The attendance at Nationals Park this season has been perfectly fine. The home nine are averaging a touch more than 31,000 fans a night, good for 13th in Major League Baseball. Both figures are similar to the four seasons since Washington’s 2012 on-field breakout: the Nats have finished 14th, 11th, 12th and 11th in home attendance in that span, each time averaging between 30,000 and 33,000 fans.
And yet as careful readers — and angry commenters — on this blog are well aware, Nats fans have taken it on the chin from some out-of-town broadcasters this season for not being loud enough, or energetic enough, or willing-to-stay-until-the-end-and-endure-an-inevitable-awful-commute-home enough. Opposing fans have often chipped in with their own critiques, and some Nats fans have felt under attack.
Some of them have understandably gotten angry at me, and others, for dwelling on such criticisms. Others get angry at fellow D.C. sports fans for not being appropriately fanatical. Before his final pre-all-star-break home appearance Wednesday afternoon, first-year Manager Dusty Baker was asked for his take on Washington fans. He was both measured and insightful.
“Some of the guys on the team wish our fans were a little more boisterous and crazy, a little bit, like we see at different stadiums on the road,” Baker said. “But we also realize that a lot of our fans are new Nationals fans; that some of them — or a whole bunch of them — were Cubs and Mets [fans] and you know, wherever they come from. That’s the dynamics of D.C., which we realize. But we’re trying to win everybody to us. And you know, we need their energy, big-time.”
Baker went on to say that there are some days when big league ballplayers “don’t have energy,” just like “there’s some days when you go to work and you don’t feel it,” he told the room of reporters. “You’re trying to get it, right? I mean, some days you can just write a story, like no problem, and other days, man, you’re tearing up paper. And it’s the same way for us.”
This is a delicate subject, as Baker seemed to realize. There are tens of thousands of passionate Washington sports fans who have poured themselves into local franchises for decades, without many championship parades to show for it. For obvious reasons, they don’t like the implication that Washington sports fans are not tip-top, that home crowds are diluted by out-of-towners without an emotional attachment to D.C., or that players find them lacking. They especially don’t like the idea that after decades of more losses than wins, fans should now be in charge of making sure players perform.
And this topic is especially delicate this month, as some have debated how much impact the subdued Wizards crowds of recent seasons have had on the team’s efforts to lure top free agents. The Wizards face the same issue that has occasionally cropped up at Nationals Park: loud and noticeable groups of visiting fans, cheering on the wrong team. Sometimes you can’t help but notice this, and so players notice this.
I’ve probably written about the topic as much as anyone, to the point that people think I’m shaming Washington sports fans, which bums me out. My continued employment is based on the mild affection — or at least, the lack of hostility — from D.C. sports fans, who have helped me spend a decade writing about virtually nothing but D.C. sports, because that’s the only thing that interests me. Still, with Baker bringing up the point, I wanted to ask him a follow-up: about what makes for a boisterous home crowd.
“Like, you go to Chicago, 98 percent of them are Chicago Cubs fans, you know what I mean?” Baker said. “They’re from Chicago. And you go to New York; most New York fans are from New York. On the other hand, you go to L.A., and we used to say the same thing in L.A.: like Dave Kingman hit three home runs off of us and he got a standing ovation because half of the people in L.A. are from somewhere else.
“San Francisco fans are louder, because probably 90 percent of them are from San Francisco,” Baker said. “And you go to the White Sox fans, damn near 100 percent of them are from Chicago. It’s just the different dynamics of the area and [where] a lot of the population are from. Or you go to Cleveland. I mean, most fans in Cleveland are from Cleveland.”
Still delicate, yes. If you grew up in Potomac or Falls Church or Chantilly or Waldorf or even D.C., you probably don’t want to hear about the lack of Washington sports fans. On the other hand, if there are 30,000 fans at a Nats game, and maybe 15 percent of them are not invested in the home team, you’ve just whacked a huge chunk of potential boisterousness before the first pitch. So what is to be done?
“You change it with the kids, I think,” Baker said. “The kids can grow up with this, unless they’re brainwashed by their parents like a lot of times they are, you know? I was talking to somebody the other day where their dad wouldn’t let them eat unless they’re Yankees fans. I’m serious. I’m not being facetious, I’m serious about that.
“So I think you start it with the kids,” Baker concluded. “You know, this franchise is only 10 years old. I mean, this is the third try here, correct? So it starts with the kids, and then the kids actually bring their parents to the ballpark. The parents drive and they pay for the tickets, but I remember when I was kid, I’d [beg] my dad to always take me to the ballpark. So that’s where it starts. It starts with the kids.”
So this is our duty, transplanted Washingtonians who are raising our children here. We have to take our cues from them, and a bit of vice versa, too. We have to raise our kiddies to be good Washington sports fans, to not be Red Sox fans first and oh yeah to cheer for the home team on the side, but to live and breathe Natitude, or Nats Town, or #OnePursuit, or whatever it is they’re supposed to be living and breathing. Probably, we should want them not to live and breath hashtags eventually.
And if we like living here, which presumably we do, and we like watching sports, which heavens knows why but we also do, then we have to take our cues from these children, while not threatening to take away their food sources.
Then add in a few championships, and maybe, possibly, hopefully there will come a day when you don’t have to send me angry e-mails for writing about whether D.C. sports fans are boisterous enough.
(And for the record, I love all of you and would never criticize your behavior.)