But for the first time since moving to the District, the Nats have three National League all-stars, and could yet add a fourth. They will wake up on July 4 with the best record in the National League; no Washington baseball team has led its league on Independence Day since the 1933 Senators, the last Washington team to play in a World Series.
And the team’s first-half success is translating into huge gains in local and national interest. The talent-rich Nats are drawing the fourth-largest road audience in Major League Baseball, and their home attendance is in the top half of the league, where they haven’t finished since 2005. In-stadium merchandise sales have jumped, and local television ratings have increased by more than 50 percent.
People, it would seem, are finally paying attention.
“I don’t think they can really help it,” all-star shortstop Ian Desmond said Tuesday afternoon. The fans who streamed through the gates an hour before the unusual 6:35 start time agreed.
“When they first got here, I sort of enjoyed the games casually,” said Marian Jenkins, 70, of Waldorf. “Now, I recognize the players, I recognize their numbers, I know little stories about them. I didn’t do that last year. I didn’t do that when they weren’t winning.”
Entering this homestand, the Nats were averaging about 29,500 fans at home games, a year-to-year increase of 28.5 percent, the fourth-largest gain in Major League Baseball.
In-stadium merchandise sales were up an even more impressive 60 percent, with the largest increases in women’s and children’s products, according to the team. The top selling jerseys belonged to 19-year-old phenom outfielder Bryce Harper and the 23-year-old ace of the pitching staff, Stephen Strasburg; “iconic players,” according to chief operating officer Andy Feffer.
Through late June, television ratings for Nationals broadcasts on MASN, MASN2 and WDCW were up 53 percent year-to-year in the Washington market; the average household audience of 52,400 was higher than the most recent local averages for the Capitals or Wizards. The team’s radio broadcasts attracted an average audience of about 70,400 listeners in the May ratings period; up “considerably” over last season, according to a radio industry source.
The team has also made strides in social media; since Jan. 1, the team’s “likes” on Facebook are up 30 percent, and its Twitter followers are up 139 percent.
“It’s filtering throughout the whole city,” said longtime local baseball coach Eddie Saah. “Everybody’s talking about the Nats.”