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Wednesday, March 7, 2007

The Season of lowered-expectations,OR, Nats channel Senators and keep D.C. baseball tradition alive

Well, Thomas Boswell has sounded the alarm again, and not without good reason. A season of 100 losses doesn't seem so implausible based upon the recent Grapefruit performances. Boswell worries about the Nats being the butt of jokes, and that has already started (a tip of the cap to Chris Needham for that item).

I was but a wee tyke when the Senators left town for good, my father only having taken me to one single game back in '71 (presumably my father left it at that so as not to run afoul of any child cruelty laws, or he just didn't want me scarred for life). From all that I've heard and read, though, the Senators were usually pretty bad, but of course they were in that abattoir division, the American League East, and were treated often to drubbings by the then-mighty Orioles, the usually-mighty Yankees and the often-mighty Red Sox. Perhaps it is fair to say that they were the Tampa Bay Devil Rays of their day, for you youngsters out there.

Ever since the Nats arrived in town, I've tried mightily to keep my own expectations in check. I was told that the Expos weren't very good, that their farm system was akin to Chernobyl, that MLB wasn't going to spend any money on them, so until they got an owner with deep pockets, they weren't going to improve one iota. All this time, I've simply been happy to have them here. My personal zen koan has been "sit back, relax and just enjoy" and so far that has served me well. 2005 was that dratted teaser, though, wasn't it? That miraculous June, those 50-odd days on top of the NL East, that flirtation with a wild-card in August and September even as the team collapsed. It was enough that season, a beautiful anomaly that fueled continued belief.

Last season was the great unknown, waiting, waiting, waiting to get ownership, the stadium deal, and no one expected much of anything at all. Thanks to Jim Bowden for happily distracting us with Alphonso Soriano's amazing All-Star season. It kept us all tantalized, especially in those dog days of August and into September, with those "Can he do it?" questions.

This season, perhaps I'll add another little zen koan to my repertoire: "Patience, grasshopper." It's important. The promise of, "good things come to those who wait" and all that. But I remain grateful that, once again, I have an Opening Day to look forward to and a whole summer of intriguing possibilities on the field. Hey, the pressure on us fans is off, there are all sorts of things that we don't have to worry about, so we can't be too disappointed, right? Wins will be gifts. If the pitching improves, we might even see the occasional flash of the "one-run wonders" of 2005. Personally, I think a reasonable goal for the team would be to finish better than last in the NL East, but who would they finish ahead of, the Marlins? So many variables. It's like trying to predict the impact of a snowstorm (he says, as snow falls outside his window). I just hope that the Nats aren't consistently killed out there. If they can remain competitive and at least give us some close games, that might be enough for now.

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