Rooting For The Home Team
11:21 AM EDT on April 3, 2022
The very first weekend I spent in Washington, D.C., I made an enemy. I moved over Memorial Day weekend, drove a truck with all of my belongings across half the country for my first job out of college. I knew no one. The extent of my familiarity with Washington, D.C. was the one terrible, rainy, freezing weekend in April when I had flown in to find an apartment. I signed a lease on the second apartment I saw: the one with no additional pet rent (my job paid $30,000 before taxes) that was close enough to walk to the office because I didn’t have a car. With no money and no friends in a brand new town, there wasn’t much to do, so that first weekend alone I did what I have always done to calm down: I scored a baseball game on my couch.
In 2014 the streaming options for sports were still mediocre. I could not watch the Texas Rangers, the team I had grown up with, without paying extra money I absolutely did not have. The team I could watch was the Washington Nationals. I guess I could have watched the Baltimore Orioles on the local stations too, but even in my great state of depression I knew better than to do that. I scored my first televised Washington Nationals game on May 25, 2014. The Nationals lost to the Miami Marlins. The entire game I transcribed the score with a level of annoyance that verged on anger.
The enemy I found that day came in the form of a color-commentary announcer by the name of F.P. Santangelo. Later, Santangelo would be credibly accused of sexual misconduct, but my initial dislike was based purely on a personality clash. I prefer a color-commentator to, well, provide color commentary. I want to know about the jerseys, the field, the tone in the clubhouse. I want the inside reporting that should come from having a phone that connects to the dugout and a reporter on the field. I want insight and examination, but I also want history. I want the color-commentator to give me depth of field not just a splash of red across the page.
Santangelo was known for the opposite. To put it as kindly as I can, he was known for ongoing bits. “There goes the no-hitter,” he would say after the first hit—to my chagrin—in every single game. He dubbed Anthony Rendon “Tony Two-Bags” because he hit a lot of doubles one year. He once spent (and this is not an exaggeration) five innings talking about a member of the Dodgers who was wearing socks that F.P. was certain were not Dodger Blue. He made me absolutely crazy.
This, it turned out, was very fortuitous for my tenure as a Washington sports fan. Because Santangelo provided absolutely no information about the history of the team or the games, I had to do the research myself. I learned about how the city mourned the loss of the Senators from a man sitting a few rows in front of me at a game. I learned about the conflict around the stadium rebuild from a taxi driver. I learned about the Lerner family from every single baseball fan over the age of 40 the minute I mentioned I was a fan. As silly as it seems, what initially connected me to Washington, D.C. was the baseball team.
There’s a jaded, incorrect idea among young people who move to Washington, D.C. that no one lives there for more than two years. This lie is perpetuated by people who come for a job, leave quickly, and only know other young transplants who leave quickly. It is a lie that persists in groups that have no connection to the multi-generational families that have given D.C. its history and its sense of community. U.S. Census data has shown that D.C. is no more transient than Boston or San Francisco. But all cities seem transient when you’re 24 and don’t know what you want or who you are. It is easy, at that age, to move to a city, learn nothing about it, declare it not for you, and move on. Maybe I would have done the same if I had moved quickly, but for whatever reason—be it inertia or fate—I stayed.
The Nationals and then the Capitals and the Mystics and the Spirit, became my opening into conversations with long-time D.C. residents: neighbors in my building who had lived there since the 1970s, bartenders, friends-of-friends I met at parties. Sure, I had only lived in the city for six months, then a year, or three years, but having invested time and feelings into learning about the teams in the city was a kind of accidental signal to the people around me that I wasn’t just passing through, that I considered Washington D.C. my home.
And it was. For eight years, we lived in the same 650 square foot apartment. We lived there through several job changes and the twilight of my 20s. We watched the Nationals win the NLDS in a restaurant in our neighborhood and clinked champagne glasses with strangers afterward. We went to Capitals games with friends. In our time in D.C., we were blessed with good sports luck. Our teams won a Stanley Cup, a World Series, and a WNBA title. We saw Rose Lavelle and Juan Soto and Natasha Cloud at the beginnings of their careers. We saw Max Scherzer pitch two no-hitters and Alex Ovechkin score hundreds of goals.
It was nice to watch superstars, but what was nicer was the unity in the stands, feeling like I was a part of this city that I didn’t fit into and didn’t know much about. But not everything can last forever.
I moved last week out of Washington, D.C., up I-95, and into a much bigger place in Philadelphia. It was time to move for so many reasons, and painful for others. In the days packing many half-filled boxes before the move, Major League Baseball finally agreed to a contract. Baseball would begin again. I was thrilled, but I also was confronted with a new problem. Moving three weeks before the start of the season meant I needed to know what team I would root for. Should I stay with the teams that brought me so much joy, that I learned so much about, whose hats I already had? Or did I start from scratch again?
One of the hardest lessons I learned in that apartment was that just because something is good and beneficial for a little while, doesn’t mean it always will be. It is so easy to drag what was a beautiful, enriching season into something sadder and more pale. It is only human to cling to something you should probably release into the air. So, I'm releasing. I cannot live in one city with my sports heart in another. I cannot do a long-distance relationship with teams I loved for their community. I am at peace with this release. Because at the end of the day, I'm a home team girl, and that's not my home anymore.
Right now feels like a season of promise. The tree outside my window is blooming. I have my own room. Cherry season is right around the corner. What a waste it would be to cling to the past with all this future right here. I can't root for the teams in Washington, D.C. anymore. I don’t want to explain to my new neighbors that I adopted them as a signifier that I had left Texas, as a way to connect to a city I would eventually leave. I want to connect here, to sit in a dive bar and yell at the screen with 50 other people, to learn about new owners to hate, to buy new hats and jerseys and commit to this new city.
So I’m going to start again. I'm going to choose to be a Philadelphia fan. I’ll start liking Bryce Harper again, learn about the chaos children on the Flyers, and start Trusting the Process unironically.
Back in January, on the morning of the Eagles' playoff game against the Buccaneers, we passed a woman on the street. It was 10:30 a.m., a good two-and-a-half hours before the game. She was wearing an Eagles beanie and an Eagles jersey. She was holding a beer bottle in each hand and bouncing on her toes outside the bar whispering “go birds, go birds, go birds.” That, I hope, will be me one day: insufferable and optimistic, and amped to the high heavens over a Philadelphia team. I’m going to root for the home teams because that’s what makes a place feel like home. Maybe someday soon, I’ll even find a new enemy.