The 2019 National League Championship Series features a matchup between two cities which are home to innovative franchises, starved for a championship that have changed the way their sport is perceived by their fans.
The Washington Capitals and St. Louis Blues brought the party hard in each of the last two summers as the most recent Stanley Cup Champions, and the baseball teams in those cities have gotten in on the action.
The Stanley Cup had its own day at Busch Stadium earlier this summer, and it was not uncommon to see Blues head coach Craig Berube or a number of players loitering around the ballpark as they spent a longer-than-usual time in the city. In fact, it was a benign question about having Berube address his charges that sent Cardinals manager Mike Shildt into his now-second-most famous monologue of the season, as he vociferously defended his team and their will to win.
“I love this energy that takes place with the two organizations,” Shildt said Thursday at Busch Stadium. “I just appreciate the fact that both organizations look at it as a collective part of the city, and they’re very supportive of each other and very sincere about that. I love that our players and the Blues players interact. I’ve enjoyed getting to get closer with Berube.”
Nationals Park hosted more than its fair share of Capitals in 2018. Before setting off on their rollicking tour around the nation’s capital, several players made an appearance at a Nationals game and captain Alex Ovechkin threw out a first pitch.
It took a couple tries to find the glove.
Matt Wieters, the Cardinals’ backup catcher, was Washington’s backstop in 2018. He understands full well the excitement that a championship can bring to a city and has been in such close proximity to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in recent years that he may be well served to learn how to skate.
“Kind of unique to have the last two teams I’ve been with as Stanley Cup Finals and win the Cup. So I don’t know, may have more hockey teams recruiting me than baseball teams coming up here pretty soon,” Wieters joked.
“But, no, it’s fun because the same thing happened. The Capitals came to the clubhouse and any time you can see a championship and see guys being great it makes you want it even more.”
Ovechkin also threw out the first pitch before the fourth game of this year’s Division Series against the Dodgers, where he brought energy that set the right tone in an elimination game for the Nationals.
“Me and Ovi, we’ve been here pretty much together the whole time,” Nationals infielder Ryan Zimmerman told the MLB Network after Monday night’s victory.
Zimmerman was the Nationals’ first draft pick after the franchise moved to Washington from Montreal and made his debut in September of 2005. Ovechkin’s debut came that October after being delayed a year by an NHL lockout.
Zimmerman is the standard bearer for the Nationals franchise, and Ovechkin blossomed into perhaps the greatest Russian player in NHL history. He was the first Russian to be the captain of a Stanley Cup Champion, and he’s offered – with varying degrees of seriousness – to travel around the country with the Nationals to act as their chief cheerleader.
The connection between the Capitals and Blues runs deep.
Former Blues TJ Oshie and Lars Eller played prominent roles on Washington’s 2018 championship team, and former Capital Zach Sanford was the last goal scorer in this summer’s decisive seventh game of the Blues’ first championship. Capitals head coach Todd Reirden played 94 games across two seasons for the Blues. Berube spent seven years in DC, playing 419 games – his most for any team.
Cardinals fans may feel as though the city is going through a championship drought, but Nationals fans are stranded in the championship desert. Washington’s victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS was the franchise’s first playoff series win since moving to the District of Columbia from Quebec.
The World Series hasn’t been played in Washington since the Senators-turned-Twins were defeated by Carl Hubbell and the New York Giants in 1933.
“I did finally last night got to process everything and like I’ve said all year, the boys are just, they’re relentless, they never quit,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “So we’re getting on a plane, we’re headed to St. Louis to play for a championship. So I told the boys to just keep it going. We have done this before, they understand how to get back into that groove. And you see it every day with these guys. I mean they’re a lot of fun, a lot of fun to watch, a lot of fun in the dugout, so let’s just keep it going.”
The Cardinals postseason success has been a little more recent, with a ring in 2011 and their last league pennant in 2013. Still, in St. Louis, six seasons between World Series is a veritable eternity to fans, who turned out at Busch Stadium nearly 3.5 million strong in 2019, nursing the championship hangover of their hockey team’s historic run.
“A big reason and excitement of what we’re doing is to honor all the support we get on a lot of different levels from fans, not only locally, but we travel, and Cardinal fans are everywhere,” Shildt said. “So we want to reward that. And I don’t know if there’s more to it because of the Blues.
“We have a really great opportunity to have a special year in St. Louis.”