- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 23, 2012

Move aside, you burgundy-and-gold fans — D.C. city hall is showing some Natitude for the foreseeable future.

Mayor Vincent C. Gray announced Friday that technicians will light up the John A. Wilson Building in red to honor the Washington Nationals’ postseason berth. The Nats secured at least a place in a one-game wild card playoff game with its victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Thursday night.

“Next up, the division title,” said Mr. Gray, a lifelong city resident and baseball aficionado.

Mr. Gray said the Wilson Building will be cast in a reddish hue from Friday night to the end of the Nats’ playoff run as the team seeks to hold off the Atlanta Braves to secure the National League East division title and avoid the harrowing one-game playoff with a second wild card team.

The Nationals have won more than 90 games this season, a stark turnaround from the woeful seasons the franchise sustained after its move from Montreal in 2005. Buoyed by a dominant pitching staff and stars like young phenom Bryce Harper, the nation’s capital will see playoff baseball for the first time since 1933, when the Washington Senators made the World Series.

Root for the home team

While the mayor is behind the home team, another D.C. resident has been less than fully supportive of the Nats.

President Obama makes no secret of his love for Chicago sports. He hosted the South Siders at the White House in April 2009 and phoned pitcher Mark Buehrle after the then-White Sox pitcher threw a perfect game in July 2009. The First Fan also threw out the first pitch at the 2009 MLB All-Star game. (Buehrle said the president “was taking a little bit of the credit” for the perfect game because he wore a White Sox jacket at the All-Star game.)

But on Friday in Woodbridge, Va., at a rally at Pfitzner Stadium — home to the Washington Nationals’ single-A affiliate, the Potomac Nationals — he certainly knew how to work the home crowd the day after the Nationals clinched a postseason berth.

“Well, it is great to be here in Pfitzner Stadium, home of the Potomac Nationals,” the president said. “I want to congratulate the Washington Nationals for bringing playoff baseball to D.C.

Mr. Obama has some connection with the Nats.

He donned a Nationals windbreaker to continue a 100-year tradition when he threw out the first pitch at the Nats’ home opener in 2010 against the Philadelphia Phillies (and yes, politicos, he threw it outside and to the left — for a right-handed batter, although it would have been behind the head of a left-handed batter, so, whatever). Of course, he paused at the mound to put on a White Sox cap before the throw.

On Friday, he was full of praise for the boys in red.

“You guys are looking good,” he told the fans. “I am looking forward to a White Sox-Nationals World Series. It’s going to happen. White Sox are still in first place. But I got to admit, you guys are looking a little better right now. You guys are looking very good.”

Perhaps Mr. Obama’s influence can provide the Nats with some good vibes for a potential postseason run. After then-Sen. Obama threw out the first pitch at Game 2 of the 2005 American League Championship Series, the White Sox didn’t lose another game in the playoffs en route to winning the World Series that year.

Everybody loves a winner

Maybe it was the lingering disappointment that Major League Baseball chose to move the Montreal Expos to the District rather than Northern Virginia in 2005, but the Old Dominion had been slow to embrace the District’s baseball club.

Sure, The Washington Post cited team officials before the season who said the Nationals drew 60 percent of their fans from Virginia, compared to 25 percent from Maryland and 15 percent from the District.

But a poll last year by Raleigh, N.C.-based Public Policy Polling showed that the Nationals ranked well below the Atlanta Braves and New York Yankees when Virginia residents were asked to name their favorite baseball team. At that time, 19 percent picked the Braves, 14 percent picked the Yankees, and the Nationals could manage only a third-place tie with the Red Sox at 11 percent.

A year later with a playoff-bound team? The same polling firm last week said the Nationals now lead the way for most popular team honors with 19 percent, compared with 13 percent each for the Braves and Yankees, and 11 percent for the Orioles. The Red Sox have slipped back to 7 percent.

That’s what winning will do.

Tom Howell Jr. and David Sherfinski contributed to this report.

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