Phillies Fans PSA: Stop It

The Nats’ efforts to bolster fan attendance in the run up to this weekend’s first home series against the Phillies have been well-documented. It began in February, when the presale for individual game tickets was restricted to D.C., Maryland, and Virginia addresses only, and when COO Andy Feffer, along with other team officials, urged Nationals fans to “take back the park.” The notion has become a bit of a rallying cry for a team that could be entering a new era of competitiveness, one which may even have arrived earlier than anyone expected. Feffer and the team have offered further enticements, such as free tickets to future games with the purchase of tickets to this series. Mayor Vincent Gray gave the whole thing an official sheen by declaring this weekend “Natitude Weekend” and encouraging the locals to “show support of their hometown team.” It will likely not succeed to the extent that the organization is hoping, although they do claim some improvement in the proportion of in-area ticket sales so far.

Depressingly, and predictably, the reaction from Phillies fans and media has been equal parts bitter and condescending. By and large, the Twittersphere has been issuing a collective snort at the whole thing since it first arose. Noted perverted half-wit and habitual plagiarist Kyle Scott of the e-rag Crossing Broad has tweeted and posted endless whining on the topic, and has devoted whole posts to “The Takeover,” a 200 person bus trip (for a mere $120!) that will instantly become the most obnoxious thing happening on the planet for every second of its sweaty, Bud-Light-Lime-soaked existence.

twitter.com/#!/CrossingBroad/status/197684664532606976

What a shock.

Ed Rendell, trying to cling to relevance, also got in on the act. Various Philadelphia media members, including baseball writers and radio personalities (mostly on the Angelo Cataldi tier of the Insufferability Spectrum) have otherwise mocked or chided the Nats’ efforts. Superficially, the tone is haughty amusement, but there is a discernible undercurrent of surprise and indignation — how dare they. Universally, these responses lack any measure of self-awareness and pay no mind to present or historical context.

I’ve lived full-time in the Washington, D.C. area since 2005, and have attended a great many Nationals games. Both in the RFK days and since the new stadium was built, I’ve made a point of going to every Nationals/Phillies game that my schedule could feasibly accomodate, and many other Nationals home contests when the weather was fair and I hankered for live baseball. I had the pleasure of watching Ryan Zimmerman come into his own, Elijah Dukes doing . . . Elijah Dukes stuff, and Adam Dunn hitting the longest of long flies. I vividly remember, on a humid September night at RFK stadium in 2007, watching the Phillies beat the Nationals 7-6 on the strength of a Jimmy Rollins double, and then huddling around a friend’s blackberry as the crowd dispersed, tracking the Marlins’ 4 run comeback against the Mets in the 9th and 10th innings in Miami. The Phillies pulled within 1.5 games of the Mets that night, in a pennant race that inaugurated a new era of Phillies baseball.

After the new stadium was built, the atmosphere at Phillies/Nats games grew more adversarial, as Phillies fans realized that, in the numbers in which they traveled, and the numbers they already had in the DC area, they could create a home away from home — “CBP South,” as it came to be called by many. I can’t say that I didn’t get swept up in it, at least a little bit. It’s gratifying to see your team’s fans showing substantial support away from home, especially after many years of the Phillies being irrelevant to the NL East and to the league as a whole. But I had grown to like the Nationals as a team, along with their new, easily-accessible and cheap-to-attend stadium, and I found that, as the “CBP South” culture took hold, the atmosphere got uglier. It all came to an embarrassing head at the Nationals’ home opener in 2010, a Phillies game, where Phils fans again packed the stadium, bolstered by a few bus trips not unlike the one mentioned above. The Nationals’ Opening Day ceremony had all of the usual rituals. Except, as the Nationals’ roster was announced, and the players ran from the dugout to the first base line, Phillies fans chanted “SUCKS” after each name, and drowned out the music and announcements with booing in between.

They behaved similarly for the rest of the game. It was the most humiliated I ever remember feeling as a Phillies fan. Sitting next to me was a man in a weathered Nationals cap who had to be in his mid-70s, who regarded the whole thing with disbelief. I don’t know if he was a converted Orioles fan, a Senators fan from way back, or even an Expos fan, and it didn’t seem as if he wanted to talk about it to me, covered in Phillies gear from head to toe. I tried to make a show of how disgusted I was by the whole thing, but I don’t think I could’ve possibly done enough given what was happening. No future Phillies game at the park was quite as bad as that, but they weren’t that much better either.

