Many of my readers have asked if other sports towns share Washington’s tendency to pit fanbase against fanbase. Truth is, I have no idea. Also, there are thousands and thousands of Washington sports fans who root for every team, and who don’t begrudge the Redskins their incessant media coverage, or the Nats their sweet stadium deal, or the Caps their regular-season success, or whatever.
Still, there remains a tendency — which I sure haven’t avoided — to compare fanbase to fanbase, and to rank where all these teams fit in the market. And this week, ESPN 980’s Kevin Sheehan prompted Mike Rizzo to go down that path, by asking the Nats GM just how big his fanbase could get, and whether his team could ever rival the Redskins in this market.
“You know, I’m not a native Washingtonian, but I do come from a city that has rabid sports fans just like D.C.,” Rizzo answered. “When everyone’s split between the Cubs and the Sox in Chicago, there’s always one constant: everyone loves the Bears. Football is football.
“I do believe — because I’m a baseball person and a baseball fan first and foremost — that when you put a good product on the field, a baseball team that’s an exciting team to watch with good personalities, [players] that you control over a number of years and it’s not just a one [year thing] where you’re always flipping over the roster via free agency and trades, and [fans] can really sink their teeth into these different personalities and personas, I think that Washington D.C. could become primarily a baseball town, with the Redskins always being right there in the picture also,” he continued.
“And I enjoy all the sports there. I live downtown, and I’m at a lot of Wizards games and Capitals games. I was at the Redskins-Cowboys game. So I love D.C. sports. The fans are terrific. Even when we weren’t very good, the fan base was rabid. And It may have only been 18 or 20,000 in the ballpark, but they were good, knowledgeable, loud fans that really cared about the club, even back then.”
That’s mostly steering clear of potholes, which is well done. The “primarily a baseball town” bit is probably not accurate, for a variety of reasons. But I do think the Nats could nail down the No. 2 spot, if they haven’t already.
Sheehan also asked Rizzo if he ever relished telling everyone to stick it, in so many words, during the Strasburg Shutdown onslaught last summer. He said he did not.
“The attention should have been on the pitcher, Stephen Strasburg, and the 98- win Washington Nationals throughout the season, and the steps we were taking to become a championship-caliber ballclub,” Rizzo said. “We were so matter of fact about it and so decisive about it, as you put it, because we believed in it. It was explained to my ownership early on in the process, way back in January, before the season. I gave them all the facts that I had at my disposal, that helped me make my decision and my philosophy years ago, and they were totally on board with it. Really the only people that had a problem with it was the media, and really, largely, it was the national media. Because I think the local media was on board with it.”
I think this is true, and I think that frustrated some Nats fans, who wished the local media had raised the questions being grappled with by national analysts.