Sports is the only real reality television. Or at least the only reality television dressed as pure entertainment. Still after over 130 years of big league champions, the baseball gods show they are still capable of rewarding us with something we have never seen and a journey that most Hollywood producers would throw out for being too corny. The champions of baseball this year called three different countries home in the last 15 years and overcame a record of 19-31 ( after 50 games) almost a third of the way into the season .
An immortal verse from the Grateful Dead goes “ What a long strange trip, its been”. The Nationals got their start in Montreal, Quebec. An expansion franchise which got its name from the World’s Fair held in that city in 1967. Five years earlier the venue of the World’s Fair was Seattle which gave us the Space Needle and an Elvis movie co-starring a young Kurt Russel.
The Expos first stadium was Jarry Park. They eventually played the rest of their games in the house Caitlyn Marie Jenner made famous better known as Olympic Stadium. Remember how cities like Athens and Rio financially nosedived and after hosting the Summer Olympics The Expos’ Stadium was nicknamed ” The Big O” but because of different factors that lead to some financial problems that nickname was slightly changed to the Big Owe.
The early 80s Expos were known for great players like Gary Carter, Tim Raines ( one of the few real rivals of Ricky Henderson), Tim Wallach and Andre Dawson. Dawson got more notoriety with the Cubs later in his career. Tim Raines became the poster boy for owner collusion. Another Expo during that time period was future Red Sox curse breaker Terry Francona.
The mid 90s Expos for me symbolize one of the biggest sports What If questions this side of “What if Len Bias did not imitate Scarface? ” If you look in the record books, there was no World Series in 1994. This was due to the player’s strike . It accomplished several things. It led to only partial seasons being played in 1994 and 1995. The strike killed Michael Jordan’s dream to play in the major leagues. What the 1994 strike did for baseball fans is similar to what pictures of Jover would do for males who do not idolize Vice Ganda. The same USA Today article I referenced also made another earth shattering claim. The strike killed baseball in Montreal.
In sports we never know for sure. We can never say if this happens then this happens. All these people who tell me that the 2012 _____ could beat the 1996 ____ just think they are geniuses till I ask them why are they working at a bank and not making a living betting on the 2018 ____ (A) vs the 2018 _____ ( B). That is much simpler. Players are playing by the same rules, same court and zero projections. In 2011 , the Dallas Mavericks won, in 2001 it was the New England Patriots, in 2019 it was the St Louis Blues. who saw any of them coming??
The Internet though is full of articles asking what if? One from CBS Sports talks about a sold out 1994 World Series hat made 22 years after the strike. It sold out rather quickly. Bleacher Report even imagined the rest of the 1994 Season. That is usually Rappler’s job. I like the approach of this blog site called The Dutch Baseball Hangout that reminds us who the Expos had and asked what if this amazing group stayed together.
The could have beens and the might have beens just ushered a slow death for baseball in Montreal. 2003 and 2004 saw the Expos split their season between their traditional home and Puerto Rico. A bit of a contrast in the winter time. At this point the Expos were already on their way out of Montreal. This is a more detailed view on the demise of baseball in Montreal.
2005 saw the Expos finally play all their home games in one country. They relocated to the capital city of the United States and renamed themselves the Nationals. Three of their best known drafted players include:
- Stephen James Strasburg- drafted first overall in 2009. claim to fame : was shut down before the 2012 playoffs as a preventive measure.
- Ryan Zimmerman – first player the Nationals ever drafted. Claim to fame : grew up with the Nationals team in Washington.
- Bryce Harper- drafted first overall in 2010. Claim to fame: On the cover of the Sports Illustrated as a 16 year old . Also signed a 13-year, $330 million deal — the biggest overall free-agent contract in North American sports history — with the Philadelphia Phillies in the same year that his original team would go on to win the World Series.
The Houston Astros also have an interesting history. Houston is the fourth largest city in the United States behind New York , Los Angeles and Chicago. Their nickname of course derived from the fact NASA has a significant presence there. Granted that comes at a cost for any sports team based there. The low hanging fruit headline ” Houston we have a problem ” whenever adversity rears its ugly head.
Their original home was really nicknamed the Harris Country Domed Stadium to my surprise. I have only known it by it’s nickname ” The Astro Dome”. It was the first sporting venue to have an artificial playing surface since grass could not grow inside no matter how they tweaked the roof . That surface was known as Astroturf. The Astrodome was also further nicknamed the 8th wonder of the world.
The Houston Astros first got on my radar when they appeared ( as themselves) in one of my favorite movies of my childhood that repeatedly played Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. The sequel to Bad News Bears which was titled Bad News Bears in Breaking Training. The same film that contained one of the most emotional scenes I have ever seen in a movie. I am saying this with zero sarcasm. I still get misty watching the Let Them Play scene with Bill Devane and his reel life son future Academy Award nominee Jackie Earl Hayley. The Astros further entertained me when they went the limit in two memorable post season series against the Phillies ( 1980 ) and the Mets ( 1986) . Each time losing to the eventual world champion. Back in the old days they were still in the National League.
Other events of note . The Astros played their 2000 season in Enron Field . The stadium previously agreed to a 30 year contract with the energy firm to have their name on the stadium. Who says contracts can’t be broken? Enron went bankrupt the next year. Significant people either died of natural or unnatural causes or went to jail. Naming rights then went to the Minute Maid orange juice company. Four years later the Astros would make their first World Series appearance losing to the Chicago White Sox.