This is the root of the “Our Park” movement by Nationals fans, and it’s disappointing that Phillies fans do not, or at least pretend not to, understand why it needs to happen. Fans of a team that have had as rough a go as the Nationals have since their inception need to pull as much enjoyment out of the little things as possible — individual player skills, fanfare, early-season hopes, and the simple joy of a ballpark atmosphere. To have the superior team’s fans flood the ballpark and make a big show of it — just because they can — momentarily ruins that experience. Nationals fans are no less fans of the game of baseball than Phillies fans (probably moreso, if we’re talking about the kind of people that make asses of themselves at Nationals Park), and they know — really, they know — that the Phillies have been the better team these last 7 years, that Citizens Bank is stuffed to the gills all of the time, and that Phillies fans are capable of operating a motor vehicle for two and a half hours on I-95 South. They know these things without a great red horde undertaking every effort to mock them in their own ballpark.

The natural rebuttal to this has been, roughly, “if they don’t like it, they should fill their own stadium.” And it’s true, the Nationals have struggled with attendance, finishing either 13th or 14th in the NL in each season since Nationals Park was built. But it’s easy for a Phillies fan to forget, nowadays, just how difficult it is to fill the stadium for a bad or even mediocre team. The Phillies had a similar run of attendance woes from 1997 to 2003, finishing 14th in attendance 4 times, 13th once, 12th once, and 10th once. True, these figures improved significantly when the Phillies got their new ballpark in 2004, but the team was getting better too; the Phillies averaged 77 wins per season from 1997-2003, and 86 wins per season from 2004-2006. I will happily watch a 100 loss Phillies team every day of the week, but it’s tough to blame fans for not filling the park to see some of the recent Nationals teams.

They did, of course, pack 40,315 people into the park for the June 8, 2010 debut of Stephen Strasburg, a preview of the future of their organization. I had the pleasure of attending, and the atmosphere rivaled any playoff game at Citizens’ Bank Park (particularly the most recent one I attended, game 5 of the 2011 NLDS, in which the crowd was conspicuously subdued). The crowd’s steady roar built with each strike, compounded by each time the radar gun showed triple digits, and the place exploded for each of Strasburg’s 14 strikeouts. Yes, Bryce Harper’s debut was not well-attended, but there is much less of a sense among Nationals fans and baseball fans as a whole that this was his true debut — he was placed on the roster with Ryan Zimmerman heading to the DL, and the consensus is that he’s not quite ready for the big leagues. If this 2012 Nationals team finishes on as high a level of competitiveness as they’re exhibiting now, I don’t think they’ll have any problem bringing people out in 2013.

I’m sure that this weekend, despite the Nationals’ efforts, is still going to be characterized by a dominant Phillies fan presence, and that ignoble bus trip will leave some kind of embarrassing mark on the whole thing. Nationals fandom and media may grow angrier, and that might escalate matters. But any Phillies fan who takes the smallest moment for some introspection should not be surprised or bothered by the Our Park movement. Because it is their park, and because Phillies fans remember what it’s like to see a nine guys who are probably going to lose take the field every day. The “Takeover” and all similar fan and media responses will only validate the rest of the country’s low opinion of the Philadelphia fandom. And, in case you haven’t checked the trendlines recently, the time to show grace in victory may be running out.

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69 comments

  1. Ryan Sommers

    May 04, 2012 02:48 PM

    because it doesn’t mean “was definitely better than”

  2. JK

    May 04, 2012 02:59 PM

    This is a bit dramatic. I don’t like the bud-light-lime soaked bus trips any more than you. I don’t like the ’08 fans. I don’t like ill shirts. But you know what? I unapologetically love traveling to cheer the Phils on the road. This campaign is about SELLING tickets, not filling seats. That’s why I think it is ridiculous. The Phillies filled seats by improving their competitive level, the Nationals are trying to take a shortcut and pull at their own fans heartstrings to fill seats. I will laugh at that every day of the week. That doesn’t mean I’m going to go make an ass out of myself or my city in D.C. I hate the notion that all Philly fans celebrate ignorance. This article was a bit of a misguided reaction to a non-story.

  3. Bxe1234

    May 04, 2012 03:00 PM

    I go to Nats games with a Nats fan. We get looks.

  4. Phillie697

    May 04, 2012 03:05 PM

    Not going to join the crowd who criticize Phillies fans for their behavior at the Nats stadium. I live in DC full time too and have attended my share of Phillies games here, and I don’t find the Phillies crowd behaving any differently than they do at home. You can decide for yourself if somehow going to another stadium means they have to “tone down” their behavior.

    However, this whole BS from Phillies people criticizing Nats for trying to “protect their own turf” is absurd. What, we are allowed to show pride in our team and travel up and down the east coast, gobbling up thousands of away tickets, to support our team by behaving like typical Phillies fans, but somehow it’s a travesty when other teams show some pride in their own teams? Hate to tell ya, read the back of your freaking tickets. They can kick you out of their stadiums whenever the f they want, be glad that they don’t and just limit it to an aggressive sales campaign. If you REALLY are for allowing ALL people to do what they want in support of their team, you’d stop acting like a child and suck it up because somehow there might be a few thousand tickets less for you to buy. Eight year olds employ that tactic when they don’t get what they want.

  5. Dawn in Philadelphia

    May 04, 2012 03:12 PM

    At the end of the day it’s about making money. And no matter how many tickets the Nationals sell to their fans this weekend, they’ve generated a ton of interest, which, if parlayed correctly (i.e. wins) will lead to making money.

    Crossing Broad and Phillies Nation (of which I was once a head editor and co-led said bus trip) are going to Nats Park regardless of the campaign. What the campaign does is allow the Nats to finally control this mass transport of Philadelphians to the area. It puts good and bad faces on the issue, too. So now, any hijinks that occur at the park this weekend will likely be branded as Philly fans going after Nats fans.

    Bottom line: The Nats made a smart business decision. The whiny aura of “Take Back Our Park” will dissipate. What won’t dissipate are any incoming conduct (please be good, fans) and the future performance of the Nationals. And the Nats bet both will be in their favor.

  6. DP

    May 04, 2012 03:15 PM

    I’m with KH, JK and others – this is a bit dramatic and a little too high brow for my liking. I don’t think anyone disputes the fact that certain parts of the fan base act boorishly; however, I’m certainly not going to apologize to another team, let alone another team in our division, for it. Everyone has a different line regarding fan behavior and in my opinion, all fan behavior is permissible unless it involves cursing or violence. If fans want to boo and otherwise deride the home/away team, it’s their priveledge as paying patrons. Finally, I would add to the list of things I don’t like: green Phils gear, men wearing flip flops, and people walking around the park all game just to “hang out”.

  7. tom

    May 04, 2012 03:16 PM

    be more smug about it.

  8. carmendmv

    May 04, 2012 03:17 PM

    Who cares? Nationals can do what they want. Phillies fans are welcomed to feel the way they feel. Why should I respect their efforts to drown out Phillies fans just because it appears we take over their park? We pay for our seats, parking, beer the same as everyone else.

    The most intriguing thing I learned in this post is that Kyle Scott at Crossing Broad steals copy. I had no idea. I’d like more on that, personally.

  9. carmendmv

    May 04, 2012 03:21 PM

    Actually the more I think about it, when I was at Nats park last year, in August I believe it was, yes, it was CBP South – it really was, only thing missing was the Phanatic. Jayson Werth did get booed, but I only heard him get booed once and it was generally a pleasant experience. As a matter of fact, I heard more trash talk from Nats fans.

    Trash talk happens. Booing happens. So what? It’s standard. Just don’t go overboard and please for the love of god, don’t boo children – that’s just ignorant and shows a lack of decency. Otherwise have fun Phillies fans. I wish I could be there this weekend.

  10. Phillie697

    May 04, 2012 03:21 PM

    @carmendmv,

    They are allowed to say, “we don’t want your money” in support of their team. You don’t like it, tough. When the hell did baseball team ever operated purely on sound business decisions?

