There are plenty of reasons for cynicism at Nationals Park this month, more than can be counted on two hands, and Tuesday provided something of a punctuation mark.
The Nationals traded Daniel Murphy and Matt Adams before they hosted the Philadelphia Phillies. That hinted, or screamed, that the Nationals have accepted 2018 as a missed opportunity and are looking ahead to next season. The game started with little energy in the crowd. The Nationals scored a run. Then it rained. Then lightning came near. Then it rained harder and, just before 8 p.m., the precipitation was hard enough for the umpires to clear the field so the tarp could be draped over it.
On the right field video screen, a white-lettered message suggested imminent disaster: “TAKE COVER UNDER THE CONCOURSE UNTIL THE SEVERE STORM PASSES.” People listened, but they also stayed, huddling beneath the concrete overhangs, swigging lukewarm beer, sweating through big red ponchos. For some reason, on the day the Nationals seemingly accepted the season as a loss, fans waited out a 1-hour 42-minute weather delay to watch more Nationals baseball.
“So right now, you really could look at it as glass half full or glass half empty,” said Tracy Tran, a 34-year-old fan from Fairfax, assessing the season as he waited for the rain to stop. “I’m in the glass-half-empty crowd, and I’m pretty surprised so many people are still here.”
Tran was dressed like a Jayson Werth gnome, a costume he first wore when the Nationals gave away Jayson Werth gnomes in 2014. The get-up included a big fake beard, a big red hat and a personalized jersey with “Tran” and No. 15 on the back. It was hard to call his bluff with all that fake hair covering his face, but his breakdown of the remaining crowd led to an obvious question.
If he is part of the glass-half-empty crowd, why was he still at the game?
“Well, to be honest,” Tran said, dropping his voice and smirking, “if I went home, I’d probably just turn on the game. I’d have nothing else to do.”
During the delay, the Nationals put the Braves-Pirates game on the big screen beyond the right field fence. The Nationals entered Tuesday night 7½ games behind Atlanta in the National League East, and 6½ games behind the second-place Phillies. The Murphy and Adams trades happened Tuesday because the Nationals were unable to pick up ground since the nonwaiver trade deadline July 31, but they have not been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.
Not yet, at least.
So the fans did some literal scoreboard watching while thunder rumbled and lightning stuck in the distance. The rain didn’t slow as 30 minutes turned into an hour. The Braves went ahead on a two-run homer 230 miles away in Pittsburgh, and there were scattered groans throughout the upper concourse.
“I think I’m going to need another beer if the Braves are going to keep scoring,” said one fan sitting at a long picnic table, but he made no move to leave.
“The thing is, I’m not going to stop being a fan because they made a few trades,” said Cathy Flake, who sat through the delay with a friend and figured there was no reason to leave unless it got really late. “It was really sad to lose Murphy, and it doesn’t feel like there is a lot of hope right now. But you have to keep supporting. And it’s not like it’s bad to sit at a baseball game.”
It seemed fitting that it kept raining Tuesday. It was raining when the Nationals announced the trades. It was raining when General Manager Mike Rizzo expressed optimism for the Nationals’ short- and long-term future. There are at least a half dozen bad metaphors in there.
James Vavricek, a longtime Nationals fan at the game with his father, was even ambitious enough to suggest one.
“What are you writing down — that on the day Daniel Murphy was traded, the sky cried, too?” Vavricek said with a laugh, then offered a measured perspective on those who stuck around to watch a game that probably won’t matter at season’s end.
“I really don’t think many people are thinking about it,” he said. “But it is interesting, because it is totally new. In the time the Nationals have been here, it’s a situation fans aren’t used to. Either the team was so bad that this time of the year never mattered, or the team was good enough so selling wasn’t an option. It feels odd, but I don’t think it’s the start of a new era or anything.”
And with that, the rain lightened enough for the Nationals’ groundscrew to emerge from the dugout. Fans clapped. Some even cheered.
It wasn’t much. But it sure was something.
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