The Strasburg Controversy is not an actual controversy in NatsTown, because fans almost uniformly side with management, saying they’re in favor of medical caution and long-term planning.
You want a real controversy, though? One filled with vitriol and in-fighting and hurt feelings and split opinions? Let’s talk about the wave.
Every time a wave starts up at Nats Park, the torrent of online criticism splatters bile across my computer screen. It’s distracting to players, the wave critics say. It’s distracting to fans. It prevents proper cheering at the proper moments. It’s a signifier of casual fandom, a legacy of years without baseball, a sign that we don’t deserve our first-place team.
I don’t know what arguments the other side would make, but I do know this: Thousands and thousands and thousands of fans at Nats Park have participated in the wave this season. They evidently do not consider it the devil’s handiwork.
(And for the record, the Nat Pack — the team employees who help encourage cheering inside the Park — do not initiate the wave, according to the team. Nat Pack members encourage fan spirit throughout the game in various ways, and this might occur simultaneously with a wave, but team employees do not help start the wave. For the record.)
Anyhow, with fans increasingly highlighting images like the above one — a close game, against a division rival, in a late inning, facing a key batter, with the Nats in the field, and a wave flowing right behind home plate — I figured we should ask the most important men what they think.
Those would-be Nats relief pitchers, the people most likely to suffer adverse affects from late-game high-pressure waves. Sarah got right to work, and while there wasn’t unanimity , there was certainly enough material to give fodder to the anti-waverists.
“Kill it,” Ryan Mattheus told her. “It’s the worst thing in sports. Sit down and watch the game....The thing about it is, you should be into what’s going on on the field, not what’s going on in the stands. It takes away from the game. I definitely understand why people hate it....I definitely vote kill the wave.”
This is the reddest of anti-wave red meat, because Mattheus is giving voice to what the wave critics say most often: that only people who don’t care about the actual game would take part in the wave. And when Sarah approached Drew Storen, the climate didn’t get any wavier.
“Did those guys tell you to ask me that?” he asked of his bullpen mates. “I am not a fan of the wave. I get it if it’s like a blowout situation or a slow game — fine, mix it in. But we’ve had a couple of times where it’s been the bottom of the eighth and it’s a close game. Cheer for the game, you know?
“If we’re in the fifth or sixth inning and up by a touchdown, maybe mix in the wave if you want,” he continued. “But if it’s the eighth inning and a one-run game, you shouldn’t be starting the wave.”
For me, that’s game over, especially when Storen later told Sarah that this was his “tame response.” Blowouts, fine. Close games, nope. Football players seem to like it. Baseball players don’t.
“You kinda want fans to be locked in to the game,” Storen also said. “But [if they’re going to do the wave], you just want them to pick their spot with it. Just pick your spot.”
In fairness, other pitchers were less strident.
“The wave is the wave.” John Lannan noted. “There’s nothing that a fan can do that can really bother us. You’re pretty locked in, and it doesn’t affect us that much. But the wave is a baseball tradition, it’s just something for the fans to do. I guess it looks alright, but when it fails it looks awful.”
And even pitchers who said they wouldn’t be distracted by fans standing and sitting and standing and sitting still seemed lukewarm.
“I’ve never experienced a problem with it,” Tyler Clippard said.
“It’s just odd when they’re doing the wave in the bottom of the eighth with a one-run lead,” Craig Stammen chimed in.
“Yeah, if they’re doing the wave in the ninth, they’re probably not really into the game,” Clippard concluded.
“But we’re all for them having fun,” Stammen said.
So we’re clear, right? Players want you to have fun. In a non-key situation, or a non-close game, go crazy. But when it’s a close game, and a late inning, and tension is in the air, maybe take your waves to the seashore and pay attention to balls and strikes.