Baseball in DC won't last



I was in Washington a couple of weeks ago and went to see the Nationals. I love going to baseball games and I knew I wouldn't be able to see the Mets this summer for the first time in years (and it doesn't look like they'll be drawing me back in late October for any big games) so I was looking forward to this one.

The Nationals have a new ballpark and it's nice, I guess. There's a part of me that recoils at the shopping mall/food court model of modern stadiums. I've been to Citi Field in New York and Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia and those are nice stadiums too. Actually, both of those are better than Washington's park, but maybe only marginally so.

Washington has its nice new stadium and, from what I can see, a team on the rise. The Nationals have a core of good, young talent and more on the way. The future is rosy for the Nats.

Or is it?

They have everything going for them - except their fans. In fact, I doubt Washington has many fans at all.

The game I went to had almost a full house because Stephen Strasburg was supposed to pitch, but he was injured and replaced by a spot starter. The crowd booed the starter. Loudly.

Okay, they were disappointed. I was disappointed too, but I didn't boo. And, if you're a fan of the team you still root for the team to win - that means rooting for the replacement if a star can't play.

That was only a small thing, but it was indicative of what the Nats' have in DC. Strasburg is clearly the crowd favorite even though he's done very little. It was pretty obvious that Ryan Zimmerman is playing second fiddle to Strasburg even though Zimmerman has been with the Nationals since their first year and he's young, an excellent ballplayer and a legitimate star. Yet, the Nats fans are all about Strasburg.

This focus on a pitcher you've seen, what? - four or five times?, rather than an established hometown (Zimmerman's from Virginia) star is a sign of a phoniness and a fickleness among the Nats' so-called fans, whose interest will pass quickly and leave the team with virtually no fan base.

Want more evidence? By the end of the 6th inning the stadium was way more than half empty - on a night when a stand-in starter and the bullpen had the Nats in front of the first place Braves 3-0. {I took this picture just after the 3rd out in the bottom of the 6th. Those fans are all heading for the exit.}

Strangely, the crowd arrives early, very early. We got there more than an hour before the first pitch and the place was buzzing. The Nationals announced that the first 10,000 fans through the gate would get free tee shirts, but they were all gone when we entered. (I should note here, that when the announcer asked the fans to wave their shirts it looked like 2-3000 people had shirts and not the 10,000 who should have had them.)

Yeah, they get there early because, I think, it's the place to be. Yet, the place to be seemed to be not so much in the seats, but walking around, sampling the various concession stands, etc. In fact, the Nats' fans seem to spend as much time out of their seats as in them despite the fact we had beautiful weather and it was an excellent game with a home team victory in the offing.

Of course you can read too much into one experience, but the one impression I left with is that compared with New York or Philadelphia, this team, in fact baseball itself, is just a fad in DC. I really doubt that franchise will be there in 10 years.

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