Fast Forward to 2019. The Houston Astros were overwhelming favorites to win this World Series . From what little I know about sports gambling, you could have gotten rich betting on the Nationals before the Series opened . It was Houston’s second World Series in 3 years. They won it all in 2017. The Houston Astros ‘ blueprint for success was later duplicated and renamed by the Philadelphia 76ers as The Process.
The blueprint for the championship success of the Washington Nationals will be hard to duplicate. In the last 14 years despite the Big 3 mentioned above the best they could manage was losing the National League Division round. I will now give you pinoy types a playoff term you may have never heard before and that term is wild card. In baseball and NFL football, you can be a wild card team and participate in the playoffs but should you survive the opening single game where it is win or go home then every opponent after that will be guaranteed home field advantage and usually is better rested. The Nationals were losing to the Milwaukee Brewers but a 3 run 8th inning buoyed them to the divisional round where they almost got eliminated by the Dodgers.
After 3 games the Dodgers were leading the 5 game series 2-1. Meaning the Dodgers only had to win one more game to advance. The Nationals evened up the series in Game 4 with a 6-1 win setting up a winner take all Game 5 in hostile territory for the Nationals. . They were down 3-1 in the top of the 8th inning before tying it up. The game went to the tenth inning tied at 10 before they exploded for 4 runs while preventing any scoring in the Dodgers half of the tenth. This sent the highly favored Dodgers home who have come so close the previous years in their quest to win it all for the first time since Tommy Lasorda , Kirk Gibson and Orel Herschiser in 1988. A boring sweep (4-0) of the St.Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series allowed the Nationals to rest their pitching and also recover from the stress of having survived a total of 3 elimination games. The New York Yankees helped in a way by extending their series with Houston to 6 games.
The Nationals though had an uphill climb against their World Series opponent the Houston Astros as previously stated. Yet considering what they have been through , what would not be an uphill climb? They won the first two games in Houston. In Game 1 they were able to get to Astros starter Gerrit Cole who has not lost a start since May 22. The Nationals scored 6 runs in the 7th inning en route to a 12-3 win. Sweeping the home team convinced some observers that Houston fans saw their last home game of the year since their team had to win 3 straight games in enemy territory to send the series back to Houston.
Yet that is exactly what the Houston Astros did in Nationals Park ( Washington D.C.) . They beat the Nationals 4-1 in Game 3 scoring a single run in 4 different innings and using 6 pitchers. Alex Bregman hit a grand slam home run in the 7th inning of Game 4 to seal a 8-1 victory . Again the Astros used 6 pitchers. You can read the quote immediately above by Earl Weaver. In the case of the Nationals momentum was literally a pain in the neck in Game 5 as Max Scherzer was forced to miss his scheduled start due to neck and back spams. Gerrit Cole avenged his only loss since May 22 by going 7 strong innings coupled with 3 Houston home runs from 3 different players and Astros cruised to a 7-1 win. They swept all their games in Washington , D.C. forcing the series back to Houston , Texas and they only had to win one more game to celebrate in front of their fans and to claim a second World Series in 3 years.
Game 6 was an elimination game for the Nationals, a situation they have survived three times before in the 2019 post season. Make that four times mainly because Stephen Strasburg settled down after a first inning where he gave up 2 runs but goes scoreless until the end of the 8th. Three home runs by three Nationals including 21 year old Juan Soto contributed to the 7-2 victory. In Game 7 the Nationals proved they truly were a team of destiny. Washington skipper Dave Martinez stuck with the previously injured Max Scherzer for 5 innings where he gave up 7 hits and 2 earned runs. The Nationals did not get on the scoreboard till the 7th inning which they were losing 2-0 but erupted with 3 runs from 2 dingers. They never looked back scoring 3 more runs in the 8th and 9th with Patrick Corbin providing 3 scoreless innings of relief earning the 4th and clinching win for Nationals 6-2. Corbin started 33 games in the regular season but was only making his third appearance in the post season including one start which was the series opener against the Dodgers.
The Hollies once sang ” The road is long, with many of winding turns” The Nationals road to hoisting the World Series trophy included these winding turns: 3 countries, 5 games that they had to win or go home, their phenom who decided to play in Philadelphia back in February, 19-31 record after 50 games, infamous neck problems and winning all 4 games in Houston. Sports is the only real reality TV and this could not be scripted. That is why some of us love sports. Unless you are the bulk of Filipinos that only focus on one team sport.
Wondering when the pinoy content was going to come into this blog entry? I said before that the pinoys do not care about baseball since baseball is known as a thinking man’s sport. I also say in it that baseball does not lend itself to instant gratification. Pinoys love noontime shows and none of what they produce for the local audience ever gets much smarter than what you see on noontime shows. Those shows for better or worse represent pinoy aspiration.
Get Real Philippines is a culture blog and a few of us here have questioned pinoys love for their noontime shows and devoting themselves to basketball. Pinoy institutions that no other culture appreciates. We have been told before not to write about sports and stick to the politics. As if what I write is meant to appease those who love pinoy noontime shows.
My most recent pinoy sports opinion piece centered on the winless Gilas in the last FIBA tournament. To my knowledge the only international team game that grown men compete in where the participants are born and trained in the Philippines. You can see how far that has gotten us. I detailed in a different piece that 21 countries contribute to the highest level of baseball in the world. Pinoys just make every excuse like genetics and everything else for the basketball myopia. Pinoys don’t love sports ( plural) enough to develop and produce athletes that other people want for their sports leagues. The cliche goes choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life. Pinoys don’t love team sports (plural) enough to work hard and smart like most of Washington as stated in my title. That is why a future where the big time sports leagues of the world come to the Philippines to recruit athletes with promise of fame and fortune is much more unlikely than what the Washington Nationals did last month.
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