I have a confession to make. While sitting in the press box at Verizon Center last night, I totally missed Alex Ovechkin’s third goal because I was watching the Kansas City Royals play baseball.
Now, I know this seems like a ridiculous thing to do and perhaps Ted Leonsis will be stopping by the office here to take back my credential.
But let me explain.
It is common for sportswriters to scan box scores of other games in action. We are sports fans, after all. And while checking some baseball scores, I saw that the Royals were beating the White Sox, 3-0. I knew this meant Zack Greinke was pitching.
Greinke, if you haven’t been paying attention, entered last evening having given up just two earned runs in five starts. His ERA was 0.50. He had been nearly unhittable.
So I fired up the MLB.TV on my laptop and decided to watch Greinke for a bit. Guilty as charged. I don’t regret it. He went on to pitch a complete game shutout, with fastballs that looked like they came out of a rifle and curveballs that would cause IronMan’s knees to buckle.
Greinke is a lot like Alex Ovechkin. Ok, maybe they are nothing alike. But they do have one big thing in common, which is that they are worth the price of admission all by themselves.
Kansas City as a baseball town is a lot like Washington used to be as a hockey town. Poor attendance, years of struggle. But here in Washington, Ovechkin arrived and things started to change. People started to believe. The team started to win, and all of the sudden Verizon Center was packed and now we’re the center of the hockey universe.
What Zack Greinke is doing has the same feel of those early days when Ovechkin arrived. 22,000 people watched him pitch last night in Kansas City, which doesn’t seem like much except that the Royals usually draw half that on a Monday night. it was the Royals’ third win in a row and the team is winning the AL Central and there’s a feeling that they won’t fall back to last place like they have in the past. If he continues winning, the excitement could be similar to what we saw with the arrival of Fernando Valenzuela in Los Angeles, or Mark Fidrych in Detroit. it’s next-day buzz where people ask “oh man, did you see that last night?”
No one man can win a championship. The Caps would be nowhere if it was just Ovechkin and some scrubs. But capturing the imagination of fans starts with having a “guy.” A guy that’s so good, so exciting, that you feel guilty if you miss him.
Maybe the Nationals have discovered this in Ryan Zimmerman, who extended his hit streak to 22 games. (Get to 30, kid. Just get to at least 30. The Nats need it.) Maybe it won’t come until Stephen Strasburg shows up in September as many fans hope.
After Monday’s game, Royals head coach Trey Hillman said: “I’m thrilled to death for our fans. Our job is to inject as much joy into people’s lives as we can.”
Ovechkin also understood the impact he’s had on fans, saying, “If I was a Capitals fan, I’d be very happy right now.”
We can all get behind that.