I fear Peter Angelos may have been correct. About ten years ago when he was trying to block Washington, DC from getting a Major League Baseball team, he was quoted as saying, “There are no real baseball fans in D.C.”
I remember thinking at the time, what an out of touch old coot he must be. I lived in the District for a while and worked there for many years. I was a baseball fan, admitting like a lot of people in the greater Washington, DC area I had grown up elsewhere and found myself here due to my career path. I still followed my hometown Cincinnati Reds, and became a regular at Camden Yards.
However after attending a game recently between the Washington Nationals and St Louis Cardinals, I might have seen a glimpse of what Angelos was talking about. The day had everything a real baseball fan could hope for, one of the first warm Saturday’s of the year, both teams contending for first place early in the season and the promise of a successful season laid out ahead.
Walking into the stadium it seemed like I was going to be in for a real day to remember. We made the obligatory walk around the concourse and saw the multitudes of food options, browsed the Clubhouse store and pondered a couple Nationals apparel items.
One thing that struck me was the huge number of fans in St. Louis caps and jerseys. Now anyone that’s been to a professional game in DC, knows it’s not unusual to the see the opposing teams colors and logos, after all DC is one of the more transient cities in America. And the Nationals in the past have even taken to marketing to the opposing teams fan base. But the number of Cardinals fans seemed unusually high.
However, the real shock came once we were settled in our $40 seats on the field level. I was surprised and bit taken aback to see the people directly in front of us holding an infant that couldn’t have been more than three to six months old. The couple spent the majority of the game with one of them attending to the baby in one way or another, and I don’t think mom or dad were in their seats together for more than one inning of the entire game.
In addition it appeared grandma and grandpa came along to experience the site of baby fan witnessing her (I’m guessing by the pink towel) first Nationals game. Grandpa actually appeared to be trying to watch the game. Grandma must have set a Nationals Park record for IPhone photos taken and uploaded to Facebook.
During the game, we were fortunate to witness, several bouts of crying, knee bobbing, burping, and of course the time honored 5th inning tradition of breast feeding, seriously!!
Now, I’m making an example of the couple that happened to be right in front of us, and may be nice of people. But in our section we saw no less than four other parents with babies that were young enough that they needed to be carried in either a carrier or strap on baby pack, or whatever those contraptions are called.
Why would anyone think bringing a baby that young to a three hour long, outdoor activity packed with 40,000 people is cute? It’s not, it’s selfish and self-centered. Nationals Park apparently has a doggie zone where you can bring your dog and several times throughout the game fans along with their pups are featured on the video board. I guess we were in the baby zone but missed the sign.
Now before I get labeled a baby-hater which I’m really not, some of the adults weren’t much more tuned into the game. Two young 30-something guys that sat right behind us, spent the majority of the game talking about problems at their office and how they seemingly had all the answers. Well not all the answers, one of them asked how the Cardinals had scored their last run? Which is somewhat understandable, we were about 300 feet from home plate after all.
All around us it was a constant swarm of non-baseball watching activity, such as groups getting up to “go for a walk.” Countless trips in and out of the rows to check out a different concession item, well I can’t put too much blame there.
It just seems that nobody sits in their seats anymore, and I didn’t notice one single person around me keeping score with the complimentary scorecard that is still given out.
When the Nationals threatened to tie or win the game in the bottom of the ninth inning, most fans paid little more than obligatory attention. It took a few guys in the front row to turn around and shout and motion for people to stand up and get excited.
I know I’m from a different era. My fandom began over 40 years ago. I grew up outside of Cincinnati, Ohio in the late 60’s and stayed into the 80’s. My formative years of baseball were following the Big Red Machine that would lose to the Orioles and the Athletics in the 1970 and 1972 World Series respectively. Before winning back to back titles in the 1976 and 1977 against the Red Sox and Yankees—column interruption for Oriole fans to cheer—as I became old enough to drive myself to games, the defining moment of many baseball addicted youths at the time.
After college I moved to cities with no baseball teams first Tampa then Raleigh, yes there actually was a time when Devil Ray…excuse me Rays didn’t exist. Tampa was the spring training home of the Reds at the time, and I eagerly awaited every late February when pitchers and catchers would show up followed shortly by the full squad. By this time in the 80’s , Johnny Bench, Pete Rose and Manager Sparky Anderson had been replaced with the likes of Dan Billardelo, Ron Oester and Russ Nixon, and the Reds regularly finished in last place of the National League West, behind among others the Los Angeles Dodgers their hated rival at the time.
After the teams left Florida, I took out a mail order subscription to the Dayton Daily News which would arrive in a timely fashion three to four days later and I would devour the box scores and latest—well as latest as they could be—stats. It’s now with all the details that are available on MLB.Com, bsaeballreference.com and other sites, a through baseball geek can find out what his favorite player is batting on Tuesday nights, against left handers after having chicken-cordon bleu for a pre-game meal. Back in 1984, I was happy to find out three days later that Dave Concepcion had gone 2-4!!
So enough of convincing that I grew up a baseball fan and remain a baseball fan. I arrived in Washington the same year that Camden Park opened and made the drive up from Georgetown for several weeknight and weekend games those first couple years. Hmmmh…I was in DC and I was a baseball fan. But this is when Angelos was still relying on ticket buyers from what he now considers enemy territory.
The game against the Cardinals was a sellout crowd of 44,000. Drawing over 2 million fans to Nationals Park each year as they have, the number may say there are enough fans to support the team in DC. But after what I experienced this past week, I have to wonder if Angelos had a valid point.