You know, whenever someone calls out Caps fans as being too “snobby” or too insular or too “mean spirited” or not nice enough to new fans, I’d like to direct them at Jason Reid's latest article, in which he calls Stephen Strasburg “D.C.’s #1 sports star”, because it’s such a blatant example of pure snobbery and superciliousness that it might make one of the Rockefellers blush.
I think we’re all aware that D.C. will never be a “hockey town” in the sense that the Caps will never dominate the local media like the Leafs in Toronto or the Oilers or Jets in Western Canada. But look at the growth in interest in the Capitals in the Ovechkin Era.
If Jason Reid had bothered to go to any of the Caps Development Camp, he would have seen the stands packed with fans and jamming into the aisles to watch rookies and prospects scrimmage. In the middle of July.
To me, that’s more indicative of a passionate, devoted, caring fanbase than getting double the media credential requests that Bryce Harper did for a pitcher making a rehab start in lower-level Class A in the middle of August.
The very fact that Ovechkin is mentioned among Redskins and Strasburg tells me how popular he has become. Ten or twenty years ago, would any Cap have made the top 5 on a theoretical “D.C. Superstars” list? D.C. kids want to be hockey players because of Alex Ovechkin. They’ve taken an interest in the game, and the stands are full of them. Tons of locals drive up to Hershey to watch AHL games. The Caps are doing boffo ratings in the Baltimore area. None of this happens without Ovechkin.
“This isn’t Montreal or Edmonton”, Reid writes. “It’s D.C.”. That, to me, is the most egregious passage in the whole piece. It’s designed to relegate hockey to a provincial game where it’s charming to think about during times when the “real” sports like football and basketball aren’t on TV.
And people wonder why Caps fans have a reputation of being standoffish? It’s because we’ve been told over and over again since we were kids how odd we were for liking hockey, or standing out as the only kid in class wearing a hockey sweater or hat or any other kind of swag. It’s from having no one else to play street hockey with in the summer time and shooting street hockey balls to yourself off the walls. We have pride in what we like and we think our sport is great, and we don’t take kindly to people who tell us, in their own opinion, that because it isn’t as “popular” (whatever that means) as football or baseball or basketball that we’re somehow invisible from the landscape. And of course, when we respond, we’re labeled as snobbish.
So despite what Jason Reid and those of his ilk think, there is a rather large contingent of hockey fans in this town, and there’s a really good player who plays for them. It doesn’t make D.C. any less of a “proper” sports town to have a hockey player as its most popular athlete. It’s reality.
The Redskins have been withering on the vine for years. The Wizards may make the playoffs someday. The Nationals will have two really good young players. But no one will do for their sports in this area what Alex Ovechkin has done for his. He made a sport matter in a place where it didn’t register before, and that’s nothing Strasburg will ever do, no matter how good he could be.