As Ryan Zimmerman recorded the last out of the Washington Nationals’ season early Saturday morning, my legs gave out. I sunk into my seat, as others around me processed in their own way what had just happened.
Some applauded, showing their support to the overall effort Washington had put forth this year. Some booed. Most just silently turned and began walking toward the aisle.
I sat. No thoughts went through my head. No what-ifs, or what-now’s. I just sat and felt the pain shoot deep through my veins. I had been standing for hours. First with joy, then in support, and finally with angst. I was exhausted, I couldn’t and wouldn’t budge. I had no way of convincing myself of some manufactured positive notion of the outcome of the game, as others had. I just sat there and took it in. I let it burn.
My entire section aside from my girlfriend and I eventually had made their way up the steps to exit the stadium. Nearly 46,000, all dressed in red and white had evacuated Nats Park almost as quickly as the hopes of a National League Championship Series appearance had left our hearts. Not me. I just sat there and stared, motionless, at the field.
An usher came by and told us we’d have to leave. This was the same woman who had earlier told our section we had to sit down when Gio Gonzalez was setting up a payoff pitch to end an inning. I ignored her. I just stared.
I could feel my phone buzzing in my pocket. Surely the result of texts and tweets. Some from friends of mine, or fans of the blog. Some from jerks that I went to college with who for some reason wanted to make me feel worse in this moment than I alredy did. I didn’t look.
Soon the lights at Nats Park started incrementally shutting off. A perfect allegory for the light of hope that the Nationals had filled the city of Washington with over the course of the summer. As the last lights flickered out, two more ushers came by and told us that the park would be closing, and that we would simply have to leave. I stood up, didn’t say a word, and made my way toward the Metro for the longest ride home of my entire life.
I woke up this morning and gazed at the ceiling for a good hour. I kept replaying the ninth inning over and over in my head. Why did they just give the Cardinals second base twice in that inning? Especially when they represented the tying and go-ahead runs? How tiny was the strike zone that Drew Storen was pitching to? How could the Nats not have just gotten one-more strike, one-more out?
In the end it didn’t matter. This isn’t a question game. It’s just a fact. The Nationals, who skyrocketed to the top of baseball faster than nearly any team that has ever played the game, came crashing back down last night in one of the worst meltdowns in postseason history. And it hurts. It hurts a lot.
I’ve been thinking about this all day now, and I’ve come to the conclusion that if there is any silver lining for what happened this series it’s that we simply got to feel what this pain is like. In many ways, we were spoiled this season. We went from so bad, to so good, so quickly, that some of us simply took for granted what its like to struggle your way to the top.
Oh, Nats fans have struggled in the past, for sure. For half a decade we were the worst team in baseball. But that pain is very different from the pain we all felt last night. That pain is a longing, a lightless hope that you hold anyway despite any reasonable common sense. This pain, however, is a dagger. Nats fans allowed their hopes to fly unguarded into the night as the team’s ace started the game looking like he would pitch a shutout, and the team’s lineup mashed the ball in a way they hadn’t done since August. That utter Joy disappeared in a span of 40 minutes, and the season ended in the blink of an eye.
So let it burn Nats fans. Feel this pain. Remember this pain. If for no other reason than that sometimes you can’t really appreciate how much you love something until it is taken away from you. Let this pain build your passion. Let this pain grow your love for this team, and let this pain serve as a constant reminder that nothing as a fan is ever guaranteed, which means that every single thing you are given is a gift.
Remember how low this low feels, so that someday, whether it be next year or decades from now…you can really understand how good the high is.