The burgeoning/Nationals rivalry is getting a lot of hype. It might be getting overhyped. It's not overhyped to the point where my parents have heard of the Washington Nationals -- let's not go nuts, here -- but if you follow baseball on a daily basis, you've probably read something about it. A brief timeline:
August 20, 2008
The Nationals face the Phillies in Philadelphia. Ronnie Belliard plays first base and hits fifth, yet the Nationals fail to score a single run. Every good rivalry starts with bitter disgust and resentment.
Take Back Nationals Park
The Nationals, sick of loud and boisterous Phillies fans taking over Nationals Park, sell tickets for Phils/Nats games only to people whose credit card has a D.C./Maryland/Virginia address.
Cole Hamels plunks Bryce Harper, admits it
"I mean, that guy's as soft as the delightful Sofia cashmere throw I just ordered online from Saks," Hamels said. "I had to send him a message because of old-time reasons."
"Hopefully they don't throw any batteries at me," Harper said.
No, really, he said that
No, really, he said that. I'm sure that went over well.
July 2, 2287
Roy Halladay walks through crumbling buildings, scanning the brick and mortar husks, cooly looking for something at which he can throw a cutter. His eyes linger over a gray, shattered Walgreens sign that used to hang over a long-collapsed entrance. He pauses to look at the logo for a brief second. He throws a cutter at the sign, knocking it off its moorings and down into the rubble. He turns and continues walking, climbing piles of concrete and burnt ash with the same pace and gait that he has for the last 250 years.
That last one is just a projection.
But there's a reason for this hype. The Phillies should have a rival. They've been good for long enough. The term dynasty gets thrown around too much these days, but the Phillies have been a National League power for a while. The Braves have always been a good candidate for intra-divisional loathing, but they're too far away to get anything really nasty started. The Mets had something going, but they left that something in the pocket of a coat they don't wear anymore. Also, the coat is hurt. So when the Nationals looked like they were going to be good, people got excited. And when the Nationals started the season well, people got more excited.
There's something that the two teams will need, though. They'll both need to be good at the same time. And for a long time. With the Nationals taking two out of three in Philadelphia, they highlighted the immediate fear of some pro-rivalry forces. What if the Phillies really are a .500 team that's just getting older and older? What if the rivalry is doomed to be more like ships passing in the night than two organizations tied at the wrists, jabbing knives at each other and dancing around like the "Beat It" video?
The Phillies are one 6-1 week away from stopping premature thoughts like that. It's still early, and they aren't that bad, even without Howard and Utley. They still have a ridiculous pitching staff, regardless of what you think about Halladay's velocity drop. The Phillies have been dealing with "they're gonna get ollllld" articles for way too long, as if the critics get to say, "A-HA! I TOLD YOU HE'D GET OLD!" at Ryan Howard's 50th birthday party. But it isn't time to shovel dirt on them. Not even close. This rivalry still has a chance.
Three months ago we were laughing about the Orioles for getting kicked out of a Korean ballpark, and now we're starting to take them seriously. Two months ago, you thought Albert Pujols was good, you moron! What in the hell are we supposed to know about who will be good one, two, or three years from now? And, really, the burden of proof is sort of on the Nationals if you're worried about one team not holding up the "good" part of the rivalry bargain. It's been nine seasons and another country since they finished over .500. We should probably hold off on the changing of the guard.
For baseball fans looking for points of interest, the best thing is for both teams to stay good for a while. The Phillies and Nationals played a helluva series this week. It ended with the Nationals getting the series win. Maybe that means something, and maybe it doesn't. It's not a rivalry yet. But it should be. And hopefully it will be. Baseball would be better off for it.