10 years ago my mother and I stood on the side of the road on Washington Blvd. in Arlington, right in front of what is now Rocklands Barbeque. We were armed with clipboards, pamphlets, and a lawn sign that proudly read “Virginians for Baseball.” I was just a freshman in high school who wanted a club to call my own, and my mother, who grew up in a family that loved baseball, wanted her son to have a true hometown team.
I’ll always remember that afternoon. We collected a lot of signatures from people who were excited about the prospect of having our own team, as well as stadium built in Arlington, right in the heart of Crystal City. We also came across several people who were not so high on the idea. Some were concerned about raised taxes, and traffic. Others simply said they would never bring baseball back to the D.C. area because it had failed so many times in the past.
One man in particular stormed across the street from the adjacent supermarket’s parking lot. It was clear, he was on a mission. He was in his late 20’s or early 30’s, a typical “Clarendon Bro” that those of us in Arlington know all too well. He approached us and verbally berated my mother, telling her she was irresponsible for proposing such a “selfish” idea and that she was teaching her son to put value in the wrong things.
Eventually a local baseball coach, who showed up late to help us at our post, took the guy aside and talked him down. That moment will always stick with me though. As a 13-year-old kid, I was very wide-eyed and naïve. I thought if I wanted it enough, we would get a baseball team. At that moment, however, I realized there were people ready to fight just as hard to keep a team out of the area…and as much as I wanted to be able to grab a group of friends on a summer day and drive to a ballpark and watch Major League Baseball just down the road…it just wasn’t going to be that easy.
Later that week Virginians for Baseball held a rally at Thomas Jefferson Community Center. It ended up being far more contentious than I imagined. There were as many NIMBY’s (Not in my back yard) there as there were baseball fans, but the minority was loud and they were not going to let Virginia get a team without a fight. What was supposed to be a question and answer panel turned into a slugfest. People took their opportunity with the microphone to call out community board members, to threaten boycotts, and to question what a ballpark in Arlington, Virginia would do to the quality of life rating that the city was so proud of.
At the very end of the night, one man took to the podium. He was in his late 30’s, and lived in the area of Chrystal City that would have allegedly been disrupted by noise and light pollution. He told the panel, and the crowd, that while he lived in the not so nice houses in the area that would, in the eyes of some, lose their value immediately due to the supposed negative effects of a stadium, that he was greatly in support of bringing a team to the area.
“Everyone here likes to talk about ‘quality of life,” the man said. “I live in those houses that everyone here is talking about, and I can tell you that while I don’t own much, while my living situation isn’t that great as it is, the ability to go to a ball game a block from my house would, without question, greatly improve my quality of life. Quality of life isn’t a metric, it’s just the truth.”
This memory has stuck with me for a long time, and it is one I thought about Monday night as I stood in the left field bleachers desperately watching the out of town scoreboard. The Nationals, were losing to the Phillies, but no one in the crowd cared, we were all staring at that one piece of real estate on the right field wall. The Pittsburgh Pirates were up 2-1 with two outs in the top of the 9th against the Atlanta Braves. We were all captivated, waiting for one more out.
As Danny Espinosa fielded an easy ground ball and threw it to Adam LaRoche, the scoreboard finally updated. The Pirates had defeated the Braves, and regardless of the outcome of the game we were actually at, the Nationals had clinched the National League East Championship. The crowd erupted. The players turned into kids and all cracked huge smiles. I turned to my girlfriend who had surprised me with tickets that night and gave her a big hug. My dad, who was also in the stands, had rushed down to our seats to be there the moment we clinched, and he gave both of us a huge hug. I turned to complete strangers that I had been sitting near, and we all hugged each other too.
It was an unbelievable unifying moment that brought a community together. Fans were celebrating and experiencing everything the sport of baseball had to offer. Players were ecstatic. The Lerner’s were shown celebrating in their owner’s booth. As the game ended, fireworks went off and everyone lost it. The man in front of me, a life-long Washingtonian, likely in his early 60’s grabbed his teenage son and started sobbing, in an unforgettable real moment.
I was there with my dad, my girlfriend, friends of mine from all walks of life that also were in the stands that night and thousands of others who had been waiting, some for decades, for this moment. Washington had a team, and they had become the best club in baseball.
If you ask me, quality of life could not get any higher.