I was an Expos fan. In 2004, I listened to many of the games during that last season by means of MLB's GameDay audio. Compared to the previous two seasons of the MLB Expos, that demanded a degree of fortitude and loyalty. I still bear a deep grudge towards Brian O'Nora, who during an interleague game called a foul ball fair for a home run. When the Expos were moved to Washington, I was upset and my initial response was to look for an alternative team to follow, settling on the Arizona Diamondbacks. However, as luck would have it, the Diamondbacks were playing in Washington at the start of the 2005 season, and I decided to listen to Charlie Slowes and Dave Shea. I was charmed by Slowes in particular, and gradually my familiarity with the 2005 Nationals' roster holdovers from the Expos, and their division-leading antics, had me sticking by the team.
For younger Nationals' fans, who found that where baseball teams are concerned it is better to receive than to give, the kind of humility required to hang on to fandom of a team that is moved is possibly hard to envisage. Longer-term Washington baseball fans might know the feeling well, especially after the original Nationals/Senators became the Twins and went on to a very successful 1960s while the Replacements really gave meaning to the old saying, 'First in war, &c'. In this case, I was rooting for a bunch of people who had made life very miserable with their taunts on message boards during 2002-4. Not many Expos' rooters followed me to Washington. In fact, many would despise me for sticking with the franchise.
The next four years saw me dividing my fandom between the Nationals and the team that I actually grew up with, the Detroit Tigers. The improbable 2006 World Series run by the Tigers did a lot to draw my interest, but my preference for National League baseball (no DH! — the reason I became a fan of a National League team in the first place) also pulled me back towards the ex-Expos. I was tugged in two directions.
In 2009, I made a conscious decision at the start of spring training to refocus on the Nationals, and I started writing this blog to help with that. The title of this blog is, in fact, a Latin pun on 'D.C.'. I paradoxically enjoyed following that losing 2009 team, despite its problems. But there were also annoyances, such as the horrible Rob Dibble & Bob Carpenter television duo, and the fact that Nationals Park clearly referenced not the Nationals' franchise history, but the history of Washington baseball. Now that's great for Washington baseball fans, but it creates problems outside of the District. And, in fact, there has been a constant tension between the Expos' heritage and the marketing problem of building a new fan-base. I've never really been comfortable with the Nationals borrowing the Twins' past, given that there was an Expos' past that the Nationals had every right to. But I also understood that the Expos' past could not speak with much authority to Washington's baseball fans.
2012, right down to Mr Slowes' outstanding home-run call on Jayson Werth's walk-off in Game #4 of the NLDS against the Cardinals, was for me a culmination. Despite being in Canada, not Washington, despite being nurtured into my baseball fandom in Tiger Stadium, not DC Stadium, my elation was just as great as that of anyone's along the Potomac. And the sadness that followed after the Game #5 loss was equally as great. I had followed the construction of that team from 2009 with interest. Those events hurt a bit more than the Tigers' loss to the Giants in the World Series. But when the 2013 season rolled around, something had changed between me and the Nationals. I still don't know what, but I felt a distance that wasn't there before. Was it the free agency of John Lannan? The acquisition of Denard Span? The trade of Michael Morse? Was it the fact that the bitter loss of the 2012 NLDS had cemented their identity as a Washington team, as opposed to a continuing example of the Expos' futile pursuit of post-season glory? Not even Slowes & Jageler could shift a sensation that something was rotten in the state of my Nationals'fandom. The 2014 season simply reinforced these feelings of distance. Instead I invested considerable emotion in the ups and downs of the Tigers, who literally uglied their way into an AL Central pennant.
Then, last Saturday night, there was the 1924 Flag That Will Fly Forever, marking the Washington team's World Series victory that season. Except that flag belongs to the Twins, who took it with them along with the makings of a competitive team when they left in 1960. Now I gather that something like it may have been flying over Nationals Park since it opened in 2008, but on Saturday the prominence given it in the television coverage rankled with me. First Washington baseball fans took someone else's team, and now they are taking another club's history. That's one way to look at it. One could just as easily argue that the Twins left it there when they moved to another city. But neutral arbiters have assigned it to the Twins. It's one of those areas where one's predisposition will determine what side of the argument one will find oneself on.
As the Tigers crashed out of the ALDS in miserable fashion, I came to a conclusion: the Expo in me has to let go of the Nationals. Unless I wind up living in the Chesapeake Bay area in the future, I will focus my baseball team fandom on the Tigers. Tonight will be the last game I watch as a fan of the Nationals. I will still make the post-season blog posts I intend to make about the 2014 Nationals, but they will be the last gestures towards a team that I have followed, in some fashion or another, since 2005. Whether the Nationals do or die, I say ave atque vale to a part of my life that sought to maintain ties to a dead franchise and a memory of past times.