Juan Soto fans Rachel McDonie and Jason Shiflette Credit: Kelyn Soong

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Rachel McDonie and Jason Shiflette wanted to get matching Washington Nationals jerseys for the World Series, and so when the couple arrived at Nats Park for Game 3, they went straight to the team store.

It didn’t take long for them to decide whose jersey to get.

“I thought because it’s his birthday, it would be a good luck charm,” McDonie says.

“He’s the future of the Nats and baseball,” adds Shiflette.

They are, of course, talking about Juan Soto, the fan-favorite phenom from the Dominican Republic who turned 21 on Friday.

The talk leading up to Game 3 of the World Series had mostly been about what the city has lacked. It had been 86 years since the District hosted the the Fall Classic. The Washington Senators, D.C.’s major league team in the early to mid-20th century, last won the World Series in 1924. This is the first World Series in franchise history for the Washington Nationals.

But while Friday night provided many reasons for nostalgia, the Nationals, the fanbase, and the stars on the team demonstrate how far the franchise has come. And no player represents the future quite like Soto, who has fully replaced former MVP Bryce Harper in some fans’ minds.

“I wish we had him the last six years instead of … I don’t even remember his name,” Shiflette says, referring to Harper. “I know his name, but it’s bad juju.”

Soto had a rough showing on Friday, finishing with one error and three strikeouts in the Nats’ 4-1 loss, but it’s unlikely the Nats would even be in the position of a 2-1 World Series lead without him.

His bases-loaded single during the eighth inning of the wild-card game against the Milwaukee Brewers provided fans with one of the most exciting moments in Nats’ history. He scored the game-tying home run off future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw in Game 5 of the National League Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and his home run off Gerrit Cole in Game 1 of the World Series proved to be the difference in the Nats’ 5-4 win. In Game 2, the Astros issued their first intentional walk of the season with Soto at the plate in the seventh inning.

“He’s been really good,” Nats manager Dave Martinez said Friday night after the game, pausing for effect. “I just hope he hits at the age of 21.”

Hours before the game, Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz presented Soto with a birthday cake. Dozens of fans signed a life-sized birthday card near Navy Yard, and all around Nats Park, people proudly wore their Soto jerseys, held up signs wishing him a happy birthday, and cheered loudly whenever he stepped to the plate.

That included members of Soto’s own family. His father, Juan Jose Soto, stood in Section 138 wearing a nondescript red hoodie and white pants and watched his son’s at-bat on his cell phone. He easily blended into the crowd and fans walking nearby in Soto jerseys failed to realize that they had just passed by the elder Soto.

The Ringer calls Soto “MLB’s newest postseason star—and its breakout personality” for his prodigious talent and charisma in his first full season in the majors. He often performs the “Soto shuffle” at the plate, a move that includes grabbing his crotch. It endears him even more to fans.

“It’s all fun,” says Patrick Pope, who bought his red Soto jersey on Friday. “If he’s going to get in the pitcher’s head, I don’t care. He’s grabbing his crotch, whatever he’s doing is fine by me as long as he’s getting in the pitcher’s head.”

Pope, 60, lives in Arlington and adds that while Anthony Rendon is his favorite player, Soto is the “heir apparent of this franchise.”

“Just ’cause he’s so dang good,” Pope says.

After the game, dozens of reporters hovered by Soto’s locker to hear what he had to say.

When a reporter asked Soto how disappointed he was in his performance on his birthday and in front of a sold-out crowd of 43,867 fans, Soto responded matter-of-factly.

“I don’t mind. It’s another day, another game. It’s just business,” he said. “Tomorrow is another day. We come in to play baseball and try to enjoy.”