July 9, 2020

Washington Nationals: You never know when you may witness baseball history

by Mark Hornbaker, Special to District Sports Page

This past Sunday the fans who attended the Nationals game against the Atlanta Braves witnessed a little bit of major league baseball history when rookies Steve Lombardozzi and Bryce Harper became the first rookies to lead off a game with back-to-back home runs in the modern era (since 1901). In fact Lombardozzi’s home run was the first of his career.

It is games like this that keeps me renewing my season tickets year after year. Over the last six years my friends have asked me often why I keep doing it. I answer quickly: I do it because you never know when you may witness a little bit of D.C. baseball history.

I am sure the fans that attended Sunday’s game knew they were going to watch an exciting game between the two N.L. East rivals. With that said I don’t think many of those fans thought they were going to witness something that has never been done in the last 112 years.

When it comes down to it I believe the ballgame is more than just the winning and losing of the game. It is more about what you may see at the game. You never know what ballplayer may make an unassisted triple play like Washington Senators shortstop Ron Hansen did on July 30, 1968. I have a feeling the 5,937 fans that attended the ball game between the Senators and the Cleveland Indians at Cleveland Stadium were glad they were at the game to witness the first unassisted triple play in the majors in 61 years, and at the time it was only the eighth time in major league history.

Washington D.C., baseball history can happen right in front of you and you may not be aware it happened for many years. I am sure the fans that attended the game between the Chicago White Sox and Senators at Griffith Stadium on August 7, 1915, did not know at the time they witnessed the major league debut of a future Hall of Famer. Well, they did when Sam “Man O’ War” Rice made his major league debut as a relief pitcher at 25.

Of course, there are times you know you are watching history being made on the diamond. I am pretty sure that on June 8, 2010, everyone in the sellout crowd at Nationals Park who witnessed Stephen Strasburg’s major league debut knew they were watching history being made in front of their eyes. I want to think 104 years earlier, on Aug. 2, 1907, the fans and players knew they witnessed something very special when Walter Johnson made his debut against Ty Cobb and the rest of the Detroit Tigers.

During Johnson’s debut, the powerful Tigers were only able to manage five hits off the 19-year-old rookie, but it was enough to beat the Senators 3-2. The young pitcher might not have won the game, but he sure did leave some lasting impressions with Ty Cobb, who managed to log a bunt single. Said Cobb:

“On August 2, 1907, I encountered the most threatening sight I ever saw in the ball field. He was only a rookie, and we licked our lips as we warmed up for the first game of a doubleheader in Washington. Evidently, manager Pongo Joe Cantillon of the Nats had picked a rube out of the cornfields of the deepest bushes to pitch against us. … He was a tall, shambling galoot of about twenty with arms so long they hung far out of his sleeves and with a side arm delivery that looked unimpressive at first glance. … One of the Tigers imitated a cow mooing and we hollered at Cantillon: ‘Get the pitchfork ready, Joe – your hayseed’s on his way back to the barn.’ … The first time I faced him I watched him take that easy windup-and then something went past me that made me flinch. The thing just hissed with danger. We couldn’t touch him. … Every one of us knew we’d met the most powerful arm ever turned loose in a ball park.”

So the next time you have the opportunity to attend a Nats game at Nationals Park I suggest you go and keep track of the young ballplayers who may be making their major league debut. I also suggest you do not leave your seat too often, because you never know when Danny Espinosa or Ian Desmond may make the next unassisted triple play.

About Dave Nichols

Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. Dave also covers national college football and basketball and Major League Soccer for Associated Press and is a copy editor for the Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, WA. He spent four years in radio covering the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams. Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP

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