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Nationals Park infiltrated by Phillies fans on opening day

By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 7, 2010; D01

Before the Philadelphia Phillies clobbered the Nationals, 11-1, Monday, their fans scored an even more resounding blow. A significant portion of the 42,190 in attendance for opening day rooted for the away team, creating an adverse atmosphere for Nationals players and making some Nationals fans feel like visitors in their home park.

A Phillies fan named Brian Michael said it "felt like a home game." Washington Nationals Manager Jim Riggleman called it "a statement of where we've got to get to." And NationalsEnquirer.com, a prominent Nationals fan blog, called the day "one of the low points in the brief history of the Washington Nationals."

The phenomenon of a visiting team's fans infiltrating the opposing stadium is not unique to the Nationals, particularly in the cozy Northeast corridor. Camden Yards in Baltimore has earned the nickname "Fenway South" from years of Boston Red Sox fans packing the park for Orioles games. But the raiding of Nationals Park on opening day stung District fans.

"I don't think any of us care about losing 11-1," said Daniel Furth, a Nationals fan who attended. "But, really, to me, the atmosphere just ruined opening day. It just completely ruined it."

The Nationals did not discourage Phillies fans from coming in droves. If anything, the team may have encouraged them.

In December, Michael received a phone call from Bree Parker, a senior account executive in the Nationals group ticket sales office. She wanted to know if Michael needed to reserve tickets so he could watch his favorite team on opening day.

Michael appreciated the call. For the past four years, Michael had been arranging bus trips to Phillies away games through his Web site, PhilliesNation.com. Michael had also tried planning trips to Citi Field in New York for Mets games, and he always found them "annoying" to deal with. Michael already knew Parker from when she helped him the previous year. This winter, he did not even need to call, he said.

"They reached out to us," Michael said. "They were able to meet our needs for the tickets. It wasn't too much of a hassle or anything."

Michael secured about 530 tickets. Monday morning, he packed 275 people on five busses that motored south on Interstate 95. They parked in a lot they had rented thanks to a referral from Parker, who was away from her office Tuesday afternoon and could not be reached for comment.

Nationals Director of Ticket Operations Derek Younger referred questions to a team spokesman.

"We sell season tickets and book groups all winter long," Nationals President Stan Kasten wrote in an e-mail. "For every game of the season. All of this is before any individual tickets go on sale. Most of our groups are local. Some are from out of town. It's really that simple."

The Nationals took deposits for group sales -- 25 tickets is the threshold -- beginning in November and started selling those tickets Jan. 4. When individual tickets went on sale March 2, seats for opening day -- aside from the 400 $5 seats the Nationals hold back for every game -- sold out in seven minutes.

The hordes from Philadelphia left many Nationals fans with an impression that the organization had sold droves of tickets to Phillies fans at the expense of Nationals fans who wanted to buy tickets but could not.

"By making them available to fans in Philly, they were no longer available in D.C.," Furth said. "They have seven minutes worth of tickets available. People in Philly, they had 20,000. They had lots more than seven minutes."

A sampling of other teams' policies shows a narrower gap between when group sales and individual sales begin. The Tampa Bay Rays sell put their group and individual tickets on sale on the same day in February. Orioles group tickets went on sale in mid-January, and their individual tickets started selling at the end of January.

The Nationals said the raiding of Nationals Park was not a product of policies that favor opposing fans, but rather another growing pain for a franchise five years old and coming off consecutive 100-loss seasons.

"As anyone who has watched bad teams turn into good teams, in any sport, these problems dissipate as teams improve, as home teams' followers get more numerous and more enthusiastic," Kasten said.

Kasten also said the nature of Phillies fans contributed to the feeling Monday at Nationals Park. He said that Red Sox fans had attended in even greater numbers Saturday for an exhibition game, but there was a "tangible, qualitative difference in the two crowds."

But there also is a difference between how hometown fans feel during an exhibition and their team's opener. In Baltimore, the Orioles make opening day tickets available only to their own season-tickets holders. Even if the Orioles played the Red Sox, an official in the Orioles ticket office said, their park could not be overrun on opening day.

During pregame introductions at Nationals Park Monday, Phillies fans booed Nationals staff and players and chanted "Sucks!" after the public announcer bellowed each name.

"That was impressive," Phillies right fielder Jayson Werth said. "It felt like all of right field was only Phillies fans. This kind of started to be our home away from home a little bit."

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