Roll Call After Dark Book of the Week: ‘National Pastime’ by Barry Svrluga
Baseball’s All-Star Game break provides us with a respite from the churn of the 162-game regular season, as well as an opportunity to check out a great baseball book, Barry Svrluga’s “National Pastime.”
The Washington Nationals are in first place in the National League East at the break, a nice position for a team that was up-and-down and replete with injuries at the beginning of the season. Amid a so-far successful current season, last year’s winning season (which saw the team miss the playoffs) and 2012’s dynamic division-winning team, it’s worth remembering that the Nats’ first year in the District was anything but auspicious.
There was no owner. The team’s transitional home, RFK Stadium, was barely ready for prime time. The team was a collection of injured or unproven or washed-up players. The staff had almost completely turned over from the team’s previous year iteration in Montreal as the Expos. The manager was a crank. And yet, the team finished 51-30 at the halfway point and contended for a playoff spot deep in September before ending the season 81-81.
Svrluga, a Washington Post sports reporter, was there from soup to nuts, covering the last-minute glitch in negotiations with the District Council that almost caused the deal to move the Expos to D.C. to crater, all the way to the last homestead against the Philadelphia Phillies. The writing is briskly paced and has an eye toward the human story that went with the business story.
It’s also a great reminder that the Nationals’ current success on the field and with the city — as the area around Nationals Park fills up with breweries, condos and bike lanes — were never guaranteed in those rough-hewn first days at RFK.