An Ode To The Nats, Wing Wednesday, And The Best Baseball Season Of My Life
9:01 AM EDT on October 30, 2020
A year ago today, when everything was different, the Washington Nationals beat the Houston Astros in Game 7 of the 2019 World Series. As I reflect on the best baseball season both me and the Nats ever had on this anniversary, my main takeaways are that sports are good, and, man, I miss Wing Wednesdays.
At the beginning of last season, I was pretty sure I'm too old and have been typing about the dark side of sports for too long to give a rip who wins or loses anymore. And in the early spring of 2019, I was cosplaying as a fan, mostly as a bonding exercise with my two boys, both of whom truly, madly, deeply cared about the Nats. (My kids, now 10 and 14, prefer my wife over me by a massive margin, so I needed to try something.) When we went to see the Philadelphia Phillies’ first D.C. appearance, the boys booed the returning Bryce Harper, as real Nats fans could. I couldn’t.
But by June, as the Nats were nearing the end of their now-infamous and injury-plagued 19-31 start, I was root root rooting as hard for the home team as my boys. Perhaps the best sign of my being all-in: I even stopped mocking the gimmicky “Baby Shark” routines. We watched, attended, listened to or otherwise paid as close attention to every single game as geography, technology, and odd broadcasting contracts allowed, and did it together. (I haven’t yet taught my kids that pirating streams is bad.) As the Nats crawled out of the NL East cellar, we learned to loathe the team’s days off. I hadn’t clung to a team this tightly since the 1982 Baltimore Orioles, led by young Cal Ripken and Eddie Murray and old Jim Palmer, lost the division title and a playoff berth with one loss to the Milwaukee Brewers on the last day of the season.
And through it all, there were chicken wings. The highlight of our week throughout the wondrous 2019 season came with a trip every Wednesday night to Nanny O'Brien's, a gloriously divey and dark bar in D.C.’s Cleveland Park neighborhood with lots of TVs always tuned to sports. That was wing night at the tavern. We’d overeat delicious and discounted wings and drink too many Diet Cokes, even on school nights, while cheering the Nats back into playoff contention alongside a bar crowd that grew as the season progressed and the wins piled up. Take away the odd rainout, and there’s always a game on Wednesday. The servers and bartenders, god bless ‘em, never made us feel like the bar-killing, teetotaling bargain hunters that we were. We were such regulars for Wing Wednesday at Nanny’s that by midseason the staff would have our drinks and put in our first wing orders (Maryland, which came with Bay Seasoning, for me, and regular with spicy Buffalo sauce on the side for my boys) before we’d even had a chance to say hello. I couldn’t believe how happy our wholly wholesome Wing Wednesday routine made me. I swear every time we were together there I thought or even repeated out loud Roy Hobbs’s greatest line from The Natural: “God, I love baseball!”
And the baseball gods loved us back! How else to explain so many of the greatest 2019 Nats’ moments coming on Wing Wednesdays? For example, the come-from-behind thriller that was Game 5 of the NLDS against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Howie Kendrick’s game-winning grand slam in extra innings came well after midnight, and, as bloated by all the hours of ingesting bar food and sodas as we were, we celebrated with everybody else who’d stuck it out at Nanny’s like we’d won a world war.
And also Game 2 of the World Series against the Houston Astros, which early on had us Nats fans biting our nails along with our wings, before a late scoring binge turned a 2-2 game into a 12-3 laugher and put Washington up 2-0 in series. Alas, the Nats lost the next three games to Houston, the last being Game 5 on a Sunday. That Monday was a day off before play would resume with our beloved team just one loss away from elimination. The mantra in the McKenna household became, “We just gotta make it to Wing Wednesday!”
And so the Nats did, taking Game 6 and setting up the climax we’d wished for: Me and the boys at Nanny’s for Game 7 on Wing Wednesday.
The rest is history.
I didn’t even go with the rest of the family to the Nats victory parade, held downtown three days later. I’d already gotten as much fun and bonding out of the baseball season as any fan or parent could hope for. I needed no more proof that sports were good.
This year hasn’t been swell for the Nats or, especially Nanny’s. The bar was shut down in March for COVID-19 and only recently began operating on a reduced schedule and with reduced seating for safety reasons. They just reopened on Wednesdays, and to help remember the greatest baseball season, I stopped by the bar two nights ago. A server told me the Wing Wednesday special is gone and won’t be coming back anytime soon, maybe ever. I got wings to-go and brought them home. Not much about the world is as good as it was a year ago today, but, damn, those wings are still delicious.