When last we saw the Washington Nationals, they left a full ballpark of fans teetering between numbness and pain after they surrendered a six-run lead to the St. Louis Cardinals in the Game?5 loss in the National League Division Series.

Are you over it by now?

The disappointment felt in October was a new phenomenon for Washington baseball fans born in the past 80 years or so. It was the sweet pain of glory denied.

That's a different kind of pain than what baseball fans here have suffered for nearly a century -- one that came from having perennial losing teams or no team at all.

This was the pain of opportunity missed. The Washington Nationals had a chance at baseball glory in October, and they let it slip away.

There had been nothing glorious about Washington baseball since the Senators last played in the World Series in 1933.

That is the pain of hopelessness. Many times the season was over for Washington baseball fans the day pitchers and catchers reported for spring training.

There may have been delusions of grandeur, but you knew deep down they were delusions. That's not the same as hope.

This time it's different. As painful as the Game 5 loss was, it gave you -- once you came out of your coma -- the belief that better days were ahead.

Those better days started Tuesday, when the Nationals' pitchers and catchers reported for spring training in Viera, Fla.

Even after a decent showing of nearly a .500 season in 2011, no one came to spring training last year expecting the dominance that led Washington to the National League East title -- well, no one except manager Davey Johnson, who told the world his team was better than everyone thought it was.

This year, no one is saying that because the world believes the Nationals are a very good team, a World Series team, perhaps the best in baseball.

That's air Washington baseball fans haven't breathed since the invention of oxygen.

This year, Stephen Strasburg could be Justin Verlander. Or Jordan Zimmermann could be the Cy Young winner. A healthy Ryan Zimmerman could hit 40 home runs. Bryce Harper could be ... well, there's no telling how good Bryce Harper could be.

None of this could happen, too. But while some may be caught up in the fear of failing to live up to such unprecedented baseball expectations in this town, the notion that such opportunities exist -- and the glory that comes with those chances -- are not just within reach but firmly in the hands of this baseball team.

When the Nationals came into the clubhouse following the devastating Game 5 loss, Jayson Werth told them, "Remember how this feels because we don't ever want this to happen again."

Nationals fans should do the same -- remember how that felt as they bask in the glow of spring expectations. Both had been foreign concepts in this town for decades.

Examiner columnist Thom Loverro is the co-host of "The Sports Fix" from noon to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on ESPN980 and espn980.com. Contact him at tloverro@washingtonexaminer.com.