Date: August 21, 2011
Time: around 1 pm EDT
Check another item off the personal bucket list. I come from a family filled with pilgrims to all 32 Major League Baseball Parks. Some members of my family have been to ball parks that are long gone, myself included. Last weekend, I got the chance to see the newest “neighborhood” team in their new home in DC. But I was rooting for the visitors this trip. Yes, I became a pilgrim on hostile soil by attending the Nationals game as a Phillies fan.
I remember when the location for Nationals Stadium was announced. Anacostia had a bad reputation for safety in the District. How could putting a major tourist venue in a low rent, high crime area do the neighborhood any good? As we drove to the stadium, I noticed that the best building so far is the Nationals complex. It sits in an area on the Anacostia River with construction companies and other medium industrial enterprises. But the stadium is still new, and a novelty. Hopefully the surrounding real estate will upgrade in the very near future. There’s potential in that neighborhood. And there’s a growing feeling that it is a safe area.
We walked into the center field gate and were met by 4 presidents. Yes, the Presidential mascots and the official mascot, Screech, greet visitors and pose for pictures in a wide open media area. You are able to pose with George Washington, Abe Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson with no problem. Just try getting close to Teddy Roosevelt! Not happening! He is by far the most popular of the mascots. After the fourth inning, the mascots have a foot race from the right field corner down to first base. Teddy tries to win and comes close – oh, so close. The crowds in the stands, supporters of both teams, start the chant as the mascots take the warning track, “Let Teddy win! Let Teddy win!” Today was another disappointment for Teddy fans, however.
Nationals Stadium offers the usual baseball fare to eat and drink, plus some local favorites, such as a Five Guys, Ben’s Chili Bowl and Gifford’s Ice Cream, to name a few. But I was a guest of someone with club level tickets, complete with air conditioned concourse. There was one stand with a version of a Philadelphia cheese steak sandwich and sausage and peppers sandwiches. As a Philadelphia native, I was beginning to feel quite at home.
As we walked around the concourse, and took our seats, I was convinced I was “at home” in Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. We saw more Phillies “Phan” gear than we saw of the Nationals fan gear. Where were all the Nats fans? Why do you see Philadelphia so well represented in DC? When I posed this question to another Phillies fan, I was told that you can’t get tickets to the Phillies games in Philadelphia. It’s this thing called winning. The Phillies win, and win series and playoff games. This area hasn’t seen a winning team in a while – a long while. Then, something about that statement touched a long dormant memory for me as a die-hard Orioles fan. The O’s used to win and fill the stands. The Nats are starting to win and are filling the stands. The Phillies have a recent history of winning and always fill the stands. Oh, the feeling of hope for the embattled Orioles and their fans…
Along with the expectation that the Phillies will win comes a bit of rudeness from the fans that can border on abusive. It’s not just in Philadephia, either. Anyone going to Yankee Stadium for an O’s – Yankees game can tell you stories of rude fans as young as 8 years old. And a San Francisco Giants fan clings to life after being beaten by Dodgers fans after this year’s season opener. This day I witnessed fan rudeness on both sides of the scoreboard. What happened to just enjoying the game?
The dictionary defines a “fan” as “an enthusiastic devotee or follower [fan(atic)].” (Random House Dictionary, 1980) The same volume defines “sportsmanship” as “a person who plays fair and is a good loser.” Somewhere along the line many fans of professional sports lost the concept of sportsmanship to team identity fanaticism. Our kids are watching us. What are we, as a community of fans, showing our kids? Are the kids beginning to think that this behavior is “normal”? Everyone has the freedom of choice and the right to support the team of their choice without fear of harassment.
In the interest of fairness – and so this will not become an obituary to the death of common courtesy – there are many ballparks in the country who welcome fans of opposing teams and are very hospitable. For the most part, Nationals Park was one of them. The staff ushers and food servers were the most polite people I’ve encountered in a long time. Oriole Park is renowned for it’s hospitality toward all fans. Both parks have enthusiastic staffs and local fans looking for a good game worth the price of the ticket. Now if this attitude of courtesy could spread all over… please!
For the record, I, a devoted Orioles fan, went to the Nationals game wearing my Phillies “Phanatic” shirt. I cheered for the Phillies and laughed when Jayson Werth was booed in Nationals Park by the Phillies fans (because it sounded so ridiculous). I explained the “Choooooooch” call to nearby Nationals fans when Carlos Ruiz came to bat (nicknamed, Chooch) and the Nats fans thought we were booing him too. The Phillies lost the game and the world didn’t end. It was a great, tight game and went 10 innings. And after the fourth inning, I yelled at the top of my lungs, “Let Teddy win! Let Teddy win!” Ballpark baseball is the absolute best. It’s a must experience for all families, no matter where you live and no matter what team you support.