Greetings from Tokyo, where I was awake for the 8th and 9th inning, and have been drawn in by this Washington Nationals team not to “blow it” by giving up. This is the best of the Nats we saw in 2019 (!), finding a way to win against teams that are not only the A’s, but teams that stack up better on paper. These are the kinds of games that get Dave Martinez extended, whether that is your preference or not.
To be able to have a team with so many AAAA talents producing — and producing under pressure and playing hard is a prerequisite to a winning culture. The winning culture is here – and even in a post-Jeimer Candelario world! The players, not “entirely” (not this year, at least).
I don’t know how many of you have seen a Japan League game in person, but I would strongly recommend it. It was an unforgettable experience and eye opening to see a regular season game between the Giants and the DeNA. The enthusiasm for the teams and in the stadium was infectious, fun, respectful, exemplary, and the kind of baseball culture that MLB and the Nationals should have. Enthusiasm does not have to equate with showboating — and the Japanese are staid, gentle people. And at the games, the players are themselves dignified, don’t argue calls, don’t whine, don’t show up the other team, and they keep their jersey tops clean and pressed like uniforms of people who are on duty.
But boy, do the stadiums reverberate with joy and affection. Like nothing I’ve ever seen, by far. The DeNA were blown out and underperforming after allowing six runs in the first inning to the Giants. But that did not stop their segregated fans, and yes, they sat primarily in a few outfield sections (including the only one in which we could get tickets), from filling the stadium with serenades of the team and chants for the individual players, pounding drums and trumpets even during the pitches, totally infectious and led by a cheerleader on a pedestal. It was like a more interesting and more personal expression of college football in which the entire fan base is like a student cheering section, without the profanity, drunkenness, angry reactions of fans to strikeouts in key situations, etc.
Just a normally quiet people coming to a stadium to love their players and have fun, not to hate on anyone, not to get in anyone’s way, and just have a blast and be collective about it. It was so infectious that my eight year old daughter, who knows nothing about baseball but was larger than life, was the last one of us to want to leave the game because she felt a kinship with joining the DeNA cheers in a language she knew nothing of. Ya-Ma-Ma-To! I was amazed how they kept it up the whole game long, as did, of course, the overflowing crowd of Yomiuri Giants fans.
How humorous it was to hear them do their chant for “Brin-son” (Lewis Brinson, a AAAA castoff who is having an ordinary year but must be loving every minute of being loved). I am an unapologetic American nationalist forged by my travels of the country and the world (and its darkness), but having spent a baseball afternoon in Japan, I feel a) how traumatic it must be for the Japanese to lose their best players to America b) feel like the pageantry of Japan prepares their players for the pressure of MLB, and c) feel a sense of strong appreciation that Japan won the WBC, even though I rooted hard for America and was pained that we lost.
What a wonderful brand of baseball my family and I saw, in a packed stadium with the most spectacular if commercialized scoreboard in a dated domed stadium shielding us from a muggy and rainy day. Wow. And the Nationals could learn from what I saw, as could the MLB.
And so it was with that really strong memory that I watched Jake Alu, Ildemaro Vargas, CJ Abrams, Joe La Sorsa, Blake Rutherford, Lane Thomas, and others attack Jeter Downs with unbridled joy, and knowing that Nos Amours have the fight and the joy. We’re part of that joy and I hope to one day witness in Nats Park what I lived in the Tokyo Dome.