Letter from Washington: World Series Edition

final pitches

How does history change?

Something went wrong in mid-2016, an unexpected shift in the cosmic equilibrium that sent us barreling down the wrong timeline, like a train that had jumped the tracks.

You could feel it, a kind of nervousness in the air that culminated in electoral disaster on November 8, 2016. All the pundits said she couldn’t lose and yet…

I wrote about that night in Victory Party, which won the City Paper fiction competition. For me, the story was therapy as much as it was literature, my attempt to explain the unexplainable. My main character supported Trump but with the realization that the new president would not help people like him. In Victory Party, he recognizes the truth, which at least provides some hope.

Of course, Trump supporters are not like my clear-eyed protagonist but people who have willfully blinded themselves, shutting out reality in favor of the comfortable hate of Fox News. They are the people who have driven dark comedy of our times, even as it grows steadily more absurd.

Rudy Giuliani butt-dialing reporters. Mick Mulvaney admitting to a quid pro quo and then taking it back the next day. Republican members of Congress storming into a security facility with their cellphones.

The other day, a friend asked if I was working on a sequel to The Swamp, my satirical novel about the Obama years in DC.

How do you satirize an age that is beyond belief? What I could possibly write that’s stranger than our current reality?

And then the Nationals made an improbable run to the World Series. After winning the first two games in Houston, they lost all three at home. All the pundits said it was over – no way could they do it now.

And then they started winning again. Game 7 and I was in a bar, expecting the Nats to lose. I was with a friend from Boston who mocked my cynicism. She believed.

But I did not. How could you during this timeline of disaster?

Down 2-0 for most of the game, the Nats suddenly started hitting in the 7th. 2-1, 4-2 and then 6-2 with just three outs remaining! Staring at the box score, something like hope filtered into my heart. We’re going to win the World Series! An expectant buzz filled the bar.

And then it happened. The final out and everyone erupted in cheers, hugging and high-fives. Outside, on the street, people honked and yelled. Fireworks thudded over downtown as an entire city celebrated.

There were so many glorious bits of time, like the shirtless guy sliding across the dugout. I watched the local news late into the night as they interviewed drunk people. But my favorite viral moment was this:

Yes! Washington needed this, with some asshole in the fucking White House. Truer words have not been spoken – and on Fox too! You could feel the timeline starting to return to true, turning on an axis from Washington, DC.

A city that had also roundly booed the president during Game 5 and chanted, “Lock him up.”

The day after the World Series victory, while the rest of us were hungover, Nancy Pelosi started the impeachment process of Donald Trump. The wily Speaker had waited until she had the evidence and, more importantly, the votes in the Democratic caucus.

How does history change? It’s done by people. A stadium of them booing the  president, revealing his weakness. A Speaker of the House patiently marshaling her supporters. A drunk person yelling obscenities on TV. And a baseball team who ignores the pundits and just keeps on fighting.

Remember Baseball? A Visit to Nats Park

baseball fieldBaseball. I don’t get it.

Growing up outside Chicago, I watched the White Sox as a kid but this was the pre-digital era when we had fully developed attention spans. Back then, we read books and spent summer afternoons climbing trees and wandering the neighborhood. Now, in this age of Twitter and iPhones, who has the patience for America’s past-time?

I’m probably the last person in Washington who hasn’t seen the Nationals. So, when my friend Jenny invited me to a game, I went.

Nationals Park is a beautiful stadium and easily accessible by car, Metro and even bike – bike valet is available. We parked a few blocks over and walked in the scorching heat.

We had great seats just yards from the field. One problem: the seats had been heated by the sun to a temperature that would fry an egg – or your bare skin. I poured water over my seat to cool it off.

Washington is in the midst of a heat wave now. At 1:30 PM, when the game started (opponent: San Diego), it was in the 90s with a heat index over 100. We prayed for clouds while the Nationals got out to an early lead.

No one in my section wanted beer. Instead, it was requests for bottles of water, ice cream and ice chips to put under caps. By the third inning, we needed a break from the sun. The concourse was lined with vendors of all kinds – Goose Island, Ben’s Chili Bowl, Peet’s Coffee. You could get a salad. You could get a mixed drink. It felt like Vegas.

red porch

The air-conditioning at the Front Porch, the bar in center field, was a blissful relief. The bartender gave us chilled paper towels to put around our necks while we drank $10 beer. (Is there no limit to what people in DC will pay for beer? Nope.)

We returned to our seats for the last couple innings. By that point, attendance at the stadium had shrunk in half. Everyone clustered in the shady sections, avoiding the punishing sun. Papelbon blew a lead while a sun-baked fanatic vigorously heckled him. Passionate – or crazy? Or maybe heat stroke.

pls stop

Bull Durham was on cable a couple of weeks ago. It’s one of those movies that you can’t turn off once it comes on. It’s a movie about baseball that can be enjoyed by people who have never seen the game. And it’s filled with great bits of Zen-like wisdom:

This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.

Football is far more popular than baseball these days. With its brief moments of violence interrupted by litigation and commercials, the game is an accurate representation of America in 2016. It’s what we are, a representation of our bloodlust, stupidity and greed.

Baseball is what we aspire to be – simple, fair and timeless. That’s why it retains its appeal, even among people like me who rarely see a game. Let’s hope it stays that way.