Those things don’t grow on trees

It’s never been a secret that I have no personal rooting interest, not to mention any kind of interest, in the fortunes of the Washington Nationals.

While it is appropriate for our nation’s capital to have a Major League baseball team, it is just as appropriate and fair to remember there were two very legitimate reasons why Washington, D.C. went without a team for 34 years – nobody came to see the Washington Senators play, not the original Senators who left town to become the Minnesota Twins in 1960 and not the expansion Senators, who left town to become the Texas Rangers in 1972.

Granted, those were different times than we now find ourselves in as D.C. is a far different and far more vibrant baseball environment now than it was in those days. However, it became such in large measure because of the training the average D.C. baseball fan underwent in traveling up the Parkway to Baltimore for 34 years to become an Orioles fan, as the District itself and the surrounding affluent counties and regions were officially branded as Orioles territory by MLB as it pertained to marketing and broadcast rights.

The long, strange trip MLB took to return baseball to the District was put into motion when then-Commissioner Bud Selig and the cutthroat owners shut down the 1994 season and eliminated the World Series for the first time in baseball history (lovely people).

The two best teams in baseball at that time – hands down – were the Cleveland Indians in the American League and the Montreal Expos in the National League. The Indians had the inside track to get to the World Series and take a shot at Cleveland’s first world title since 1948 (witness the wonderful movie “Major League”). The Expos were seen by every baseball eye test in the free world as being the best and most talented team in baseball – even more so than the Indians, and the Indians were, in fact, loaded.

All of that went up in flames, of course, when the weasel Selig and his band of thieves went for the money grab and yet again unsuccessfully tried to break up the players’ union.

We all know what happened then. What interest there was for baseball in Montreal crumbled as fast as the deplorable Olympic Stadium where the Expos played their home games. Neither the fans, nor the interest ever returned and in 2005, the Expos became the Washington Nationals, and with it, the Baltimore Orioles became a financially challenged organization.

Having been a Baltimore guy my entire life, this is at the core of my lack of interest or give a darn about the Nationals. My whole thing has always been “Who invited them?” And, of course, the answer to that is Bud Selig. But that is another Oliver Stone entry for another time.

The Nationals, however, have become a top-shelf organization, there is no denying that. I have great respect for general manager Mike Rizzo and how he runs the operation, which I’m sure came as a great comfort to him as he celebrated the Nationals’ world title in 2019, Washington’s first World Series championship in 95 years.

It was to have been quite a celebration for Nationals Opening Day 2020, but, of course, COVID-19 changed all of that, as it did everything and all of us, and continues to do so if we don’t start doing the right things (can you say no football season after all?).

MLB did present a 60-game season in 2020 but, of course, no fans were permitted to attend the games. The Nationals did, however, conduct a modest ceremony for their first home game and raised the World Series banner, but Rizzo and the organization promised they would do it up right on Opening Day 2021 when, hopefully, MLB would be able to play to full capacity.

That, of course, did not happen for Opening Day 2021, as fans were permitted to be in the ballparks, but at far less than full capacity. As this season progressed, MLB, of course, gave the green light to full capacity, but alas for the Washington baseball fan, the Nationals team that won that World Series is no longer the Nationals team that currently wears the Nats colors.

That Nats World Series team is currently spread all over the major leagues, as at the trade deadline, Rizzo moved 30 percent of his big-league roster, which included every recognizable name from the World Series team other than Juan Soto.

Rizzo’s aim, of course, is to build yet another World Series team, much as he did the previous one, and, frankly, I wouldn’t bet against him. But even an old Baltimore fuddy duddy such as myself has to admit that it’s a shame that Nationals World Series team and the fans of Washington, D.C. did not have an opportunity to properly celebrate their world title on not one, but two Opening Days that followed it.

Thus, you never take a World Series title for granted, particularly when you believe your organization is stocked to produce another one very soon. Just ask anybody who was at old Memorial Stadium to celebrate the Orioles’ latest world championship. I was there and truly believed, with Eddie Murray and young Cal Ripken in their prime, there were more on the way. On Opening Day 1984.

Mike Burke writes about sports and a lot of other stuff for Allegany Radio and Pikewood Digital. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at mike.burke@wvradio.com and follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT