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Nats’ path to World Series is something to cheer for in divided D.C.

For the first time since 1933, Washington, D.C., finally has a baseball team going to the World Series. William Brangham reports on the Nationals' unlikely run to the fall classic, and what hometown pride means for the nation's capital at a time when politics are roiled by controversy and division.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    It's been a long, long time in the making, but Washington, D.C., finally has a baseball team going to the World Series, for the first time since 1933, to be precise.

    Now, we are based here in Washington, so we're not going to pretend there isn't just a little hometown pride in this story. There definitely is.

    But William Brangham is here now to look at the Nats' unlikely run to the fall classic and the good vibes around this region.

  • Announcer:

    Robles will squeeze it, and there it is!

  • William Brangham:

    It was the most thrilling night for baseball fans in the nation's capital in 86 years.

  • Announcer:

    There will be a World Series in D.C.!

  • William Brangham:

    The Washington Nationals squeaked into the 2019 playoffs as a wild card team. After a come-from-behind win over the Milwaukee Brewers, they took down the heavily favored Los Angeles Dodgers, before sweeping the Saint Louis Cardinals, on their way to the World Series.

    This result was almost unthinkable just five months ago, when the Nats were slumped in second-to-last place at the bottom of the National league.

    Manager Dave Martinez —

  • Dave Martinez:

    If you look at how — where we came from and what we had to accomplish to get here, I mean, it wasn't easy. I will be the first to say, you know, I never doubted these guys. I really didn't.

  • William Brangham:

    But baseball fans in Washington, D.C., have had their hearts broken many a time, dating back to baseball's earliest days in the capital. The last time a D.C. team won the World Series, 1924. Calvin Coolidge was president.

  • Frederic Frommer:

    There used to be an expression which was first in war, first in peace, and last in the American League, to describe Washington.

  • William Brangham:

    Fred Frommer is the author of "You Gotta Have Heart — A History of Washington Baseball."

    Long before they were the Nationals, D.C.'s team was the Senators. But after years of mediocrity, they left for Minnesota in 1961.

  • Frederic Frommer:

    The really sad thing for Washingtonians was that team, as bad as it was, was about to turn the corner. When they got to Minnesota, they became a really good team and they won a pennant within a few years. Washington got saddled with an expansion team also called the Senators. They were terrible, because they had to start over from scratch.

  • William Brangham:

    Eleven years later, that team also left D.C., and for 33 long years, there was no professional baseball in the District.

    But in 2005, the Montreal Expos moved to Washington and became the Nationals. After 15 up-and-down seasons, this team's success came as a surprise to many, especially after they lost superstar Bryce Harper to Philadelphia in the off-season.

    But now they have managed to rally longtime residents and new fans alike.

  • Blair Winston:

    I feel like I have seen over time like the city kind of come around to baseball, because it wasn't that way from day one, when they were here, like, what, 11, 12 years ago.

  • Kathy Pettigrew:

    People greet each other when they see you in the jerseys, when they know you're going to the game and you're talking all the way in. Sit at a bar, have a couple of drinks and still talk. Go in the game, still talking. It's just a whole different atmosphere.

  • William Brangham:

    And in a town best known for the sport of politics, the Nats have managed to climb above the fray.

  • Walter Young:

    Baseball has brought unity, not separation. When we are in that stadium, you're a Republican, I'm a Democrat, whatever it is, that doesn't count. What counts is that we're rooting for the Nats.

  • William Brangham:

    Longtime political columnist Al Hunt, who is also the husband of a certain NewsHour anchor, has followed D.C. baseball for decades.

  • Al Hunt:

    You know, it's a dark time in Washington now. When I first came to this town, Watergate, Vietnam, it was just as dark. And one of the few escapes, one of the few things that kind of united parts of the community was the Washington Redskins.

    The Redskins now are dysfunctional and really disgraced. The Washington Nationals now are serving that same purpose.

  • William Brangham:

    The Nationals will take on either the Houston Astros or New York Yankees in the World Series starting next week.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I'm William Brangham in Washington, D.C.

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