D.C. teams dominate in sports futility

capital follies

commentary

April 13, 2007|By RICK MAESE

I know it's difficult to be a sports fan some days. From the cheap seats, the frustration can easily drip off your furrowed brow into a giant puddle of helplessness.

The owner refuses to pay the big contract. The general manager won't make the big trade. The player can't make the big play. It's all one big headache, right?

There's only one real solution: Find someone who has it worse and revel in his pain. And, trust me, for this little self-esteem boost, Baltimore has the best seats possible. Any sports fan here who can find fulfillment from someone else's frustration need only poke his head out onto the beltway and look south.

Suggested new motto for Washington: "We put the amateurism back into professional sports."

Have you noticed what has been happening to D.C. sports? From league to league, sport to sport, they've become the nation's lumpy punching bag. They're the small kid who doesn't wash behind his ears and smells like old mustard, the one every other kid picks on at recess. Even the girls are giving D.C. noogies.

Your TiVo might be set to automatically fast-forward through Washington highlights, so here's a quick nickel tour through the futility:

You'll recall that the Redskins finished last season 5-11, good for a cozy spot in the cellar of the NFC East.

The Wizards have qualified for the playoffs but are in the midst of a free fall. They're losing games at only a slightly higher rate than they're losing players. With no Gilbert Arenas and no Caron Butler in the lineup, the Wizards might as well be playing in the NBA Development League.

In fact, the Wizards' biggest competition comes from a team playing a different sport. Entering last night's game, the Wizards and Nationals were in a neck-and-neck race with losing streaks at six. This is high sporting drama in the district these days!

The capital's hockey team - the Capitals - wrapped up its season with a loss last weekend. The Capitals finished with the second-fewest points in the Eastern Conference and the third-fewest wins in the NHL. (They did have the fourth-most penalty minutes in their conference, however!)

Even D.C.'s soccer team - called D.C. United, I'm told - is winless. It has scored only a single goal all season! (Though, in its defense, United has played only one game.)

It doesn't matter the sport, if you see Washington on the schedule, you can rest your star player, spend the entire afternoon at the golf course and make early dinner reservations.

Personally, I like D.C. It has nice museums and a nice zoo and a lot of people who wear nice suits. So I feel a bit bad pointing out the struggles of its sports teams. But the fact is, there's more losing taking place 40 miles down the road than anywhere else in the country.

No team's problems are as massive as the Nationals', though. Usually you don't want to make ridiculous baseball predictions in mid-April, but it's pretty clear the Nationals have the potential to be the worst team. Ever. Ever ever. They make the 1962 New York Mets look like a touring all-star team.

Actually, it's a pretty exciting prospect. While the analysts all gaze skeptically in Barry Bonds' direction these next few months, I think the Nationals' run at the history books will stand as one of game's most intriguing story lines. Can they win 40 games? Or as everyone is wondering right now: Can they win three?

Already, there's a blog that promises to document just how bad the Nationals will be. Natsbad.blogspot.com's modest mission statement is: "Your 2007 Washington Nationals: Potential to be the worst team in the history of baseball. Let's follow their ineptitude together!" Right now, the site features a running counter, so you can stay up-to-date on the team's losses, Dmitri Young's errors and Cristian Guzman's missed games.

The 2-8 Nats have 11 errors (tops in the majors) and the game's second-worst fielding percentage. Plus, they have a team batting average of .231 and had an ERA of 6.15 entering last night's game.

The right side of their infield - Young and Ronnie Belliard - looks like a World Wrestling Federation tag team from the 1980s, two guys that'd be paired together and had zero chance against the Hart Foundation.

While the idea here is to take the misery suffered by Washingtonians and channel that into something that boosts your own self-esteem, a part of you still has to feel bad for their plight, right? Sure, they lived through 13,000 Washington Generals losses, but that was just one team.

They're losers across the board right now. The only ones happy about sports in D.C. are psychologists and pharmacists, who see dollar signs whenever "WAS" rolls across ESPN's ticker.

So Philly, Seattle, Milwaukee, Tampa and even Baltimore, you may think you know suffering, but pro teams in Washington are rewriting the book. This year, you don't need to rely solely on The New Republic to digest the damage wrought in our nation's capital. It has seeped onto the sports pages, too.

rick.maese@baltsun.com

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