Baseball: Ready, Teddy, go! Nationals aim to follow the mascot into history

Washington DC has long been a backwater for baseball, but finally has a team to be proud of


For baseball this was a regular season of firsts. Detroit Tigers' slugger Miguel Cabrera became the first winner of the batting triple crown – for home runs, batting average, and runs produced – since 1967, and only the 15th player in history to achieve the feat.

Less consequentially, on the last day of the season on Wednesday, Teddy Roosevelt, or more exactly his foam mascot, for the first time in 525 attempts won the knockabout presidential race, featuring the four faces on Mount Rushmore, that takes place in the middle of each Washington Nationals home game. And why not? As the play-offs open this weekend, the biggest story in baseball is the Nationals.

The history of the national pastime in the US capital has not been happy. Only once has the World Series been won, in 1924. Twice a Washington-based team has decamped for more welcoming pastures elsewhere. Not since 1933, when Teddy's distant cousin Franklin was in the White House, has Washington even reached the post-season.

But all that changed in 2012. The Nationals wound up with a 98-64 record, the best in baseball – and that with their superstar pitcher Stephen Strasburg shut down for the last month of the season to protect his elbow after reconstruction surgery. But it didn't matter, with the likes of 21-game winner Gio Gonzalez, sluggers Michael Morse and Adam LaRoche around, not to mention the 19-year-old prodigy Bryce Harper, whose 22-homer debut season has elicited comparisons with Mickey Mantle.

Set aside football's Redskins (and even they haven't won a Super Bowl in two decades) the capital has mostly been a backwater of US sport. In a nomadic city ("everyone who lives here was born somewhere else" is the eternal complaint) lacklustre Washington teams struggled to build a loyal fan base. So it was with the "Nats" in the first years after baseball most recently returned to the capital in 2005.

But all that's changing. Total attendance in 2012 jumped by a third, while Teddy's travails generated a minor cottage industry on the internet. The team is even bridging Washington's infamous partisan political divide. The Senate majority leader, Democrat Harry Reid, and his Republican opposite number Mitch McConnell, are usually at each other's throats. Only on one thing are they united: their support for the Nationals.

And with a core group of terrific young players signed up on long-term contracts, guided by Davey Johnson, one of the canniest managers in the game, Washington should be a contender for many years. "This has been a great season, a great team," says one of those young players, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, "but we have a lot more to accomplish." If the fans have their way, those accomplishments will start this month.

The play-offs feature most of the usual suspects – the New York Yankees of course, the San Francisco Giants and the St Louis Cardinals, World Series winners in 2010 and 2011 respectively, Miguel Cabrera's Tigers and the Cincinnati Reds (but not the Red Sox, after Boston's most miserable season in decades).

There are some unexpected franchises too, the Baltimore Orioles who hadn't had a winning season since 1997 until they kept the American League East race with the Yankees alive until the last day of the season, and the low-budget Oakland Athletics – they of the movie Moneyball – who made up a record six games in the last nine days to pip the Texas Rangers, AL pennant winners in both 2010 and 2011.

Making predictions for baseball's play-offs is a fool's game. The marathon 162-game regular season sorts out the good teams from the bad ones. The 10 who make it to the post-season are by definition all good ones. But best-of-five and best-of-seven game series are a toss-up. Regular-season records are no pointer, as 2011 showed. The Cardinals captured the National League wildcard on the season's very last day and kept the momentum going to win the division series, the NL pennant and finally the World Series itself.

That alone argues against the Nationals going all the way. But the team has already exceeded every expectation. They are in uncharted territory now, but on their side is the fearlessness of youth. And if mascot Teddy finally won, why can't they?

Club legend Paul Scholes is scared United could disappear into 'the wilderness'
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
Arts and Entertainment
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

HR Advisor - East Anglia - Field-based

£35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: To be considered for this position you will n...

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home