'Madhouse' greets World Series' return to DC

October 25th, 2019

WASHINGTON -- There’s a World Series game in D.C. on Friday night, the first time in 86 years this city has hosted the Fall Classic.

“They got the whole town buzzing,” said , who played for seven seasons for the Washington Senators from 1965-71, during a phone interview from his home in Virginia on Thursday.

Not even Howard, the Senators slugger who was known as “Hondo” or “The Washington Monument,” was born the last time baseball’s biggest stage came to D.C. That was back in 1933 when the New York Giants beat the Washington Senators in five games. And baseball in this city has been through a lot since then.

Two different baseball clubs have left D.C., the teams losing so consistently that the joke "Washington: First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League” entered the lexicon. Even when the Nationals arrived in 2005, the team finished at the bottom of the National League East five times in its first six seasons, including back-to-back 100-loss seasons in 2008 and ‘09.

“You’ve got the Capitals, which have won the Stanley Cup,” Howard said. “You’ve got the Redskins, which have won Super Bowls. Our baseball clubs have not had that much success -- only within the last 10 years.”

It took a while to revive baseball in this city, but even that recent success came with its doses of heartbreak. This is the Nationals’ fifth postseason appearance in the past eight years, but the previous four had ended in the NL Division Series. Now these Nats are blitzing through October, matching an MLB record with eight consecutive postseason victories. They have gone 10-2 so far this month, won 18 of their previous 20 games dating back to the end of the regular season and grabbed the first two games on the road from the heavily favored Astros.

“This fan base has been terrific to me personally and to us,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “Their support has been great since we arrived. We couldn't be happier to bring the World Series back to D.C. after a long awaited time."

And the excitement around the city is building.

Nationals Park hosted watch parties for the first two games, with thousands of people filing into the ballpark to watch a team more than 1,200 miles away. Anecdotally, there are Nationals shirts and bar specials for World Series games all around town. Who should throw out the ceremonial first pitch for Game 3 has been a hot debate on sports talk radio all week (the team confirmed Friday morning that two members of the original 2005 club, Chad Cordero and Brian Schneider, would receive the honor). The games end too late for the 83-year-old Howard to watch the final outs, but he gets breakdowns each morning from his son-in-law. Manager Dave Martinez, who often travels around town by electric scooter, has experienced fans randomly patting him on the back to offer their congrats.

“We missed those generations of fans,” said first baseman , the Nats’ first Draft pick in 2005 and the only player to have played in every season in club history. “I think I've kind of grown as a player and the fans have grown at the same time. They've had to learn how to be baseball fans again. We don't have like the guy whose dad brought him to the game and now he takes his son to the game. We kind of missed that.

“It's been fun to grow with the fans, with the community, with the city, to watch them become baseball fans, to watch the neighborhood around the ballpark grow up. I'm sure they're as excited, probably more excited than we are about the kind of ride we've been on.”

D.C. might not often get mentioned with other cities starved for sports championships, but until recently this city had seen a title drought. And then the Washington Capitals won the 2018 Stanley Cup. The Washington Mystics won the 2019 WNBA title a few weeks ago.

And both teams have supported this Nationals run. Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin threw out the first pitch in Game 4 of the NLDS, and noted that the Nats have not lost since. Elena Delle Donne, the WNBA MVP, threw out the first pitch in the clincher for Game 4 of the NL Championship Series.

“It’s been overwhelming,” Martinez said Thursday. “The fans have bought in and it's been great. ... I can't wait until tomorrow. This place -- I said it before, this place gets really loud and it's electric. So I know the boys are excited to play.”

Yes, the Washington Nationals could win the World Series this weekend and they could clinch it on South Capitol Street. So, imagine the kind of crowd that awaits for Game 3 on Friday night.

“It,” Howard said, “is going to be a madhouse.”