Sports

Torn Between First Love and the Nats

by David Elfin
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credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

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I can’t help it. This one’s going to be personal.

I never thought I’d have any use for a song that I couldn’t stand from my high school years, “Torn Between Two Lovers,” but that’s how I feel this week.

Let me explain.

The first sporting event I remember watching was the 1967 World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Boston Red Sox. Led by Hall of Famers Bob Gibson, Lou Brock and Orlando Cepeda with help from my hero, slick-fielding shortstop Dal Maxvill, the Cardinals won the Series in seven games. If the Red Sox had won Game 7, I’d be a Boston fan today. Instead, 45 years later, I’m still a St. Louis diehard even though I’ve never lived west of Syracuse and have only attended one Cardinals game by the Gateway Arch.

Yes, we had a baseball team in Washington in 1967, but the Senators had one of their typically lousy seasons. When I began to really notice them the following spring, they became my second team, after the Cardinals.

I loved watching rookie Del Unser roam center field and joined the fan club of Washington’s version of the all-defense, no-offense Maxvill, shortstop Eddie Brinkman. It was a lot of fun when the Senators became a decent team during the “Expect The Unexpected” 1969 season under new manager Ted Williams, but they still finished 23 games behind the haughty Orioles of Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson and Boog Powell up the road 40 miles in Baltimore.

It was beyond thrilling that summer when, thanks to my cousin Jay’s Capitol Hill internship, I got to be a batboy ­– along with future NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell — during the Congressional baseball game that preceded a Nats-O’s contest at RFK Stadium. I was able to stand on my field of dreams and get a boatload of autographs from the likes of Paul Casanova, Frank Howard, Elrod Hendricks and Davey Johnson.

I was mad and sad when the Senators left for Texas at the end of September 1971, but new coach George Allen led the Redskins to a 5-0 start that same month en route to their first playoff berth in 26 years, giving me a new favorite team. More than four decades later, I have spent most of my career covering the Redskins for whom I stopped rooting before Dan Snyder had made his first million.

Of course, sportswriters aren’t supposed to root, but all those years that Washington didn’t have a baseball team, it didn’t matter that I was a Cardinals fan. The Pro Football Writers of America even gave me a Cardinals jersey with my name on the back in appreciation of my two years as its President. After the Nationals arrived in Washington in 2005, I could still root for the Cardinals because the Nats were loveable losers who were never a threat to contenders like St. Louis.

But suddenly this week, conflict.

I’ve been rooting for the Cardinals longer than most of you have been alive, but the Nats are a feel-good story and the team for which most of my friends are cheering. If St. Louis had lost Friday night’s wild-card game to Atlanta, I’d want the Nats to win, too. They’ve been great to write about all season. Instead, the two baseball teams that I want to succeed are meeting in the National League Division Series which resumes tomorrow afternoon at Nats Park with the series tied 1-1.

As a sportswriter, I would be neutral if I was covering the games, but since I’m watching from home, I can sit in my family room and yell at the screen as I do whenever one of alma maters, Penn and Syracuse, plays on TV.

Ultimately, the only way for me to handle this series is as a no-lose proposition. No matter whether my long-beloved Cardinals or my hometown Nats win, as Mary Chapin Carpenter sings in “I Got Lucky,” I’m a winner either way. And that’s the best thing to be come playoff time.

David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin

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