May 08

A Nats fan’s response to a youngster in search of a team

You may have heard the story of Pete Van Vleet of Ashland, Virginia, who wrote to every major league team, asking each to make a case for his newborn son, Jack, to be their fan.

The 42-year-old Richmond native, a former colleague at The Associated Press, did not have a home team to root for growing up, and he chose the Houston Astros because they were a National League contender in the early 1980s. He wants his kids to choose a team as he did. His 5-year-old daughter, Madeline, roots for the Detroit Tigers.

A few teams have come through with swag, which Jack might appreciate in a few years, but what has really caught Van Vleet’s fancy are the letters, which he’s saving in a scrapbook for Jack. His favorite so far is an impassioned plea from the Pittsburgh Pirates, signed by team president Frank Coonelly.

Responses from the NL East have been underwhelming. The Marlins sent a letter from a sales intern; the Mets sent a few stickers, a bib and a nondescript note; and the Phillies’ response was terse and dismissive. Nothing yet from Atlanta – or the Nationals.

The Nats, the closest big league team geographically to the Van Vleets, have not responded to the letter, or pleas on Twitter. So the following is to Jack, on behalf of Nationals fans everywhere:

Dear Jack,

It’s appropriate that a fan with the opportunity to choose any of the 30 Major League Baseball teams should decide on the Washington Nationals. We believe we’ve all made a personal choice to root for the Nats.

Your father didn’t have a chance to choose a team from the nation’s capital because Washington’s baseball history, traditions and dreams were taken away, not once, but twice. Now you are lucky to be able pick not only a team from Washington, but one of the most successful clubs in baseball.

Washington was one of the original eight American League teams in 1901. A Big Train would power the team to its first, and only, World Series title in 1924. Walter Johnson had a fastball like no one had ever seen, setting strikeout records that would stand for decades. His mark of 110 career shutouts may never fall. He was a model of sportsmanship and class.

Seventeen men associated with Washington are in the Baseball Hall of Fame, including an Old Fox, a Goose, a man whose body tumbled down Niagara Falls, and the first manager to strategically deploy a relief pitcher.

Sadly, the team moved to Minnesota in 1960. Washington’s new team was usually terrible, but fans were still loyal. As Americans were getting ready to land a man on the moon, we were watching Frank Howard hit “moon shots” of his own. Some seats in the team’s old stadium are still painted white to mark his longest home runs.

After 11 seasons, only one with a winning record, our team moved again, this time to Texas. Your dad belongs to a generation of fans in D.C., Maryland and Virginia who learned to love the national pastime by following teams and players from other cities. We flocked to exhibitions and old-timer’s all-star games. But we also watched expansion teams land in five other cities and heard threats of contraction before a National League team moved to Washington in 2005.

Now the Nats are three-time division winners, and fans are proud of how they were built. Their best player, Ryan Zimmerman, was the first the Nats ever drafted. He’s one of five starting position players and two regular starting pitchers who have never worn another big league uniform.

We’re proud of our heroes, even after they leave. After the first National to throw a no-hitter, Jordan Zimmermann, chose to move to a new team, we stood and cheered him in his first game against the Nats.

We’re proud of manager Dusty Baker, who played and managed in the All-Star Game and World Series, and helped invent the “high five!”

We’re proud that players invest their own time and money in the city’s neighborhoods, including the one around Nationals Park. We’d be especially proud to have you join us as we cheer the team back to the World Series.

In One Pursuit,
Nationals Fans Everywhere