Intersections: Half and O SW: Nats’ neighbors hard to win over

In his weekly series, reporter Robert Samuels explores the District, street corner by street corner.

Game time is an hour away. The red-and-white-clad Nationals fans swarm into their ballpark, chanting “National champions!” and strutting with the swagger of a team that has just clinched its first division championship.

But at O and Half streets SW, life simply goes on. Men huddle and shake hands outside a nearby building, holding wads of cash in their fists. A young man with no legs wheels himself out of the Friendly Food Market with a jug of milk in his lap. And Charles Wallace, 59, resumes a long-running argument over whether the Nats have helped or hurt the neighborhood.

For the rest of Washington, the Nationals needed one successful season to woo the region. But only 161 steps away from the left-field entrance, “Natitude” is a harder sell.

“You don’t think it brought jobs to our community?” Wallace asks a man who will supply only one name: Morrison.

“It did bring some jobs, but I’m just not sure it’s helped as much as it’s going to hurt,” Morrison responds.

America’s pastime has real consequences in this neighborhood of low-rise, low-income brick apartments. Aside from the corner market, there’s nothing on this corner but pavement and people. As Wallace and Morrison talk, strangers in a caravan circle the area, sometimes called Buzzard Point, in hopes of finding a free parking space.

Wallace: “People from all over are coming here now. They want to join in on our community.”

Three police officers station their patrol car in an alley, telling the people on the street: “We are here to serve and protect.” When Morrison hears them, he wonders who they are “protecting”: the fans or the neighborhood folks?

“When we stand on the street, they ask us to keep moving,” Morrison said. “A Nats fan can stand talking on the street drunk for as long as he wants. They will be mostly Caucasian, but I don’t think that’s why the police leave them alone. It’s because they’re Nats fans.”

Little more than a block toward the stadium, a 276-unit, luxury high-rise is poking up from the ground. Its shell already dims the white lights of the stadium’s rafters, which once bathed this community.

Morrison: “The jobs people here are getting aren’t enough to have us keep living here. You think you’ll be able to afford something in that building?”

“But for now?” Wallace asks.

“It’s only a matter of time.”

The fans come to the stadium for a playful distraction and a $6 cup of beer. The neighbors come to this corner for sustenance. This is the nearest place to pick up canned beans, a 24-ounce can of beer for $1.59 or a few red potatoes.

A woman, suffering from such chronic pain that she can hardly move, struggles to unwrap an ice cream bar. A family of four, with a blond baby resting on Dad’s shoulders, that is headed to the Nats game passes her by.

Twenty minutes before the game begins, LaShawn McCants, 43, steps onto the front steps of her apartment. Before this park opened in 2008, she concedes that few around here were baseball people. They were Redskins people, long accustomed to losing.

The Nats gave her something more edifying: a job. She worked as a ticket taker for a year; she started understanding the game. She told her boyfriend how fun it was to watch, and he got into them, as well. They say the neighborhood is learning to love baseball, but slowly.

“People here are serious about jobs,” McCants said. “So what’s good for the Nats is good for us.”

She was inside watching television on Monday night when she heard the pow-pow-pow outside her window.

“I knew they weren’t gunshots, so I figured they won’’ the division championship, she said, even though they lost that game. “Everyone was cheering.”

On Tuesday, the Nats’ starting lineup was introduced to cheers that could be heard from her doorstep.

The men are still huddled on the corner. A teenager is riding his bike in circles. The woman licks the residue of chocolate ice cream off her pink fingernails and slowly walks away.

As the game starts, a woman in a long black wig walks past Half and O with two tickets in her hand.

“Anyone wanna buy a ticket?” she asks.

The people on the street pay her no attention.

To read about more Intersections, go to PostLocal.com.

M Street and Wisconsin Avenue NW

Ninth Street and Rhode Island Avenue NW

Robert Samuels writes for the Post’s social issues team. In Maryland, he focuses on issues affecting low-income children and families. He also covers life in the District.
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