December 21, 2014

OPINION: This one is going to hurt for a long time

I thought I had myself fooled. For five years I’ve been sitting in press boxes in the DMV, lying to myself that I could fully separate my emotions from the duties and responsibilities that being a credentialed member of the press carries. I was wrong.

On the surface, I have conducted myself with professionalism and maturity, adhering to the first adage of press box etiquette: No cheering in the press box. I have upheld that directive and taken it very seriously. The teams that grant me access as an independent don’t need to, and they could revoke that privilege at any time. I fully understand the difference between me and the rest of the media covering these teams.

That’s the main reason I continue to do this…that I am different and bring a different — and I feel, needed — perspective on covering the local sports precisely because I am a local. I’ve lived here my entire life up until this point, which will soon change.

I attended my first D.C. sporting event, a Redskins game, in 1972 at the age of five. I was at the second Caps home game in their history in 1974. I forced my Dad to drive me out to Dulles when the Bullets came home from winning their last Championship in 1978. I reveled in the Skins’ Super Bowl years. Like most in the area, I came to think it was a birthright that the Skins should compete for the Lombardi Trophy every year. This is, and will always be, home for me.

I’ve always been able to separate the fan side from the media side though when I’m “working.” I’ve been in the Capitals locker room when they’ve been eliminated from the playoffs each of the last five years. I sat bewildered, along with the rest of the media, in the press conference room at Nats Park last season when Jim Riggleman left the only job he ever wanted. I’ve interviewed athletes at their highest and lowest and maintained that curtain of professionalism the entire time. I’ve heard things and stories and details that I couldn’t share with my best friends, or even my wife at times.

Why am I sharing this with you now? Because this one is different. Last night’s loss rocked me to the core.

It was a strange scene in the press box this week. With all the national media in attendance for the Nats first ever playoff appearance, and the influx of local media all dedicating whatever resources they had to cover the game, players and festivities, the press box was packed. Every seat in the place was assigned and filled.

As such, the independent media had to make do in the lunchroom, a window separating that room from the field and the open air of the press box. There were other folks in there as well, but in order for me to actually watch the game live, I’d have to stand with my nose pressed against the window, weasel a spot looking over someone’s shoulder, or move down to the 300 level and stand behind the seats.

Look, I’m not complaining. My credentials still allowed me access to the managers’ press conferences and allowed me to continue to interact with the rest of the press corps, which is instrumental in helping me form my ideas and opinions that I then share with you. I know where I stand in the pecking order, as hard as it may be at times to accept it. Still, it was a little weird.

This sets the scene for the last inning of last night’s game. As the rest of the media sat at their seats, watching the drama unfold, I, along with fellow independent media Patrick Reddington of Federal Baseball and Joe Drugan of The Nats Blog, sat in that lunchroom, watching through the window live as best we could then at the replay monitors above our heads on the wall, in silent disbelief. We didn’t speak. We didn’t have to.

We three were alone in that lunchroom, and in those moments, then, I realized just how crushed I was watching this dream season go up in flames so spectacularly, so quickly, so dramatically, so painfully. I haven’t been more disappointed about the outcome in a sporting event in my entire life.

Not angry, but disappointed. Actual sadness.

I went through the motions afterward of gathering quotes at the post-game press conferences and filing my game story, though all I wanted to do was go home and open a bottle of Jack Daniel’s. Which I eventually did. Reading through my Twitter feed throughout the long night and into the wee hours of the morning, it was obvious I was not alone in that pursuit.

Two weeks ago, I had a debate with some of the people I am most closest to in life that I’m not actually related to. I told them that I would not be disappointed in how the Nats season ended regardless of how or when that happened. The debate started, of course, with The Shutdown, and ended with one of them telling me that he thought less of me as a sports fan because I didn’t care if the Nats won or lost this postseason. I’d convinced myself that was going to be the case. They’re a year early. Almost all of their main players are just entering or haven’t reached their prime. Etc.

I lied. I lied to them because I was lying to myself. And I’m admitting it here. I am more than disappointed. I’m crushed. I feel like I’ve been hit by a bus. Rationally I can look at the game and the series and can digest where things went wrong. I can analyze the decisions and performances. But nothing is ever going to take away the sting of watching the Nats lose that game in the manner that they did, when they had a greater than 98% chance of winning.

That loss was life-altering.

Why am I writing this? Catharsis, maybe. A way to process the disappointment. Trying to purge the almost irresistible urge to just get back into bed. It wasn’t just losing. It was the way it went down. If the Nats had gotten behind early and just lost the game, I don’t think I would feel this way today. I don’t think any of us would. But this just seems karmic. I don’t believe in that crap, but today, I’m not belittling anyone that wants to think that D.C. sports are cursed.

That all this happened, in the last game we’ll attend live before we get ready to move to Idaho to begin the next chapter of our lives, sucks. There’s no other way to put it. I didn’t want to go out this way.

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I want to thank Patrick and Joe, and Tom Bridge and Rachel Levitin of WeLoveDC.com, for their unending support and companionship on Blogger’s Row this season and the last three in some cases. Thanks to all the bloggers that write about the Nats, making the Natosphere a thriving and diverse place to follow the Washington Nationals.

Thanks to everyone that reads our site and follows us on Twitter or Facebook. It is gratifying and humbling that you continue to value our opinions, whether you agree with them or not.

