Every professional baseball team strives to offer something for folks of all ages, but the Washington Nationals may hit the mark better than anyone else. Old-school fans fondly remember the club by their previous name, the Montreal Expos, while the younger generation is enthralled by the new wave of excellence that Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg have established in the nation’s capital. Where they’ve been and where they’re headed is of little concern for fans in DC: they’re much more interested in ensuring that everybody knows about their fierce “Natitude.”
While both the Minnesota Twins and Texas Rangers of the American League got their start as the Washington Senators before moving, the franchise that would become the District’s team got its start in the French-Canadian province of Montreal in 1968. As an expansion club, the Expos were forced to play catch-up with their counterparts in the National League, but eventually proved that they belonged. Led by All-Star efforts from Gary Carter and Andre Dawson, the team battled, and by 1981, had captured its first National League East division title.
Excellent Expos such as Dennis Martinez, Pedro Martinez (no relation), and Vladimir Guerrero would emerge in the ‘80s and ‘90s, but their individual exploits were unable to raise the club to the next level. The 2004 season would be the last one in Montreal, as Major League Baseball had ended up with ownership control of the franchise. Arriving in Washington the following year, the team sported not only a new name and look, but a fresh attitude as well.
In the early going, the Nationals played valiantly, but the season-end result was the same as it had been for so many years in Montreal. In 2008, the club moved into a new home, Nationals Park, and in doing so, began a new chapter in the organization’s history. Taking inspiration from the Milwaukee Brewers’ much-loved “Sausage Races,” the Nationals took inventory of what their town was best known for, and thus, the Racing Presidents were born. Now during the seventh inning, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt sprint around the ballpark to the delight of all those in attendance.
Over time, prospects such as Strasburg and Harper began to mature, and by 2012, a new era of Washington baseball had begun. At the close of that season, DC would have an NL East banner to raise, and in 2014, the Nats captured a second flag. The newfound success was especially sweet for fans, many of whom had spent decades rooting for the floundering franchise on the other side of the Beltway.
When the Nationals take the field, they pause for a moment to honor the contributions made by the country’s veterans. Playing with the nation on their mind, the club also does their fans proud. The supporters may not articulate it as such, but deep down they know it: they are so lucky to call the Nationals their team.