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Politics takes back seat to World Series baseball in Washington

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Washington (AFP)

Democrats and Republicans don't agree on much in Washington these days, but they'll all be cheering on the US capital's baseball team Friday night as it chases its first World Series title in nearly a century.

The Washington Nationals will take on the Houston Astros at sold-out Nationals Park holding a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series after improbably taking the first two games of the Major League Baseball championship in Houston.

It will be the first World Series game played in the nation's capital since 1933, when the then-Washington Senators lost to the New York Giants and president Franklin Roosevelt threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

Standing room tickets are selling for more than $1,000 while exclusive club seats are available for an eye-popping $10,000 and up through online resellers.

Washington's last World Series title came in 1924, when the Senators beat the Giants -- and Calvin Coolidge was in the White House.

President Donald Trump, who is facing the threat of impeachment, won't be taking the mound, however, although he did say he plans to attend Game 5 in Washington on Sunday -- if the Nationals don't sweep the Astros first.

"They've got to dress me up in a lot of heavy armor," Trump said in a reference to the bulletproof vest the commander-in-chief would be forced to wear. "I'll look too heavy. I don't like that."

In a reminder that politics is never far from the surface in Washington, the first pitch at Game 5 will be thrown out by Spanish-born chef Jose Andres, a vocal critic of Trump's immigration policies.

"I'm humbled by the invitation, and I realize is a big big big honor," said Andres, a long-time Washington restaurateur who is being recognized for the humanitarian relief work of his World Central Kitchen.

The streets of Washington have been awash with red for days as fans of all political persuasions rock the team colors with shirts, hats and jackets emblazoned with the team's signature "Curly W."

Bars and restaurants are featuring Nationals promotions and 14,500 fans trooped to Nationals Park on Wednesday to watch a live broadcast of Game 2 in Houston on a video screen.

The National Cathedral has even gotten into the act, displaying a big "W" for Washington in lights against a red, white and blue background.

- Nationals Fever -

Nationals Fever gripping Washington is heightened not only by the team's lack of success over the decades but by the city's rocky history with America's national pastime.

The Senators were one of the eight original teams in the American League when it was founded in 1901, but they won only a single title -- in 1924 -- before abandoning the city in 1961 for Minneapolis-St Paul and becoming the Minnesota Twins.

The Senators were eventually replaced with a new team as the Major Leagues expanded, but the new Senators were no better than the old.

They managed to win more games than they lost just once over the next decade, before decamping in 1972 and becoming the Texas Rangers.

Washington would be without a baseball team for the next 33 years, until the league moved the Montreal Expos to Washington in 2005 and they were re-branded as the Nationals.

The Nationals are something of a Cinderella story, having been all but counted out when they hit the 50-game mark of the 162-game regular season in late May with a 19-31 record.

Sports talk radio buzzed with calls for manager Dave Martinez to be fired, and hopes of making the playoffs seemed misplaced.

All that changed with the arrival of a journeyman reserve outfielder named Gerardo Parra, who had been let go by the San Francisco Giants.

While not contributing much on the field, the 32-year-old Venezuelan has been an ebullient clubhouse presence, organizing dance parties when a teammate hits a home run and wearing rose-colored glasses in the dugout during games.

Parra is also responsible for what has become the franchise's unlikely theme song -- the catchy children's ditty "Baby Shark."

Parra began playing the song, a favorite of his two-year-old daughter Aaliyah, when he came up to bat and it caught on with the crowd.

Thousands of fans, some wearing shark costumes, now chop their arms in unison in a shark-like motion while the loudspeakers in the stadium boom out "Baby shark, doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo."

Only one player remains from the original 2005 squad -- first baseman Ryan Zimmerman.

In a sign that this may finally be Washington's year, the 35-year-old Zimmerman slugged a home run in Game 1 against the heavily favored Astros in his first-ever at-bat in the Fall Classic.

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