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Stephen Krupin is a Nationals fan, which is reason enough to offer him condolences, but that's not the extent of his misfortune. Krupin, a 27-year-old speechwriter who shares season tickets with his father, attended 19 games at Nationals Park this year that could have been promoted by the club's ticket office as the Masochism Pack. Not once in Krupin's 19 visits did the Nats deliver a victory. A number-crunching cousin of Krupin's calculated that the odds of his 0--19 season were 1 in 131,204, not all that different from the chances of getting hit by an asteroid, which, come to think of it, might be less painful than watching your team lose every time you show up.
"That's the risk you run by being a sports fan," Krupin says. So true. Maybe you weren't as unfortunate a fan as he was this season, but you probably have more in common with Krupin than you realize. To root for a team is to experience varying degrees of misery, whether you're devoted to a club that hasn't won a World Series in generations or one that just missed the playoffs or, like last-place Washington, one that muddles along so deep in the cellar that first place seems to exist only in a galaxy far, far away.
Those giddy, exuberant baseball fans we see on our television screens this time of year, the ones waving their white towels and clapping ThunderStix as they cheer for their teams in the postseason, are the outliers, like the swimsuit models and the guys with six-pack abs on magazine covers. They are the fortunate few, hardly representative of the masses. It's much easier to relate to Krupin because for the overwhelming majority of fans championships are, at best, occasional. Losing is universal.
Fans everywhere should give Krupin a tip of the ticket stub just for faithfully returning to the scene of his disappointments, 26 rows behind first base. Only in sports would a consumer keep patronizing the same establishment despite never getting satisfaction. What Krupin did is like continuing to have dinner at the same restaurant even though it burns the entrée every time.
But as much as we might empathize with him, even admire him, no one would have wanted to share Krupin's fate this season. He was bad luck personified. Black cats were afraid to cross his path. It wasn't just that the Nationals were winless in his presence, it was that they were actually fairly successful at home (33--29) in his absence. Given those numbers, you can imagine the team's front office outlining Washington's goals for the off-season: 1) strengthen the relief pitching, 2) acquire a slugging first baseman and 3) give Krupin free season tickets—to the Orioles. "It was amazing," he says. "I went on vacation in August, and they won eight in a row. As soon as I came back, they lost three straight."
By that time Krupin was well aware of the unenviable streak he was putting together. After every loss this season the same song was played over the P.A. system at Nationals Park: Three Little Birds by Bob Marley, a reggae tune that includes the hopeful lyrics, "Don't worry about a thing/'Cause every little thing gonna be all right." After about a dozen games Krupin realized what a ritual it had become, filing out of the stadium to the familiar refrain. "That's when it hit me," he says. "I had absolutely no idea what song they play when we win."
There is no logical explanation for his astonishingly bad run. Krupin chose games that fit into his work schedule—dates during the week and on weekends, day games and night, against elite teams like the Phillies and the Red Sox and awful ones like the Mets and the Padres. His final chance to witness a win was going to be the Nationals' next-to-last home game of the season, against the Mets, but he made a late change of plans when he was offered tickets to a U2 concert. Washington wiped out a three-run deficit that night and scored in the bottom of the eighth to win 4--3. Naturally.
It's quite a conundrum, the proposition that the result you came to see is made impossible by your mere presence, but Krupin is an intelligent fellow who never bought into the theory that he was bringing bad mojo to the Nationals. "I prefer to think of it as correlation rather than causation," he says. "Maybe if I were part of the bullpen, I'd take some responsibility." Besides, he's a fan. What was he going to do? Stop enjoying trips to the ballpark? Abandon his team? A true fan keeps the faith. His team may be hapless but never hopeless. "One day, maybe next year, maybe next decade," Krupin says, "I'm going to sit in the stands with my dad in section 129, row CC, and we're going to watch our team in a playoff game."
The unluckiest fan in America is actually feeling lucky, so much so that he hasn't tried to find out what the Nationals' victory song is. (I would tell you, but I don't want to spoil it for Krupin. Face it, the guy deserves a break.) The only way he wants to find out is by hearing it himself after a Nats win, preferably next Opening Day. But the Marley song suits him better anyway. The thing that keeps Krupin coming back is the same thing that brings every other fan back—the belief that no matter how their team may frustrate them, eventually every little thing gonna be all right.