  11. Meridian

    May 04, 2012 03:23 PM

    I am a Nationals fan living in Washington. Grew up in NYC and went to college in Boston, with family in Philadelphia. So let’s say that for all of my 58 years I have been familiar with East Coast baseball.

    Part of the fun of East Coast baseball is the close proximity of each city and the ability of fans to travel easily. Here in Washington (and for that matter in Baltimore) it’s not unusual to have lots of fans from cities to the north, especially where in recent years it’s become harder to get tickets — Philly, NY, Boston.

    Now, it’s one thing to have visitors rooting for the opposing team, and it’s not fun if there are so many of them they seem to take over the park.

    But we are accustomed to it. Why, then, such special resentment towards Philadelphia fans? I will tell you why, and it has nothing to do with on-field rivalry. I was there on Opening Day in 2010, and the Philadelphia people were not only conspicuously rude and obnoxious, they were, in very large numbers, drunk. Apparently it had begun on the charter buses down and by the time a lot of them got here they were blitzed. We get lots of people from New York when the Mets (and in 2006, the Yankees) were in town, and more recently when the Red Sox were here. But I’ve never seen anything like it. It was one of the most boorish spectacles I’ve ever seen in sports.

    Compounding the resentment, of course, was Stan Kasten’s role in facilitating it. So this year’s reaction is part savvy marketing ploy and part heartfelt “let’s get even.”

    As for me, I’m going tonight. I welcome all well-behaved Philly fans. Naturally I hope we outnumber them, and I hope the Nationals win. And I hope that any drunken miscreants are hauled off to the DC Jail as swiftly as the law permits.

  12. carmendmv

    May 04, 2012 03:24 PM

    @Phillie697

    Agreed. Business decisions are just that. But don’t let me buy a ticket and concessions and treat me differently just because I’m there to support the Phillies. That’s what it feels like to me, especially by calling it “Natitude.” I guess I’ll hear the reports of the fans experience after the series.

  13. Brian

    May 04, 2012 03:26 PM

    Wow. What a condescending article on a site I otherwise love.

    As long as the Phillies fans in attendance behave in a way that does the city proud, why is the whole idea of “The Takeover” a problem?

    Every game at CBP is sold out, and tickets at Nationals Park are way cheaper. Why not show the Nationals what an actual fan base looks like???

  14. Phillie697

    May 04, 2012 03:28 PM

    Read my first post. I make no judgments on Phillies fans’ behavior at the Nats stadium. But this need to bitch about the Nats doing something to show pride in their own team is childish IMHO.

  15. loctastic

    May 04, 2012 03:29 PM

    “bud light lime soaked” is my new favorite pejorative adjective

  16. carmendmv

    May 04, 2012 03:31 PM

    @Meridian

    I forgot about the 2010 bus trip. I keep hearing about that from Nats and Phillies fans alike. That must have been some spectacle. I swear that opening day must have been a scene. That all day drinking trip… ya… not good. I’m sure that will leave a bad taste in your mouth for years to come.

  17. brandooo

    May 04, 2012 07:19 PM

    As a Phillies fan, I felt no resentment towards the Nats or fans. Many times my family and friends would drive down to see a game at Nats stadium. Many people, even Nats franchise employees, I believed liked Phillies fans driving down because it sold more tickets and Phillies fans aren’t as horrendous as many believe. I can understand why the Nats are pulling this Take Back The Park thing, but if the situation were reversed, would Nats fans feel the same way?

  18. Nats fan

    May 04, 2012 10:23 PM

    Philly fans love being jerks..when you put on the logo, it all shines. Why is this a surprise to anyone?

  19. BobSmith

    May 05, 2012 07:55 PM

    You really wrote this lengthy of a post to chastise Phils’ fans who go to games in DC and boo Nats’ players/yell things/etc? Give me a break.

    If Phils’ fans are fighting with Nats’ fans or themselves, constantly yelling expletives, etc, then I do feel differently but in today’s baseball stadiums those fans are often dealt with fairly quickly and removed from games including at CBP.

    It just shows the writer is rather young with little perspective, hasn’t traveled to many other stadiums to watch rivalry games, and certainly wasn’t at the Vet to witness some of the general buffoonery that occurred there even on Opening Day in years past.

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