Night Terrors and Day Drinking: The Self Inflicted Trauma of Being a DC Sports Fan Part 3
So here we are with Jordan coming in and the Wizards having a number one overall pick and then they bring in Kwame Brown. As a rookie Brown averaged 4.5 points, 0.8 assists, and 3.5 rebounds a game. I don’t even think disappointing sums up his career. It was an abysmal failure, and yet it was a precursor for good things to come. Really what it was is that Jordan left and Ernie Grunfield signed Gilbert Arenas and then traded Jerry Stackhouse of Antwan Jamison and then in the most miraculous deal in NBA history Grunfield was able to trade Kwame Brown, and not only did he trade Kwame Brown he got in return Caron Butler. Jamison, Arenas, and Butler would form what would be come to known for the Wizards as the big three, and this is when I started to really root for them. When they become more to me than an image of failure symbolized by a giant poster of Chris Webber in a uniform he wore for one season.
Gilbert Arenas is really what drew me to the Wizards. I had a hard time rooting for them after the name change. They went from Bullets, something real, tangible, and dangerous, to the Wizards, a fantasy magician known more for guile and wit than athletic prowess. It was, and is, a goofy and stupid name. They would have been better off as the Sea Dogs, but I remember sitting in my dorm room and watching Gilbert Arenas. His ability was tantalizing. His field goal percent that first season was only .392 but he averaged 19.6 points a game and the flashes were there. You knew he could be special, and when he was paired with Jamison and Butler it was special, but now we’re in 2005. I’m 24 years old, working for my father as the film industry is in its final death throws, and baseball has returned to Washington DC.
As any good American I’d always harbored a love for baseball. I played little league as a child. Didn’t get too far down that road. My only real lasting memory was when standing in the outfield one day I had to piss and didn’t want to or realized I couldn’t interrupt the game to do so and so I just went in my pants. Seemed logical at the time, but you try being a little kid in a dugout of other little boys with the fresh stench of urine and a giant wet stain on your baseball pants. As I said I didn’t get much past tee-ball, and like my first hockey game my first baseball game was a memorable.
It was the ALDS and it was Mike Mussina vs. Randy Johnson. A-Rod was a young shortstop for the Mariners and Cal Ripken was the veteran of the Orioles. The Orioles won that game and Mike Mussina was great. In fact it was soon after that that I decided Mike Mussina was my favorite player, and this is why I stopped rooting for the Orioles. I’m sure as a Nationals fan you’ve been told you’re just an ex-Orioles fan with no loyalty, but I remember driving past Baltimore and my father looking at Camden Yards and saying, “That Angelos is a real son of a bitch. He’s no different than Dan Snyder. Sometimes you wonder what we ever did to get stuck with the two worst owners in sports.” I’m not sure what brought on this fit from my father. Maybe it was Albert Belle or Jesse Orosco or Roberto Alomar spitting on an ump. Knowing my father he probably thought the ump had it coming, but would’ve added, “Even still you can’t do that.” It must have been after the ‘97 season because that’s when things went downhill, and Dan Snyder didn’t buy the Redskins until
Angelos fired Davey Johnson for probably the same reason Dan Snyder fired any coach with a backbone. That type of interference from ownership is never popular. I didn’t know much about it at the time. I was 16 and was busy at trying to pass high school to get to college and failing at girls. The story of my love life is almost as sad as my sports fandom but I ended up winning a championship in that eventually. Here is a story to sum it up however. My senior year I dropped an elective math class to take an extra period of weight training, and there was a sophomore girl in that class. My occasional acquaintance that got me to buy in to the “Big Daddy” Dan Wilkinson and Dana Stubblefield Redskins was after this girl, but she had no interest in his flashy ways. I was quiet and reserved and I ran five miles during that period most days, but, and this might be a trick of the memory, I recall every time after she rejected him she would look at me. I still may not understand what that meant but I’m fairly certain now it was a signal that I should pursue her in some form or fashion. My only true interaction with her aside from casual conversation was when I got her injured. I was a TA in that class and it was testing day and she was doing tricep extensions. She wanted my advice and a spot, given where you stand to spot someone on tricep extensions this was probably another missed signal, when she told me what weight she tested at the last time I advised her to increase it by ten pounds. She couldn’t handle it, and maybe if I advised a five pound increase or something different I may have asked her to prom, but after that I couldn’t face her and feel terrible to this day about it.
Back to my baseball fandom and Mike Mussina. My father had already planted the seed of Angelos being just like Snyder in my head and then came the Mussina negotiations or lack thereof. I have no idea if any of this is true or how the story came to me but I recall reading or hearing or being told that Mussina wanted to go back to the Orioles. That he would have accepted any reasonable offer the Orioles made but that Angelos made none and the main reason was the Angelos was tanking the Orioles in order to keep a team out of DC.
I’d always been confused as to why DC wasn’t a four sport city. I remember standing in a sporting goods store in a South Jersey mall looking at a wall of Flyers, 76er’s, Eagles, and Phillies jerseys and wondering why this backwards city had four teams but we didn’t. I couldn’t understand why the capital of our country wasn’t represented in all major sports. I didn’t even know we once had a baseball team until I was 12 and caught an old episode of Home Run Derby that featured Harmon Killebrew on ESPN Classic. So here I was with the information that my favorite player wasn’t being resigned in order to keep my home city from getting a baseball team, and that just wouldn’t do. That was when I decided I could no longer root for a team owned by Peter Angelos.
Luckily I wouldn’t have to wait long. It was after the 2000 that Mussina left Baltimore for New York and it was November of 2004 that it was finalized that the Expos would be moving to Washington to become the Nationals. As if in a precursor of their recent playoff fate the day I bought my first Nats hat, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, was also a night we went out to the Firehouse Bar in Fairfax where my friend’s brother’s girlfriend was tending bar and gave us free drinks all night. My other friend drove us to his house, I fell out of his car on his lawn, decided it was comfortable enough to sleep on, wasn’t allowed to stay there, and puked on his carpet inside. This is not the last embarrassing intersection of baseball and alcohol you’re going to read.
2005, I’m working for my father trying to help import inventory onto his newly created website. He spent $40,000 for this website. My business website in the year 2016 cost me $1,000. I don’t know if times have changed or my father’s lack of knowledge of the internet caused him to make a critically bad decision. Digital had already done a good bit of damage to the film industry but we were hanging on due to our photo lab install department, sales of paper and chemicals to local high schools and colleges, and contracts with state governments. Things were only going to get worse as technology got better and it was tough to compete online with New York stores that sold gray market and refurbished cameras as new. It was a business besieged on all sides and I dubbed it the perfect candidate for suicide. It was a depressing place to work, but my father had a plan. School casework wasn’t much, if any, different from what we installed in the photo labs and we were already starting to make that ourselves. We’d get a CNC router and become a casework company specializing in school casework. So in 2005 my father was invited by ABC (American Builders and Contractors) to go to a Nats game. It was an interleague game. Livan Hernandez vs. Barry Zito. I knew little about the Nationals at that time. I hadn’t yet started paying that much attention as I’d just returned from a trip to Paris, Amsterdam, Milan, Nice, and Rome, but I was ready, and little did I know it would get me fully invested.