it has been a much longer haul for this city. And the players have picked up on the fans' excitement to see a winning baseball team, one that can deliver D.C. its first playoff win since Oct. 5, 1933, and its first World Series champion since the 1924 Senators.
Herbert Hoover until March 4, and then Franklin D. Roosevelt
A gallon of gas cost...
A loaf of bread cost...
The average cost of a new house was...
Average wages per year were...
On March 2...
The original "King Kong" film was released
On July 22...
The first modern sighting of the Loch Ness monster happened in Scotland
On July 22...
Pilot Wiley Post returns to Floyd Bennet Field in Brooklyn, New York, after the first solo air flight and the fastest around-the-world trip
On Dec. 5...
Prohibition ended in the United States with the ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment
Also during 1933...
Charles Darrow manufactures 5,000 Monopoly games and sells them at a Philadelphia store
Data provided by: www.thepeoplehistory.com
"The attendance, for one thing -- they're coming here in big numbers now," left fielder Michael Morse said. "It seems like this city now knows their baseball, and they're following us. They're behind us. It's great. We're fortunate enough to be in the situation that we are, and it's awesome."
Indeed, after drawing fewer than 2 million to Nationals Park each of the past three seasons, Washington brought in 2,370,794 in 2012. Several players pointed to the playoff-type atmosphere the fans helped create in their final regular-season series, against the Phillies, including the crowd of 35,387 that showed up when they officially clinched the NL East in a game they lost.
"It's been great. The guys really enjoy playing here," manager Davey Johnson said. "We love the city, and we love the ballpark, and we love the fans."
"It doesn't go unnoticed," added first baseman Adam LaRoche. "You could tell early on that it was almost more of a social gathering -- come out, nothing else to do, we'll go hang out at the park -- but now it's turned into some die-hard fans, people probably skipping work and skipping school to come see the Nats. ... I'm sure that's what it'll be like. It's been fun."
If anyone can appreciate how far the Nationals have come, and the lows their fans have experienced along with them, it's Ryan Zimmerman. The third baseman was the club's first Draft pick after its move to Washington, and he developed into the best player on some of the Majors' worst teams.
"We get to play baseball for a living, so it's great to have a chance to win, it's great to have a chance to be in the postseason. That's what we all play for," Zimmerman said. "But at the end of the day, if we play our regular season and don't get a chance to play in the playoffs, we still got to play baseball for a living around here.
"The fans, when they have a team to root for and a team that has a chance to be a winner every year, it's a lot more exciting for them. Like I said, they've been through a lot ... with this organization. For them to have a team that's this young and this successful, the future's really bright. I think it's great for them."
Even opposing players can appreciate how important Wednesday's game will be for Washington.
"I am excited for the city," Cardinals starter Chris Carpenter said. "They have taken it over well, and we needed to have these guys come out and be consistent and put something together, and hopefully they can make a run at the playoffs for a long time."
Of course, that is the Nationals' ultimate goal. As regrettable as the 79-year stretch between playoff games was, it would almost seem to be more of a waste for this organization's wealth of Major League talent, prospects and front-office savvy to not turn postseason baseball into an annual event.
That's why the Nationals won't allow themselves to get too caught up in Wednesday's festivities, at least not during the game. They can soak it all in during the pregame ramp-up or reflect on what it meant afterward. But they'll have to keep winning if they want to bring more postseason baseball to the District this October.
"During the introductions, you'll see all the fans and all the excitement. Any time there's a big game here in D.C., it's pretty special," closer Drew Storen said. "But once the first pitch is thrown, that's when you stow that away, and think about it later and feel good about it later. That's when you've got to get after it."