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Nationals to treasure
Beating the odds, and the predictions, the Washington Nationals finish the season with heads held high

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Date published: 10/6/2007

THERE WERE predictions, not just a few, that the Washington Nationals would have a dismal year. As the 2007 baseball season began, some forecast the young club could set a new record for defeats in a single season. Certainly, the consensus had it, they'd finish dead last in their division. With new manager Manny Acta boasting no MLB managerial experience, a green pitching staff, and a roster that lacked any top marquee appeal with the departure of Alfonso Soriano, it wasn't unreasonable to predict the worst.

Instead, Mr. Acta turned out to be Manager of the Year material for the National League, the pitching staff lost its only star early in the season yet kept on fighting--including a stellar showing by closer Chad Cordero--and the team finished with a 73-87 record, fourth place in its division. Not a winning season, and the club hardly came close to the playoffs; still, congrats to the Nats.

The Nationals this year truly became a team we could root for--not simply because of geographic proximity to Fredericksburg, but because it showed a surprising pluckiness and dogged determination to keep a positive outlook. Much of that comes from the calm, upbeat demeanor of Mr. Acta--who, as a piece in our Sports section noted recently, is hardly the Billy Martin, dirt-kicking, tantrum-throwing type. Instead, a get-back-to-work ethic prevailed from the top down, whether the club was winning 20 of 32 games at one point, or losing 16 of 23 right after that. As outfielder Ryan Church put it: "When it comes to heart, we are up there. It goes to show that it starts with the manager. It shows what kind of team we are. We battle."

The season goes on now in playoff mode, with all eyes on the powerful Red Sox, the red-hot Rockies, and others in the top tier of baseball. But there might well be a warm feeling left in the hearts of local residents after the effort and composure shown by the boys of summer just up the road. Next season, a new stadium awaits--and, more than likely, far fewer dire predictions.