Nats Park on Sept. 24, 2019
Nats Park on Sept. 24, 2019 Credit: Kelyn Soong

Sports teams don’t usually wear their biggest failing as a badge of honor.

But that’s precisely what happened when the Nats decided to reveal the design of the bejeweled championship rings. The date of the ring reveal wasn’t random; the Nats leaned into the bad.

May 24 was the one year anniversary of rock bottom, last year’s 19-31 record. They had just lost four straight games to the Mets and were tied for the most losses in the 15-team National League. Everyone was ready to (deservedly) fire manager Dave Martinez and the trade-rumor vultures were already selling off the bones of Max Scherzer and Anthony Rendon to the real contenders.

And then what happened?

You know the story. Down time and time again in individual games and playoff series, the Nats, led by Juan Soto and Rendon, hit homer after homer until Howie Kendrick doinked one off the foul pole in Game 7 against the Houston Astros to give the Nats an improbable World Series title.

If you missed it the first timeand what the heck were you doing that was more important than this last October?then perhaps you saw some of the replays on the Nats’ TV network or on Major League Baseball’s cable channel. If you’re like me, you poured yourself something cold and relived all the happy memories.

What struck me about watching this again (admittedly not the first time I’ve rewatched them) was the absolute lack of tension. When you know there’s a happily delirious ending, tension evaporates and you’re left only with the sheer joy of the moment.

Here’s the perfect example: The key at bat of the World Series was late in Game 6. The Nats had just taken a 3-2 lead and were on the verge of blowing it (and possibly the series) when former league MVP José Altuve came to the plate against eventual World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg. At the time, watching Altuve bat with multiple runners in scoring position felt like trying to digest gravel. It was a miserably poisonous experience, every pitch involuntarily constricting all your internal organs. When Altuve struck out, it wasn’t joy, but relief. You could be happy for the moment but still miserably sick with dread over what laid ahead.

This time? We know the ending and we now know what was to later emerge about the Astros involvement in an elaborate technological sign-stealing scheme. On this rewatch, Altuve striding to the plate wasn’t a threat. He was an undersized cartoon villain about to have Strasburg drop an anvil on his head. When it dropped, we cackled.

It’s the same thing with the rings. At the time, 19-31 was gross. Each of those 31 losses meant a night of miserytwo straight months where the arsonists in the bullpen blew a slim lead or the broken-down bats couldn’t drive anyone in. If a Nats fan is honest with themselves, they’ll remember how much they hated it.

However, with the way things ended up, that number no longer means 31 individual, painful losses. Thirty-one isn’t 31 of anything anymore; it’s an abstract concept, and it’s been flipped from a thing of misery to a thing of pride.

With the season disrupted, it’s given Nats fans a lot more time to rejoice, remember, and celebrate the greatest baseball season in D.C. in 100 years. While we all want baseball safely back, having actual games on would have taken a little away from those celebrations. The reality of shaky bullpens and occasional lossesnot knowing whose head the cartoon anvil was overwould bring back the tension that’s delightfully gone during these rewatches and celebrations.

Can the Nats do it again? Sure, why not? But let’s enjoy lingering on what we know has happened just a little bit more.