Special thanks also to Bill Ladson, Mark Zuckerman, Pete Kerzel, Craig Heist and Dan Steinberg, for respecting what I’ve tried to do the last five years and treating me like one of their own.

Finally, thank you to John Dever, Mike Gazda, Kyle Brostowitz, Mike Rizzo, Davey Johnson, Andrew Feffer, Jim Bowden, Jim Riggleman, Manny Acta, Bill Gluvna, Lisa Pagano Iannarino, Chartese Burnett and Stan Kasten and many, many others for treating me like a professional. I wouldn’t have had this tremendous opportunity and responsibility were it not for them. It was a thrill of a lifetime to see my name in the Official Media Guide this year. What we’ve done here, and hopefully will continue to do, is important in how baseball fans consume Major League Baseball and I hope that those that follow understand and appreciate the responsibility.

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Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Nats and the Caps, and previously wrote Nats News Network and Caps News Network. Dave’s first sports hero was Bobby Dandridge. Follow Dave’s Nationals coverage on Twitter @NationalsDSP.

As year ends, thank you for making it worthwhile

It’s hard to believe at this time one year ago we were getting ready to descend on downtown Pittsburgh, with 30,000 red-clad brethren, in one of the largest take-overs of a rival team’s territory in sporting history.  Anyone that was there remembers the feeling of civic pride that night, and some have referred to it as one of their top sporting memories. Yes, it was good.

In some ways, it seems like yesterday that we were jammed, shoulder-to-shoulder, counting down the New Year in Pittsburgh’s Hofbrauhaus, the Penguins fans long driven out of the joint by several hundred lunatic Capitals fans, all giddy with the prospect of the Winter Classic (and hopped up on steins of beer and  Ski Shots), blissfully unaware of the disappointment that springtime would bring.

In other ways, it’s been a very long year indeed.

On the field (and ice, and courts) of play, it’s mostly been disappointment in the DMV.  The Caps are the only team in town that made the playoffs this calendar year, and they flamed out spectacularly — in Tampa of all places — then fired their architect 25 games into the new season to bring back one of the most storied players in their history to pilot the rebuild.  The Nats had their best season since the inaugural year, but still could not avoid embarrassment, this time as their lame-duck manager skipped town mid-season after winning 11 games out of 12.  The Redskins continued their run of mediocrity, finishing with a record “good” enough to leave everyone wondering if they could have won the lousy division were it not for the short-lived “John Beck era”.  The Wizards seemed poised to be even worse in the upcoming season than they were last, which would be doing something, indeed.  D.C. United, the most decorated soccer team in North America, suffered from a seventh place finish, and the Mystics finished 6-28.  But at least they took down the “Attendance Champion” banners.

There were a lot of changes in the college ranks as well.  The University of Maryland saw the departure of legendary basketball coach Gary Williams and longtime football coach Ralph Freidgen.  Terps fans hope the basketball season goes much smoother that the two-win football campaign, which saw the debut of hideous new uniforms and a regime that had players jumping ship left-and-right after the season closed.  Georgetown visited China in the pre-season and almost instigated a global incident.  Jim Larranaga took his talents to South Beach after guiding George Mason for 14 years.

This site has undergone plenty of changes too.  We’ve condensed (from four blogs into one website) and expanded as well (bringing on the talents of a dozen terrific writers).  And we couldn’t have done it without every single person that reads our words and enjoys our pictures.  We don’t do this for money, we do it because we love it and we love D.C. sports, as frustrating and disappointing and maddening and embarrassing — and sometimes exhilarating and exciting and memorable and heart-wrenching — as it all is.

There are so many individual people we’d like to thank for the 2011 year, that the list would simply be too long.  But we have to mention a few who allow us to be able to do what we do in the manner we do it.  Thank you to the media relations departments with the Capitals, Wizards, Nationals, Redskins, Mystics and local colleges.  The way these teams and organizations continue to integrate independent media into the rank and file is remarkable.  It is to their credit that the independent sports media is so strong and vibrant in our community, raising the bar for sports journalism across the board.

Thank you to Ted Leonsis, who linked to us almost immediately after our launch.  He gets it.

Thanks to our fellow independent media brethren and all D.C. sports bloggers.  You all continue to be our greatest barometer and your excellence makes us strive to be better and more consistent.  Thanks especially to Federal Baseball, the now-defunct Nats Daily News, WeLoveDC.com, The Nats Blog, Japers’ Rink, RMNB, KOL, On Frozen Blog, Homer McFanboy and Mr. Irrelevant.

Thanks to the professional D.C. sports media, who treat us with the respect of colleagues.  Special thank yous to Bill Ladson, Mark Zuckerman, Pete Kerzel, Craig Heist and Mike Vogel for all the guidance and mentoring along the way.  And of course, thanks to Dan Steinberg.

Thanks to everyone who follows us on Facebook and Twitter.  We’ve made so many new friends this year it’s really hard to fathom.

Thank you to our wonderful staff at District Sports Page.  We certainly would not have taken on this larger endeavor without your dedication, assistance and excellence.

Finally, thank you all for making our effort worthwhile.  Thank you for visiting our site.  Thank you for commenting and challenging us.  Thank you for your suggestions and critiques.  Thank you, most of all, for following us over from our previous blogs and making the new site even more successful — right off the bat — than the old ones combined.  We have big plans in store for 2012, and we sincerely hope that each of you continue to stay aboard for the ride!

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