Visits from the Phillies in recent years have meant quotes from the home clubhouse about getting booed at home — “You wish they were cheering for you,” Michael Morse said last August. They’ve meant disgusted asides from media members — “It’s a good thing (for me) that I’m not 18 again and going to ballgames with three of my old D.C. street-ball buddies,” Thomas Boswell once wrote — and unsightly photographs of row after row filled with Philadelphia t-shirts and jerseys.
The visits have brought e-mails and phone calls from D.C. fans who say they now avoid going to Nats games when the Phillies are in town, and self-congratulatory gloating from Philadelphia fans about Citizens Bank Park South. And above all, they’re brought laments about Stan Kasten’s long-ago radio homage to Washington’s rivals, in which he invited those fans to fill up Nationals Park.
I hated it. You hated it. Boswell hated it. Jayson Werth hated it. And now, the people who run the Nationals are trying to make a change.
“Frankly, I was tired of seeing it,” Nats COO Andy Feffer told me this week. “Forget you, Philly. This is our park, this is our town, these are our fans, and it’s our time right now.”
Which is why, starting Friday morning at 8 a.m., the club will begin selling single-game tickets for just a single weekend series: May 4-6, against the Phillies. These tickets will remain on sale for a full month before the rest of single-game tickets go on sale. And they’ll be available only to buyers with a credit card tied to an address in Maryland, the District or Virginia.
“We’ve heard it enough, we’ve seen it enough, and I don’t like it any more than anyone else,” Feffer said. “We’re trying to build a team here, and nothing irks me personally or the people here more than to see another team’s fans — particularly Philly fans — in our ballpark, holding up signs. That’s not the way it should be. And I think we’ve got an opportunity here to do something different.”
(To register for the offer, go to nationals.com/ourpark; once your address is verified, the team will send you a one-time password to complete your purchase.)
The team is also sending out a notice to season-ticket holders, alerting them about the pre-sale and encouraging them to make sure their tickets remain in the hands of Nats fans when the Phillies visit. “Take Back the Park,” the Nats are calling it, and they want the whole community to rally behind this effort.
Now, this obviously isn’t a perfect solution. There are thousands of Phillies fans who do live in the D.C. area, and won’t be affected by the restrictions on home addresses. Tickets will always find their way to the secondary market, and the series — which includes a nationally televised Sunday night game — is unlikely to sell out before March.
Still, for all of us who have hammered the team for its embrace of rival fans, this is no small gesture, which is why I’ll be happy to buy some tickets of my own to this series. And you should, too. Yes, I’ll drop my cynicism and advocate for what’s good and noble in the world.
“We’ve got some other things planned for the Phillies,” Feffer also said. “Don’t expect their buses to be hanging out and dropping off their fans right around the ballpark here. I’m gonna stick ‘em across the river if I can, make ‘em swim across.”
This was a joke, of course. And neither he nor I would like you to be overtly rude to any out-of-town visitors who find their way inside.
“Seriously, for those fans who do come, we treat all guests with respect and courtesy,” Feffer said. “But look, we’re not gonna make it easy for group sales, for buses coming from Philly. I will not make it easy for those guys to buy tickets or get into this ballpark. Once they’re here, obviously we treat all our guests as patrons, with respect.”
I did wonder whether making this effort public could backfire. Whether asking Nats fans to lock Phillies fans out and suggesting out-of-towners “have a cheesesteak and watch it on TV,” as Feffer joked, would just encourage them to make an extra effort to find tickets.
“Look, this is what a rivalry’s about,” Feffer said. “The Phillies and Nationals should be that rivalry that people get fired up about, and that’s ok. I want Phillies fans to acknowledge that we’re a legitimate contender and that we’re for real. And you know what? If Phillies fans are a little bit irked, that means they’re paying attention.”
So buy some tickets for that first weekend of May, good citizens of D.C. Take advantage of your local credit card. Back your local baseball team up.
“There’s a huge fan base here, and they’re excitable, and they’re ready,” Feffer said. “What we really hope is that by creating and igniting a rivalry here, it’ll be just as raucous here as they get up in Philly, and that we’ll own our own ballpark.”
More Nats coverage from Washington Post Sports: