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Around Nationals Park, many fans cheer the Strasburg call. Some remember the lowly Senators, so they're just thrilled to experience the playoffs for the first time. All those years coping with bad baseball--or no baseball at all--took a toll on their psyches. "A culture of losing was in my system," says Jim Hartley, 63, who heads the Washington Baseball Historical Society and supports Rizzo's move. The team's failures had led D.C. to be called "first in war, first in peace and last in the American League."
Memories of the expansion version of Washington baseball are especially vivid. The original Senators left for Minnesota after the 1960 season. Since Major League Baseball feared that angry D.C. politicians would repeal its antitrust exemption, it gave Washington a new club, which started play in 1961 and left for Texas a decade later. Ted Williams managed the team those final few seasons; current Washington manager Davey Johnson remembers the Splendid Splinter flipping him the bird after one of his Baltimore Orioles teammates smacked yet another home run off the Senators. The team's stirring rallying cry one season: "Off the floor in '64." Indeed, the Senators finished second from the bottom that year, but they still lost 100 games.
The Nats are aiming much higher. "I'm still trying to come to grips that this is real," says Hartley. "That this isn't a dream. That this is really happening." He's ecstatic now. But come October, you just hope Hartley and all of Washington aren't uttering two of life's worst words: What if.