The idea is as old as the team: The Nationals don't have real fans. It started at the franchise's birth, in 2005, and, at least outside the Beltway, it has stuck. The idea was never about the team—formerly the Montreal Expos—as much as it was about the city, a place that no one seems to be from, a collection of pundits and bureaucrats and defense contractors. As for everyone else? There was no one else. (Other than the lawyers and lobbyists, obviously.) But, of course, this idea is false. The Nationals' World Series win over the Astros wasn't necessary to prove that. The Mystics' WNBA championship in October and the Capitals' Stanley Cup from 2018 already drew attention to a different strain of fans inside the nation's capital: real ones.
The Washington metro area has a population of some six million after all, with culture and history and all else that entails. It's easy to reduce it to museums and monuments—a field-trip destination for the rest of the country. And while there are plenty of federal employees, there are also people who have made the choice not just to work in D.C. but also to live in D.C.—myself included—and found community in all its dimensions.
To the extent that Washington fans got national attention in the last quarter-century, it was for the postseason heartbreak they suffered. Then the Capitals broke a dry spell for an entire generation, stretching back to the 1992 Super Bowl SB XXVI. The Mystics provided a second cause for celebration just 16 months later. The Nats are the newest of these franchises, and their supporters are the most easily dismissed, as if the absence of history automatically translates to an absence of care.
But the club's improbable run—from its 19-31 start to its four road wins in the World Series—ignited the fan base. The gleeful mania of the World Series parade—an estimated 500,000 people packed into the stretch of Constitution Avenue that runs along the National Mall on a November afternoon—was a reminder of that passion. There are still plenty who remember the Washington Senators, both the originals who departed in 1960 and the replacements who left in '71. The fans waited for decades for a new franchise to come. And now the Nats' own history is, well, history—15 seasons—with high schoolers who have never known a world without them and adults who have watched them for more than half of their lives. And the care? It's the reason for the whole thing.
Even among the pundits and defense contractors.