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'Nuts about the Nats': Return of a baseball fan

Monday - 7/9/2012, 7:17am  ET

AP: 6460473d-846d-465a-8166-7e45b394069f
Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper (34) holds his All-Star jersey during a ceremony before a baseball game with the Colorado Rockies, Sunday, July 8. WTOP News Director Mike McMearty says Harper helped renew his interests in the Nationals. (AP/Alex Brandon)

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Mike McMearty, wtop.com

"Baseball is not necessarily an obsessive-compulsive disorder, like washing your hands 100 times a day, but it's beginning to seem that way. We're reaching the point where you can be a truly dedicated, state-of-the-art fan or you can have a life." -- Thomas Boswell

WASHINGTON - I'm back.

I was gone for a while.

I used to be a baseball wonk -- couldn't devour enough box scores.

The Elias Book of Baseball Stats was my leisure reading.

The strike of '94 and the cancellation of the postseason and World Series did me in. I won't bore you with all the great storylines that were buried under the ugly, green tarp of that strike.

I didn't completely disappear. My, then-love for the Orioles and Cal Ripken kept my toe in the batter's box, but I went into a deep slump after the Yankees swept the Orioles in the '96 ALCS. (Seriously Richie Garcia - how do you screw up that call?)

The firing of Davey Johnson the firing of Jon Miller Peter Angelos. Three strikes I'm out.

Flash-forward to 2005 and the return of baseball to Washington.

It got my attention.

That year I went to a few games. I pored over a few box scores.

Since 2005, I've been to every opening day, but I won't kid you that I've attended more than a handful of games each year.

Over the next few years I paid fleeting attention to the Nationals' ups and downs on the field and roster moves off the field. Ryan Zimmerman was the start for me. Stephen Strasburg piqued my interest. Bryce Harper sparked keener interest. Then the way the Nats played the Phillies in 2011 got my complete attention.

I was anxious for the 2012 season. I anxiously anticipated opening day at home and was rewarded with an extra-inning, walk-off win on a wild pitch.

I went to the next game. How fitting that Jayson (Werth) had the winning hit in the 13th inning on Friday the 13th.

I feel a bit feverish.

The winning continues. Three outta four from the Reds. Then three outta four from the Astros. The Nats keep winning series. I purchase the MLB app for my iPhone to keep track of stats, standings and scores.

The injuries start to mount (in addition to the ones in spring training), but the Nats keep winning. Then some 19-year-old kid comes up from the minors and adds a serious spark.

I'm feeling the fever grow.

Bryce Harper, to quote ESPN's Tim Kurkjian, is "kind of a nut at times, but he's a good nut -- in every way."

He steals home. He takes the turn at first base like his hair's on fire and will take second base if you're not paying attention. He has impressive range in the outfield and his arm has opened eyes. And then there are the tape-measure dingers.

Spring turns to summer and the Nationals stay hot. Strasburg continues to impress. Gio shows he could just as easily be your ace. Desmond catches fire. LaRoche is quietly cool. And the bullpen keeps turning out the lights.

Is it hot in here or is it just me?

As Michael Morse says, "Our offense is great, but our pitching is outstanding." All you have to do is watch one game and you can see these guys are having fun.

Then it happens (July 5, 2012): The Nats are losing to the Giants in the ninth, and I find myself using my MLB app to listen to the Mets/Phillies game, while watching the Nats, because the Mets are in second and stand to gain ground if they win.

They do win, but they don't gain ground because the Nats get another walk-off win in the bottom of the ninth.

I'm back. My fever is full-blown and my heart, which had turned to stone, is beating once again.

It's the All-Star break and the Nats are in first place in the National League East. And while the team is full of confidence, the Nats -- to the man -- know that pennants and World Series are not won in July.

The players are cool, but this fan's Natitude has been ignited.

Even though I know it's wrong, I'm back. One of the last true baseball commissioners, the late, great Bart Giamatti, said it best: "(Baseball) breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart."

So curse you, baseball!

I'm back. Please, be gentle.

**EDITOR'S NOTE: All week, WTOP will take a look back at the Nats' first half of the season with special insights from Craig Heist, Jonathan Warner and more.

Follow Mike McMearty and WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)