Sep 11

Nats and their fans get the celebration they deserve

We partied like it was 1933.

For the first time in several generations, Washington baseball fans celebrated a championship

 the right way: on their home field after a win.

It hadn’t happened in Washington since Sept. 21, 1933, when the original Nats beat the St. Louis Browns, 2-1 at Griffith Stadium. After Lefty Stewart tossed a complete game for his 15th win of the season, a team that included future Hall-of-Famers Joe Cronin, Goose Goslin, Heinie Manush and Sam Rice popped champagne to celebrate its third American League pennant.

Fans joined the celebration, too, although it seems they were party crashers.

Cronin was “besieged in the clubhouse by a hero-worshiping throng of thousands of fans of both sexes gone mildly mad,” according to a Sept. 22, 1933, Washington Post story, quoted by The Associated Press. The first-year player-manager escaped to the field, where he had to outrun “shrieking women,” according to the same report.

That team, known as the “Wrecking Crew of ‘33” for its prolific offense, lost the World Series to the New York Giants in five games, ushering in a 79-year postseason drought — and worse. There were just four more winning seasons before the team moved to Minnesota in 1960, only to be replaced by an even worse expansion team that moved to Texas following the 1971 season.

Even after the current Nationals franchise ended the ensuing 34-year baseball drought, fans still had to wait for the type of celebration the city saw in 1933.

The team actually lost on the night it clinched its first division championship in 2012. But the party started anyway when news of an Atlanta loss flashed on the scoreboard.

The 2014 division title was clinched in Atlanta, and the 2016 crown came in Pittsburgh, and we watched on TV as the Nats soaked visitors’ clubhouses.

Not this year.

On the Nats’ first opportunity to clinch the NL East, we cheered from the start of a 3-2 victory over Philadelphia. TreaTurner’s hitting and another dominant pitching performance from Stephen Strasburg left us in the mood to celebrate some more.

Hundreds of us stayed behind, filtering down to the lower deck to watch the center field scoreboard telecast of the second-place Marlins’ game in Atlanta.

It sounded like a full house during the Braves three-run, two out rally in the ninth inning, and Nationals Park might have been louder than SunTurst Park after Atlanta’s walk-off homer clinched it for the Nats.

Giddy with anticipation, we watched Nats players don their commemorative shirts and caps and pop the bubbly. After a few minutes of celebration, they rewarded us, pouring out of the dugout. After embracing their families, they lined the field to acknowledge the fans who stayed with them all season.

Then they started tossing swag. Boxes and boxes of swag: T-shirts, caps, water bottles, tote bags, wristbands, bottle koozies and more. There was almost certainly enough for everyone.

Then they went back inside and partied some more — as they deserved.

Some discussion group posts last week asked if the players could keep it low key until they win a postseason series.

That’s not how it works in baseball.

This is a team that has overcome lengthy stints on the disabled list by four opening day starters and injuries to three of the original five starting pitchers. It won despite a bullpen that was dreadful for the first four months of the season, and it got key plays from guys who were not supposed to be in the big leagues this season.

These guys have been grinding for 143 games, with 19 more to come. They deserve to celebrate.

What’s more, in the past 12 years, we’ve gone from having no team at all, to enduring 100-loss seasons, to cheering four division titles in six years.

Sure, we’ll party some more when the Nats win a postseason series, a pennant and even a World Series, but many of us have lived through the ultimate alternative.

Let’s celebrate baseball every chance we get.