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I went to the watch party at Nationals Park for Game 6 of the World Series because my 11-year-old daughter all but demanded it. It was understood from the jump that we wouldn’t be attending any of the World Series games in person—the cost was prohibitive enough that we never even considered it. But the watch parties seemed like a chance to catch some of the communal World Series spirit at clearance rack prices, and I suggested we head into the city for Game 1. After much consideration, we decided that it sounded like a lot of effort and skipped it.
My daughter regretted the decision almost instantly, and when the series stretched to Game 6 she was determined not to let us make the same mistake again.
We agreed, heading into the stadium, that we’d definitely stay through the fifth inning no matter what happened—it was a school night, with an 8:00 p.m. start, so even this seemed like a concession. By the fifth we decided we had to stay through the seventh, and by the seventh it was clear we had to stay until the end, school night or not.
The watch party turned out to be the ideal way to consume live sports. If teams held watch parties for regular season away games, I’d show up dozens of times more often than I’d consider buying a ticket. You get the only good part of attending a live game—the communal thrill of being part of a crowd of fans—but eliminate most of the bad parts, including the cost of a ticket, the cost of parking, 60 percent of the crowd, the lines at the concessions, the need to stay in a reserved seat, and so on.
My daughter and I watched, and we cheered, and we high-fived strangers, and did all that stuff, and by the time we got back into the car, before she fell asleep on the ride home, it was clear that my daughter had gone from being a casual supporter of her local teams to being a Washington Nationals fan.
There’s been a lot written about the lost generation of D.C. sports fans—the ones who were born after 1991 (the last time the football team was relevant) and had never had the opportunity to root for an eventual champion. But the generation growing up now, the kids my daughters age, are having the opposite experience: to them, the Capitals have always been competitive, and the Stanley Cup win in 2018 was an inevitability. To them, the Nationals have always been competitive, and this team’s breakthrough was well-earned.
I’m not going to claim that my daughter was a huge Mystics fan going way back, but she watched the Finals this year and appreciates the excellence of that team. All of those teams also feature at least one league-best player, including a remarkable number of Hall of Fame-caliber talents, and at least one once-in-a-generation supernova (in Alex Ovechkin). It’s a fun group for kids to watch.
It’s worth remembering, too, that the Nationals aren’t “new” to these kids. They’ve never known a world where D.C. didn’t have baseball. The Nats aren’t a replacement for the Senators, or for the other Senators. They’re not a laughingstock, or a relocation project playing in a crumbling monument to the football team’s receding past. They’re Stephen Strasburg and Juan Soto and Max Scherzer and Anthony Rendon (and, yes, Bryce Harper) and a gleaming, modern stadium with multiple varieties of tater tots to eat.
When I was a kid, my family sports-watching was all football. If we didn’t go to the game, we’d sit on the couch and friends would come over and there would be sticky barbecued chicken wings and the ridiculous Doritos-with-melted-cheese that we called nachos back in those savage times. We’d quiz each other on the roster (clipped from the Sunday Sports section of the Post) and, crucially, we’d all watch (and usually enjoy) the game.
It’s never felt that way with my kids. We pull together all the trappings on Sundays, but the kids have no interest in the actual local team, and therefore little interest in actually trying to watch the game. It would be easy to blame shortened attention spans or the vast number of other options, but the lesson of the Nationals—and the Caps and Mystics—is that it’s really easy for kids to ignore their other screens when there’s something on the TV that they want to watch. The problem was never them, it was with me cruelly imposing that terrible football team on them.
There’s an entire subgenre of baseball writing about fathers and sons (and, occasionally, daughters) and I have generally dismissed most of it as nauseatingly treacly crap. But my daughter nodding off in the passenger seat after Game 6 actually managed to pull back my default cynical mood and helped me understand the reason that people keep churning out that treacle.
I left the watch party with the very clear feeling that if I want to talk to my daughter about sports later in life, I need to remember to look at the local teams the way she does: several proud, successful franchises with traditions of winning, and then a football team that’s okay for background noise on a Sunday but not much else.