By Jummy Owookade ’20
Some of the top baseball writers in the Washington area gathered at Knight Hall on Monday to discuss what it was like to cover the Nationals’ championship season.
The panel, hosted by The Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism, featured beat writers Jesse Dougherty (The Washington Post), Jamal Collier (MLB.com) and Brittany Ghiroli (The Athletic), and ESPN national baseball writer Tim Kurkjian ’79.
The group talked to students about the ebbs and flows of the Nats’ season, recalling the clubhouse camaraderie at the team’s lowest moments, the wild ride through the playoffs and how manager Dave Martinez kept his team prepared for the big moment.
On May 23, the Nationals were 19-31 and an afterthought in the postseason chase.
Collier talked about how many times he had buried the team, saying, “I thought they were going to be done and wouldn’t make the playoffs, and they just kind of kept going.”
Despite the dismal start, the Nationals posted winning records in June, July, August and September, heating up in time for the playoffs.
Despite witnessing it themselves, the four panelists could not say why the Nationals were crowned world champions at the end of October.
“It’s a story that you just simply can’t make up,” Kurkjian said. “I remember writing and going on TV, at 19-31, and saying, ‘They have no chance to make the playoffs.’ ”
Despite the team’s early struggles and the manager’s alleged position on the hot seat, Martinez maintained a poise and confidence that made the beat writers question the authenticity of his positivity.
Ghiroli said she would even wonder, “Is this guy watching the same games we were watching?”
“I think players feed off of that, to have a guy who said, ‘I believe in you. I know you guys will turn it around,’ ” Ghiroli said.
According to Statista.com, the Nationals were the oldest team in baseball in 2019. Despite their age, the panelists said the team had fun throughout the season. They found a rallying anthem in the children’s song “Baby Shark,” and had an infusion of international players that created a different culture.
Kurkjian recalled Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman reflecting on how different the season was for him.
“Ryan Zimmerman told me in early August, long before we even thought they were going to make the playoffs, that ‘This is the most fun I’ve ever had.’ And of course, he told me that again in October,” Kurkjian said.
The event concluded with the panelists providing words of wisdom for students at the panel, emphasizing a commitment to reading more, writing more, gaining more experience and taking risks.
This article was originally published here.