Can You Explain Why You Rip the Nationals' Fan Base?

Can You Explain Why You Rip the Nationals' Fan Base?

I understand that attendance is a point of pride for sports fans, and I understand why.

It's the opportunity to say that we, as a fan base, are loyal. That we care. That we even go so far as to impact the product on the field by giving the organization more of our money, which it, in turn, can potentially use to improve the club.

Those are the positives. As for the negatives — well, I suppose there's bandwagoning. Bandwagoning irks me. So much so that whenever a town is lauded for having "great fans," I almost compulsively cross-reference attendance charts with the last time one of its teams wasn't very good.

But when it comes to a population being generally apathetic about a franchise — what's the problem? How or why does it impact you in another town that has a team? Sure, it impacts the particular league in question, and if you're arguing for the greater benefit of that entity, then there's a real discussion to be had about under-performing franchises, assuming they're really under-performing. I just don't think many of those ripping the Washington Nationals are suggesting that the team be moved to another obvious market. Let's also acknowledge that the Nationals are the least of baseball's worries. (I'm looking at you Tampa Bay.)

Through 78 home games in 2012 (this chart I'm referencing has not yet been updated with the Nats' final series against the Phillies), the Nationals have drawn an average attendance of 29,919, the 14th-highest in the majors.

For the last week, articles like this have been pouring out, reporting that Nats playoffs seats are the hottest tickets in D.C., that the club is claiming they're sold out with the exception of some outrageously pricey seats, and that StubHub is selling them from anywhere between $63 and $500.

Social media and internet comment boards have their benefits, but, as many of us have come to realize, we all probably share just a little too much. Much of the sharing I've noticed related to Washington's empty seats as it clinched the division involved the words "embarrassing" and "pathetic" and "disgraceful."

There appear to be two concerns here:

1. The Nationals fans are "pathetic" because they don't show up in sufficient numbers to support a team about to win the division, as judged by those in another town.
2. The Nationals are now about to sell out a playoff game but didn't draw during the year (bandwagoning).

If it's indeed the case, why is apathy to be condemned? It's possible people in Washington don't like baseball. It's also true that Washington is a particularly tricky town considering its population is, understandably, a bit more transient, and may have allegiances elsewhere. Then there are the points that no one was really clamoring for a team in Washington when the Expos moved there, that there's a semi-complicated geographic and emotional split with the Orioles based on how people react to Peter Angelos, and that it can just take time to grow a fan base. As Dave Murphy pointed out Wednesday, rooting for teams in Philadelphia is part of a generations-long culture. That is not the case with baseball in Washington.

History or no history, I cannot stress enough just how possible it is that a population will simply not care about a particular sport or team. Take, for example, your Philadelphia 76ers, who don't really seem like your Philadelphia 76ers judging by the last five years of attendance. On a different scale, compare the number of comments on articles or blog posts about the Sixers to those on pieces about the other teams in town. You'll notice something: there's generally fewer in total, but a higher number of the "who cares?" variety. Of course, with the roster reshape and the addition of Andrew Bynum, it would be a surprise not to see the Sixers' attendance receive a bump, just as it did during last season and, to a greater extent, the playoffs.

And this gets us to the bandwagoning angle, which given Washington's reported playoff sellouts we now need to consider in tandem with the prior apathy. In short, there's a whole lot of hypocrisy related to fan loyalty. When teams are bad for prolonged stretches, with rare exceptions, fans stop showing up. This is not necessarily unforgivable behavior, as there are justifications for it. Going to games can be expensive even when the tickets themselves are fairly cheap. Then there are concerns over continuing to fund an under-performing franchise — this is a conversation we have about a certain team in this town every so often.

No win is as satisfying as the one you struggled for. The 2008 World Series wouldn't have been nearly as sweet for so many without the 25 preceding years of city failure. No win, for me, will be nearly as meaningful as a Stanley Cup, just as no win, for others, will be more euphoric than a Super Bowl. So I judge the guy in the purple flat brim and black Hunter Pence t-shirt. (Obviously this a stereotype, and, no, it doesn't apply to all black-shirt and purple-hat owners.) In some ways, my behavior is juvenile, as people are allowed to enjoy things in different ways and spend their time and cash however they like. In other ways, it's justified, like when I cannot find a ticket or incur added cost for something I used to enjoy for a lower price relative to a smaller demand. In that same breath, there's an added value to the extra people who show up when times are good — free agent signings are expensive.

My hangups aside, there are reasons why people don't show up to sporting events, in this market and others. Maybe it's because they don't care — and who can condemn? Maybe they won't pay for mediocrity — an arguable but under certain circumstances acceptable point. Maybe they don't have the emotional ties after eight years of a really terrible existence — that's not unusual. And maybe a lot of fans really are just bandwagoners — but those people are everywhere.

If the Nats are good for another five years, their fans will probably have you believe they were in it from the beginning. That doesn't sound unfamiliar does it? Then again, if they stay for the long-haul, then their fandom had to start somewhere.

Finally, on top of it all, there's the curious question of how or why we separate or combine the success of the players on the field with their fan base. And that is a much longer, more complicated discussion.

Whatever the answer, no town is immune from a certain level of apathy nor from bandwagoning. Philadelphians, myself included, are no better.

