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

Washington

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?

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker