No one's happy to lose, and the fans cheer lustily when the Nats win. But as starters blow up and base runners get picked off, there is none of the agitation, the angry, screaming, beer-spilling, red-faced ranting you get at football or basketball games.
Baseball is a slow, boring, complex, cerebral game that doesn't lend itself to histrionics. You "take in" a baseball game, something odd to say about a football or basketball game, with the clock running and the bodies flying.
And for a losing baseball team, the calm is even more profound. I've never been to a park where the people are more relaxed, tolerant and appreciative of any small, even moral, victory. Sure, you root, root, root for the home team, but if they don't win "it's a shame" -- not a calamity. Can you imagine arm-linked fans swaying to such a sweetly corny song of early 20th-century innocence -- as long gone as the manual typewriter and the 20-game winner -- at the two-minute warning?
But now I fear for my bliss. Hope, of a sort, is on the way -- in the form of Stephen Strasburg, the greatest pitching prospect in living memory. His fastball clocks 103 mph and his slider, says Tom Boswell, breaks so sharply it looks like it hit a bird in midair. In spring training, center fielder Nyjer Morgan nicknamed him Jesus. Because of the kid's presence, persona, charisma? Nope. Because "that's what everybody says the first time they see Strasburg throw," explained Morgan. "Jeeee-sus."
But now I'm worried. Even before Strasburg has arrived from the minor leagues, the Nats are actually doing well. They're playing .500 ball for the first time in five years. They are hovering somewhere between competent mediocrity and respectability. When Jesus arrives -- my guess is late May -- they might actually be good.
They might soon be, gasp, a contender. In the race deep into September. Good enough to give you hope. And break your heart.
Where does one then go for respite?
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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