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Howard homers, embraces the moment, looks forward to final salute Sunday

Howard homers, embraces the moment, looks forward to final salute Sunday

BOX SCORE

The New York Mets and a slew of their supportive fans took over Citizens Bank Park on Sunday afternoon. The Mets posted a 5-3 win over the Phillies and streamed out of the dugout like school children at recess to celebrate clinching a National League wild-card playoff spot on the penultimate day of the season (see Instant Replay).

As the Mets players congratulated each other on the diamond, several thousand of their vocal fans cheered in the stands while Phillies fans headed to the exits longing for those days when their team used to have celebrations on the field.

There was a moment in the game, however, when it did feel like the good ol’ days at the ballpark, a moment when Ryan Howard owned the place like he used to and the Phillies fans drowned out the Mets fans with ease.

It came in the fifth inning when the Phillies were down by two runs and Howard came to the plate and turned on a pitch from Bartolo Colon and sent it into the right-field seats for a game-tying two-run home run. Phillies fans had seen Howard hit homers like this before because many of the 382 he has hit in his career have been clutch shots that have come in big moments, and though the Phillies have long been dead in the standings, this was an important game and thus a big moment because the Mets had a lot to play for and no competitor worth his salt would let another team walk on him.

The game didn’t stay tied long as reliever Patrick Schuster allowed a hit and a wild pitch in the top of the sixth before David Hernandez surrendered a two-run homer to James Loney as the Mets went up for good.

But at least Howard gave the Phillies fans in the house something to cheer about for a short while.

“It was cool,” Howard acknowledged after the game. “I was able to hit the home run, tying the game up. I tried to spoil it for them today a little bit, but they got us, and you’ve got to congratulate those guys because they scratched and clawed and did what they needed to do. That’s a good ball club.”

Howard’s home run, of course, was cool for another reason.

It might have been his last as a Phillie.

This is the veteran slugger’s final weekend with the team he helped win the 2008 World Series and a little love-in has developed between him and the fans. They gave him a standing ovation after the homer – his 25th of the season – and he responded with a curtain call.

“It was awesome,” he said. “To be able to hit the home run in the first place and then get the curtain call. To have the fans show that kind of appreciation is a great feeling.”

The Phillies will not pick up Howard’s contract option for 2017. On Sunday afternoon, he will play his final game for the Phillies. First pitch is at 3 p.m. The team will make an on-field presentation to Howard at 2:30.

Howard doesn’t know what the team has planned.

“I’m just going to show up and see what happens,” he said. “You know, I think it’ll be something cool. We’ll see what it is. Whatever it brings, I'll embrace it and take it and enjoy it."
 
Howard had spent the previous few days stiff-arming the attention that has come with his final days as a Phillie.

He put his guard down a little after Saturday’s game.

“I’m just taking the weekend as is,” he said. “I’m just trying to enjoy it, trying to embrace everything and take it as is. I’m not trying to look too much into anything. Actually, I’m just trying to go out there and win these ballgames. I mean, I’ve said it before, things will hit you when they hit you.”

The Phillies have not been to the playoffs since 2011, their last of five straight trips to the postseason. If anyone needed a reminder of what it used to look like around here, it was on the field after the game in the form of the Mets’ celebration.

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin did not watch the Mets celebrate. He’s waiting to experience a celebration of his own.

“There’s no doubt in my mind we’re going to get back where we need to be and we’re going to be one of those teams, just like the Mets are now,” Mackanin said.

Howard will turn 37 in November. He is the elder statesman on this club and he’s embraced that role in his dealings with younger players.

He used the Mets’ celebration as an opportunity to pass on some advice to the men who are his teammates for one more day.

“You never want to see somebody else celebrate on your home field, but for these young guys it's something where once you’ve seen it, you want to be those guys," Howard said. "When you see the other team out there, you want to be that guy next year. You want to be out there celebrating on your home field or somebody else's field.

“It's tough, but you take that and find a way to use that as motivation.”

North Dakota appears to be Eagles country

North Dakota appears to be Eagles country

It appears that Carson Wentz' fanbase in North Dakota is still pretty strong. Before North Dakota State’s game against Illinois State Saturday afternoon, fans were seen walking around the parking lot in Carson Wentz Eagles’ jerseys. 

Wearing Eagles gear at the tailgate was not all, however. A large group of people begun chanting “Carson” over and over to show their love and support for the Eagles quarterback. 

Wentz, along with Eagles practice squad cornerback C.J. Smith, a fellow Bison alum, showed up to North Dakota State's homecoming Saturday.

This is not the first time we have seen North Dakota State fans showing how much they adore Carson Wentz. Going back to the NFL draft, fans were seen on the red carpet wearing North Dakota State Wentz jersey’s and waving flags.

On Sept. 19, when the Eagles played the Bears, North Dakotans traveled to see Wentz play in person.

Clearly, Wentz has a lot of love from his fans back at home, but it is safe to say that Eagles fans love him just as much after he has led them to a 3-0 start.  

It doesn't hurt that Wentz' cousin, Connor, plays for North Dakota State. Connor is a redshirt junior tight end.

John Clark with Connor Wentz

A photo posted by Rob Kuestner (@rkuestner23) on