I'm not ready. The Astros play their season opener tomorrow afternoon, and I haven't even been to Spring Training yet. For the first time since 2004, I missed Spring Training this year -- I just couldn't work out my schedule to get down to Kissimmee. With a busy work schedule in March, including a couple of Sundays in the office, I didn't even get a chance to watch the spring games on mlb.tv. I just barely managed to read the occasional Alyson Footer blog, and to keep up with news on who was injured, who was sent down, and who made the starting rotation. This isn't just Exile -- maybe I should change the name of my blog to Astros Fan on the Dark Side of the Moon.
I have a confession to make. I've been toying with a dark and disloyal idea over the past couple of months:
Maybe this is the year I should try to become a Nats fan.
I know -- it's heresy. But hear me out: I've never seen many of the players on the current Astros roster. Usually I get to know who's who down in Kissimmee, out at the practice field and at games. I take a few hundred pictures per game, and then come home and edit the photos and post them on my website. By Opening Day I can recognize all the players at a glance. But this year is different. I didn't make it to Spring Training. The players who have been the heart of the team for the past decade have moved on, through retirement or trades. Wandy's the last man standing from the 2005 Astros -- the first year I went to Spring Training, and the first and only time the Astros won the NL Pennant. And it's going to be an ugly season. The Astros finished up Spring Training solidly in last place, only winning one game in their last week playing the starters. I don't even know if the Pirates will be able to stay below the Astros in the standings this year. And just to make it worse: The Astros are playing their only series in Washington over a weekend in September -- due to Sabbath observance, I'll only make it to the Sunday game. Only one in-stadium Astros game all season.
If I'm ever going to switch allegiance to a local team, this would be the time.
The Nats would be such an appealing team to cheer for -- I'm a sucker for the underdog, having grown up with the early era of the Astros franchise. And my local Washington team is definitely an underdog! But the Nats are going to be an exciting team to watch in the next few years if they grow out the talent that they've acquired through those low draft picks. (And if Strasburg recovers well from his surgery!)
So I thought about it. At 2 AM one morning in the middle of March, I decided: I'm going to do it. I'm going to cheer for the Nats this season and see what it's like to be a real live in-person fan again. Jump on the subway and go to the ball park. Cheer for the home team for a change. Buy me some peanuts and crackerjacks -- or even some shwarma at the National Stadium's kosher eatery. Catch a foul ball! Sing TMOTTBG. Get a team hat, even though the W on it looks like the logo for Walgreens.
I got up the next morning, my resolution intact: I'm going to be a Nats fan this season. And then, that day the Astros newbie first baseman, Brett Wallace, hit a grand slam, a single, and a pair of doubles, finishing up the day with 7 RBIs. Watching the archived game afterwards, my resolve began to crumble. How can I not cheer for the Astros' kids, now that the team is (finally!) rebuilding? How can I not cheer for Wallace and CJ. Or for our old "veterans" like Underpants and Air Bourn? I'll watch a few games on mlb.tv, and before long I'll recognize all the newbies. I'll wear my FAN IN EXILE jerseys. Cheer for the Nats??? What was I thinking?
The Astros might lose 100 games this year, but I guess I'll just have to be there cheering for them anyway -- sitting in front of my computer watching them on mlb.tv, as usual.
Hey, it's Opening Day of the 2011 season! Baseball is back! Ain't it grand?!