I’ve always desperately wanted to have a favorite professional sports team, but the time has never felt quite right for me to commit to one. I was born in a state that does not tether its residents to any particular team, and my family is even more wishy-washy about pro sports. The nearest candidates for a Nebraskan are all in Kansas, but I wasn’t paying enough attention when the Royals turned October blue, and the Chiefs never sparked any inspiration until recently, long after I had abandoned my search for a source of pride in the Midwest. I’d like to take this opportunity to expose my brother for being a Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan since his youth, I think maybe because we always loved the Pirates of the Caribbean, but for obvious reasons I avoided carrying the burden of rooting for them. It did mean he got cool gear and wall decals, though, so his love for them only magnified the reality that I was teamless in a country of diehard fans, indifferent in every World Series and Super Bowl, and maybe worst of all—jerseyless for every time that a party or a game prompted me to wear one. But finally, in the last month, I felt the unavoidable call to bandwagon a team more devoutly than anyone ever has, and it sounded like, “N-A-T-S! NATS! NATS! NATS! Woo,” and the horrendously wonderful “Baby Shark” playing over and over and over again.
My entrance into this fandom wasn’t entirely unwelcome. I got permission from a gatekeeper to the club: life-long Nats fan and D.C. sports aficionado, Taylor Wilson. I asked her if it was cool that I cheered for the Nationals as they played the Dodgers, even though I just started paying attention and she had offered them her unwavering support through their very regular regular season. She said yes, most likely because she was watching the game at my apartment instead of her own. Four days later, we cheered as the Nationals advanced to the National League Championship Series. Then, thirteen miles away from my apartment and thirteen days into my fanhood, the Nationals clinched their first ever spot in the World Series, and also for the first time ever, I would remotely care about a team in in it. Yesterday, I went to a championship parade, donning my first ever pro team shirt. The word “CHAMPIONS,” just happened to accompany the team logo.
The College Park metro stop was buzzing with energy, and at each stop from there to the National Archives, our train only became more crowded with fans—either lifelong ones like the father helping his young son in a jersey study the team roster, or just fans for the day, like the young couple in non-descript red clothes with arms entangled in the seats nearby. If you could see through the tunnels, the metro map would’ve looked like the circulatory system—a bunch of red dots traveling swiftly through the veins of the city to its heart. The moment we emerged onto street level in D.C., I felt it pulsing all around me. Dozens of street vendors yelled about championship gear, and a musician sang, “The Nats feel like bustin’ loose,” which I later learned was a tribute to the Chuck Brown song that is played after every home team home run at Nationals Park. My lifetime of supporting Nebraska football prepared me for the moment I was swallowed by the largest sea of red I had ever seen. We inched down Pennsylvania Avenue towards the stage that framed the Capitol building, creating the illusion of the most All-American postcard ever dreamt up. When I looked at the other buildings rising above the crowd around me—the National Archives, the Washington Monument—I couldn’t help but think back to my freshman year D.C. Art and Architecture history class. Good ol’ Pierre L’Enfant designed the city with public gathering at the front of his mind. Its streets and monuments were carefully laid out to flow in a way that allowed people to see and be seen. I got to enjoy that design not for its original political purpose, but instead just for a celebration of baseball. We all marched past the Newseum, which is emblazoned with the First Amendment, reminding us of our guaranteed right to peaceably (more or less) assemble for the Nats.
The parade was actually a bit more calm than I anticipated. Watching the Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl parade unfold on Twitter had me worried that I might be crushed by a falling light pole or tree branch, but I made it through unscathed. There were quite a few people on elevated surfaces, including porta potties, which somehow people were still using despite their crushed roofs. One guy scaled a light pole behind me to show off his sign that read, “Bryce is playing golf today, this is better.” He was not the only fan poking fun at the former National’s untimely departure from the team—each person wearing Harper’s jersey changed the name on the back to something more suitable for the parade. We saw one turned to “CHAMPS,” one to “TURNER” with an addition sign between the three and four to add up to the shortstop’s jersey number, and one to “HAPPIER” with a piece of tape stuck below it that said, “without you.” The rowdiest event of the parade by far was the beers being flung at the double decker busses as they passed by. Even more impressive than catching a beer can, I witnessed pitcher Patrick Corbin catch a shooter, twist the cap off, and slug it in one gulp. After which I turned to my friend Kiana and chanted, “U-S-A!” because it felt like the right thing to do. One chant that did catch on throughout the crowd around me was “Keep Rendon,” referring to the free agent third baseman, as the organization’s owners went by. One man on the bus yelled, “We’re trying!” back to the crowd.
After a few hours of getting momentary glimpses of players and whiffs of weed, the most incredible sight came with the passing of the final bus. First baseman Ryan Zimmerman—Mr. National for my not-yet Nats fans—hoisted the trophy high above his head, and red confetti showered the crowd around him. Confetti, I’ve decided, is tangible magic. It has the ability to slow time even more effectively than any legal marijuana in the District could. As it fell all around me, I took pictures of my friend Taylor who was smiling more proudly than anyone I had ever seen. It meant so much to her and to the city, and I was just grateful to be there too.
That was the consensus of the three of us bandwagoners who tagged along with Taylor—that we were thankful to be at the right place at the right time. We are all attending school more than a thousand miles from our homes, but together we got to experience one of the most unifying experiences a city can offer. I came into the parade with some insecurity after a police officer in a World Series hat asked, “Where’s your red?” But, I left with a t-shirt and a new sense of belonging. On our way back to the metro, the lyrics, “No place I’d rather be,” came booming over the giant speakers. My friends and I happened upon a group of people dancing. In the middle was an older man in a sports coat, a middle-aged woman in a t-shirt, and a young guy with layered gold chains. We joined in, hands raised above our heads. I’ll never see any of those people again, but in that moment, we were all just Nats fans dancing in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue. That’s the big idea—of both D.C. and sports as a whole—to bring people together. And however idealistic it may be, sometimes idealists win. The Nats’ postseason is glowing proof of that. So, I’m sticking with them, and the next time they win, I’ll be cheering as a well-qualified fan.