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Don't underrate the 86 years D.C. waited to return to the World Series

Don't underrate the 86 years D.C. waited to return to the World Series

WASHINGTON -- High atop the scoreboard in right field at Nationals Park are four white pennant flags, three of which read '1924,' '1925' and '1933.' The fourth is blank and for a reason.

Though Nationals Park opened in 2008, that flag represents a wait of 86 years, a wait that ended on Tuesday night as the Nats swept the Cardinals in the NLCS to become the first D.C. baseball team to reach the World Series since 1933. Someday soon a brave soul will make the journey all the way up there, a hundred feet in the air, to replace it with a pennant that says '2019.'

The Nationals still have four wins to go to capture baseball's ultimate prize, but by reaching the World Series they have already given the city of Washington something it has not experienced for the better part of a century.

In order to remember the last time the Nats were in the Fall Classic, you would have to be in your 90s. Surely, there are some Nationals fans out there who can recall those days. But for the vast majority of Washingtonians witnessing this magical postseason run, it is something entirely unfamiliar.

Some Nationals players were shocked simply to hear how long it's been after they ended the drought on Tuesday night.

"That's crazy. It still hasn't totally sunk in yet," reliever Sean Doolittle said. "I'm rarely speechless."

"Welcome back," outfielder Adam Eaton said, speaking to Nats fans. "It's taken a long time."

People from the D.C. area who have been around long enough can speak to how the city has changed; from the turbulent 1960s to the turbulent 1980s, to how neighborhoods like Chinatown have completely transformed, to how the nearby suburbs of Northern Virginia were rural countryside not long ago.

Back in 1933, there was no Jefferson Memorial. Construction started in 1939, the same year World War II began. The White House didn't have an East Wing. That came in 1942.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt's first inauguration was in 1933. He threw out the first pitch of Game 3 of the World Series that year when the Senators fell in five games to the New York Giants.

Back then, the Senators played at Griffith Stadium in the Shaw neighborhood of Northwest Washington. Nowadays, Howard University Hospital stands in its place.

Eighty six years is long enough that every member of that 1933 Senators team has since passed. The last one to go was utilityman Cecil Travis, who died at the age of 93 back in 2006, 13 years ago.

That 1933 team had Hall of Fame players like Goose Goslin and Sam Rice. It had some Hall of Fame names as well like General Crowder and Heinie Manush.

Back then, baseball was different. Their home run leader, Joe Kuhel, only hit 11 bombs. Meanwhile, their pitching wins leader, Crowder, won 24 games, lost 15 and logged 299 1/3 innings.

Most of us alive today really have no clue what life was like back then. But Nationals owner Ted Lerner does. Tuesday happened to be his 94th birthday and he had a good time celebrating it. Lerner stood on the stage in the middle of the field as his team was presented the NL championship trophy and issued a message to the crowd.

"I want to tell our fans; this is for you," he said.

Lerner knows how long this moment was in the making for Washington, D.C., though a lot of people outside of town may underrate what the city has been through. Many view the Nationals as the franchise that moved from Montreal, the team that has only existed in its current form since 2005. But Washington as a city has waited much longer than 14 years to play in the World Series.

D.C. may have not had a major league team from 1971, when the Senators left to become the Texas Rangers, until 2005, but eighty six years is eighty six years. That's exactly how long the Curse of the Bambino lasted in Boston. The Red Sox broke their World Series-winning drought in 2004, but they had at least been there four times in that span. They also lost in the ALCS another four times. As Nats fans now know, just getting that far is plenty of fun.

Plus, baseball isn't really about the big things, it's about the little things and you don't get those when you don't have a team. You don't get to enjoy Opening Days and walk-off wins and young players developing into stars before your eyes. You don't get hot dogs and cold beers in the sun on a June afternoon.

Washington missed that for decades and they have missed going to the World Series for a lot longer than most of their fans have been alive. As bottles pop around the region, here's to a city that has waited patiently for a very long time to get back to this point.

"This fanbase has been starving for a winner," general manager Mike Rizzo said. "They deserve it."

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How to try out to be a Washington Nationals' Racing President

How to try out to be a Washington Nationals' Racing President

Ever wanted to run for president? Well, now's your chance.

Or at least to compete to be a Racing one at Nats' games.

The Washington Nationals Entertainment Department is looking for interested candidates to try out to be the next George, Tom, Abe and Teddy.

Enthusiastic and energetic applicants should be able to run 200-yards in a 50-pound suit, be at least 5'7" and be available for at least 40% of the Nationals home games, according to the team.

You can apply here, but do so quickly. Applications close Wednesday, Dec. 11!

For those looking for helpful hints, NBC Sports Washington has some experts on staff.

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Nationals re-sign Howie Kendrick to one-year deal

Nationals re-sign Howie Kendrick to one-year deal

Washington pulled in another important piece from the 2019 World Series roster.

Howie Kendrick and the Nationals agreed to a one-year deal with a mutual option for 2021, pending a physical, on Friday morning, NBC Sports Washington confirmed. Kendrick's deal is reportedly worth $6.25 million.

Bringing Kendrick back retains a leader, elder statesman and quality bat. Kendrick, 36, became one of the key clubhouse voices last season while also delivering a career-best .966 OPS.

He can platoon at first base with Ryan Zimmerman -- should the Nationals and Zimmerman reach an expected deal -- because of his ability to hit right-handed pitching. Last season, Kendrick's OPS was .930 against right-handed pitching (.758 career), which made him more effective against right-handers than left-handed free-agent options like Eric Thames (.877) and Mitch Moreland (.887). Washington could still pivot to a left-handed platoon compliment if it does not reach a deal with Zimmerman.

Salaries at first base will represent significant savings for Washington in 2020. Zimmerman and Matt Adams cost around $21 million in base salary last season. If Zimmerman returns to work with Kendrick, his salary should be in a similar range, dropping the team's commitment at the position by roughly $9 million or more. 

The increasing possibility of the designated hitter coming to the National League in either 2020 or 2021 is also in play here for Kendrick. 

Kendrick's 2019 season was unlikely and filled with rejuvenation. He started the year arguing he was healed from an Achilles tendon rupture in 2018. Once he joined the team after opening the season on the injured list because of hamstring problems, Kendrick took off. Davey Martinez worked not to overplay Kendrick throughout the season in order to have him for the playoffs.

There, Kendrick excelled. His 10th-inning grand slam in Game 5 in Los Angeles will long stand as one of the biggest hits in organization history.
He was named National League Championship Series MVP when Washington swept St. Louis in the next round. His Game 7 homer off the foul pole in Houston was also an enormous moment for the Nationals.

Now, he's back and helps provide clarity. The Nationals know what their catching combination is, have a good idea of what their first base combination is and are set in the outfield. The two big free-agent questions -- third base and a top-tier starting pitcher -- remain.
 

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