I was born in the 1950s in Washington, DC and the first team of my baseball youth is now located in Minnesota. The original Washington Senators packed up uniforms, gloves, balls, and bats, loaded them on trucks and moved to the upper Midwest. In 1961 they became the Minnesota Twins. I was too young to remember them but would listen to older fans talk about the growing legend of the new-Twins star, Harmon Killebrew. In 1961, the expansion Washington Senators returned. They were a ragtag bunch of castoffs and used-to-be[s], but I loved them.
My childhood best friend Albert and I would scour the streets and alleys in our neighborhood, gathering enough pop bottles to collect 5 cent deposit returns sufficient to purchase a ticket. Our parents would give us bus fare and $1.75 for a bag of peanuts and soda pop.
Upper deck tickets, for kids, were two bucks in 1969 and my friend Albert, and I would attend at least 40 home games a year. “Peanuts, getcha’ peanuts here, programs, programs here!” The sounds of the vendors, the push and bustle of the older fans seemingly in full gallop to reach the entrance gates, with us walking alongside them elongating our strides to keep up and look grown-up still makes my knees shake. The team was so bad the jokes flew, the most famous being, “Washington, first in war, first in peace and last in the American League,” or “I hope to get adopted by the Senators, they don’t beat anybody” but I loved them. Home run hitting, Frank ‘Hondo’ Howard in leftfield. Thinly built in stature and at the plate, Eddie “the human vacuum cleaner” Brinkman at shortstop, and managed by legendary Hall of Famer Ted Williams
Their red and white uniforms against the backdrop of grass—greener than anything I had seen in my neighborhood, was breathtaking; even the smell of cooling hot dogs, buttered popcorn and spilled beer was marvelous. My favorite player was Cuban born catcher Paul Casanova, whose rifle arm stood in stark contrast with his pop gun bat. I can still close my eyes 50 years later and hear the public address announcer make-up and slowly draw out the syllables of his first and last name, “Paw-ul Cass-uh-no-vah.” I lived and died with that team checking the daily box score in the Washington Post sports section. Hiding a transistor radio under my pillow, listening late into the night and early morning when they were on west coast road trips. They would lose a lot of games and I cried to see a World Series. Those expansion Washington Senators played their last game at Kennedy Stadium, October 1, 1971. The next year they were the Texas Rangers.
Again, baseball returned to Washington in 2005. Wednesday night my dream came true the Washington Nationals outscored the Houston Astros 6-2 and won the 4th game of a 7-game series making them the world champions of the professional baseball world. A new thin shortstop named Trea Turner replaced Eddie Brinkman in my mind’s eye. Left fielder, 21-year-old Juan Soto is the new Hondo. Catcher Kurt Suzuki carries on the legacy of Casanova. Most of all, I wondered if my friend Albert tipped back a bottle of his favorite beverage and remembered with me how we collected bottles just like the ones thousands of Washingtonians held up Wednesday night and toasted our heroes. “Go NATS!”
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