On too many occasions since baseball returned to the nation’s capital, Nats fans have been unfairly maligned for our supposed misdeeds. We’ve been publicly shamed by announcers of opposing teams, ripped by local and national media, and sometimes even attacked by our own for not being appropriately fanatical. Whether it was the unfortunate sight of thousands leaving early during a bitterly cold, 18-inning playoff debacle, or our (perfectly fine) attendance numbers, too often our fan base has been called out both here and around the baseball world.
But there is one long-standing criticism that isn’t entirely unfair. Try as we might, the energy level at Nationals Park often seems subdued. It’s a problem even Mike Rizzo can’t solve. Despite four division titles in six seasons, the second most wins in baseball since 2012, and maybe the best all-around Nats team since baseball returned to D.C., Nats Park still lacks punch on some game nights.
Stories about fan apathy in D.C. have grown tiresome over the years. But with the NLDS beginning here Friday night, it’s time Nats fans got a little crazy and ended this narrative once and for all.
Though some fans have tried their best, and certain sections are certainly more energetic than others, Nats Park has lacked the vibe of other big-time stadiums. Even Dusty Baker has taken note.
After a win earlier this season, Baker lamented: “I just wish … that we’d have a little more noise and energy in the ballpark, and that really helps us out, especially when you’re home, because when we’re on the road there is plenty of noise on the other side.”
According to Baker, others in the organization have complained as well. “Some of the guys on the team wish our fans were a little more boisterous and crazy,” he’s admitted, “a little bit like we see at different stadiums on the road.”
Few would deny this team has the pieces to do something special this October, but if we really want to see the Nats finally break through, the least we can do as fans is honor Dusty’s request. Nats Park will be sold out for every playoff game, and certainly there’s going to be plenty of excitement facing the defending World Series champs. But it’s time we gave our best effort as fans, too.
This isn’t advice for the die-hards; they already know what to do. But for those casual fans lucky enough to secure tickets: put the phones down, be into every pitch, cheer as loud as you can — basically just do the opposite of Marlins Man. Make noise — not just for the first and last outs of the game, but for every key sequence in between. Make it a general rule: If your arms aren’t tired and voice isn’t a little hoarse after a game, you didn’t try hard enough.
For some folks, standing the whole game isn’t in the cards. That’s fine. But dressing in red, screaming and clapping and chanting and waving towels — is that really too much to ask? It’s going to take a total team effort if the Nats are going to break through this postseason. Players, coaches, and yes, fans.
Nats Park will undoubtedly be a great atmosphere in the playoffs, but lets make this the start of a new era for our fan base. After Game 1 of last year’s NLDS, Baker said, “wish it was like that every day. It’s only like that every day in a few places, and I loved the sea of red, a lot more red than blue, and it made us feel good.” Dusty is right, it should be like that every day, and it can be.
There were encouraging signs last weekend. Loud chants for Jayson Werth and even Victor Robles rained down all the way from the Red Porch to the Diamond Club. The energy level was at a season high, despite less than capacity crowds in the meaningless final series of the year. During a pair of losses Friday and Saturday, fans erupted often, one boisterous standing ovation after another. If fans were practicing for the postseason, we looked to be in mid-October form.
That’s what it should always be like for a perennially winning team that owns their division. It took 34 years to finally get a team back in D.C.; now it’s time we act like we deserve it.
Rudy Gersten is a Washington native.