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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Ryan Howard's miserable May continues as Tigers out-power Phillies

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Ryan Howard's miserable May continues as Tigers out-power Phillies

DETROIT – Back when they were racking up National League East titles and filling Citizens Bank Park night after night, the Phillies could slug with anyone.
 
Those days are gone.
 
So even on a night when they got some power from two young up-and-comers in their lineup, the Phillies still couldn’t get enough to match up with the Detroit Tigers on Monday night.
 
“We don’t have enough pop to go blow for blow with them,” manager Pete Mackanin said.
 
The Tigers belted four home runs, three against starting pitcher Vince Velasquez, in beating the Phillies, 5-4, at Comerica Park (see Instant Replay).
 
Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph both homered for the Phillies, but Ryan Howard, no longer even close to the player he was during those aforementioned title years, slipped deeper into the May quicksand. He went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts to fall to .156 on the season. He is 4 for 48 (.083) in the month of May.
 
“Man, it’s been brutal,” Howard said after the game. “I’m not going to lie. I need some breaks, man. It’s been tough. I’ve hit some balls hard, but they’re not finding any real estate out there.
 
“I have to keep grinding and swinging. Luckily, it’s still early to get it turned around.”
 
Yes, it’s early for some guys.
 
But it might not be that early for Howard. He’s 36 and in the final year of his contract. His slump has coincided with Joseph’s ascension from the minors. Joseph played first base Monday night and looked good at the position. In addition to hitting a game-tying homer in the sixth, he had a double. Half of his six hits in his first seven games in the majors have been for extra bases.
 
Joseph will continue to play first base while Howard serves as the designated hitter in the final two games of the interleague series in Detroit. After that, Joseph is expected to start against lefty Jon Lester in Chicago on Friday. If he keeps hitting – and Howard keeps struggling – the situation could be ripe for Mackanin to continue to play Joseph, even against the right-handers Howard usually sees.
 
“I'm going to look at it a week at a time,” Mackanin said. “We'll see. At some point it might come to that, but I can't say it's imminent.”
 
If Howard starts spending more time on the bench, it will be part of a downhill progression that started in the second half of last season when he became a platoon player. Will a progression to the bench ultimately lead to his being released in the coming weeks? Well, if Joseph keeps hitting and continues to earn playing time, management may have to seriously ponder the move.
 
Even with Franco and Joseph hitting home runs, the Phillies didn’t have enough to match the Tigers’ thunder.
 
Miguel Cabrera belted two home runs and in the seventh inning clubbed his 500th career double. He then came around to score the go-ahead run on a single by Victor Martinez.
 
Entering the game, the Tigers were among the top teams in the American League in batting average (.265), runs per game (4.60), homers (56) and OPS (.758).
 
Meanwhile, the Phillies couldn’t get much lower in offense. They ranked near the bottom in the National League in batting average (.233), runs per game (3.23), homers (32) and OPS (.651).
 
“You look up and down their lineup on the scoreboard and it looks like everybody is hitting .300 with eight or 10 home runs,” Mackanin said. “It can be daunting.
 
“The middle of their lineup hurt us with the long ball. We knew they were swinging the bats well lately. They weren’t earlier. Now they’re swinging well and we couldn’t contain them.
 
“We got 12 hits of our own. But they’ve gave a lot of power on that team.”
 
The Phillies are at the start of a challenging trip – three in Detroit followed by three against the Cubs in Wrigley Field. The Cubs have the majors’ best record. The Phillies, a surprising four games over .500, will be tested on this trip.
 
They did not pass the first test. Velasquez had trouble commanding his pitches and for the second straight start ran a high pitch count. He took a 3-1 lead to the mound in the fifth, but it evaporated quickly under the weight of homers by J.D. Martinez and Cabrera. Reliever Colton Murray also gave up a homer in the inning. He also allowed the go-ahead run in the seventh as Mackanin held David Hernandez back in case the Phils got a lead.
 
“Velasquez didn’t have any command of his secondary pitches, pretty basic stuff, and he left some fastballs over the plate,” Mackanin said. “You have to throw quality pitches to a lineup like this. If you make mistakes against them they don’t miss. If you don’t command your secondary pitches against good hitters they become like sharks and smell blood and hit the fastball.”
 
Velasquez said he should have gotten the loss, not Murray.
 
“You can’t shy away from hitters and I did that,” he said. “You’ve got to pitch inside. I pitched around them.
 
“I’ve got to do something about this. I’ve got to challenge hitters.”

With game on the line, Pete Mackanin benches his best player for lack of hustle

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With game on the line, Pete Mackanin benches his best player for lack of hustle

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DETROIT — Phillies manager Pete Mackanin made a strong statement Monday night when he benched his best hitter in the seventh inning of a tie game.
 
With Odubel Herrera on the bench for the final innings, the Phillies went on to lose, 5-4, to the Detroit Tigers (see Instant Replay).
 
Mackanin did not regret his decision to yank Herrera and his team-high .335 batting average from the game.
 
“It’s important to me to set that tone,” Mackanin said. “When you don’t hustle, I’ve got a problem.”
 
Herrera had singled in each of his first three at-bats. He drove in the Phillies’ first run with a hit in the third inning.
 
But when he bounced back to the pitcher and took his time getting to first base in the seventh, Mackanin abruptly pulled him. Even Ryan Howard said something to Herrera in the dugout.
 
“He didn’t run,” Mackanin said. “One of the ingredients to our success to this point is the fact that guys play with energy and they play hard. We’re training them to play the game the right way and not running is not the right way.”
 
Herrera said he did not run because he was “frustrated” and “angry” with the at-bat. He said Tigers reliever Justin Wilson “got in his head” by varying his delivery times. Herrera even mentioned that Wilson quick-pitched him.
 
“The pitcher was playing with me,” he said. “I have to learn from it. I didn’t think [Mackanin] was going to bench me, but I understand why. I can’t argue. I was frustrated. I respect the decision. I know that I did wrong. I have to learn from my mistakes and it won’t happen again.”
 
Mackanin is a huge fan of Herrera. He has predicted the 24-year-old Venezuelan will someday win a batting title.
 
But Mackanin indicated after Monday night’s game that Herrera might be developing some bad habits — at least when it comes to the hustle that Mackanin values. The front office values it, too. Playing with “energy” is something the front office frequently says it wants to see, and the ability to get his players to play with energy is one of Mackanin’s strengths.
 
“I’ve seen it in the past and it’s been trickling in,” Mackanin said of Herrera’s occasional lapses in hustle. “I didn’t like it and I made the decision. He knows he should have run.”
 
Jonathan Papelbon put a chokehold on Bryce Harper’s neck last year in Washington for a similar transgression.
 
In the Phillies’ dugout Monday night, Herrera got a little talking-to from Howard.
 
“That was great to see,” Mackanin said.
 
Said Howard: “Doobie's got a lot of promise. He’s going to be around this game for a long time. He makes things happen. He brings energy to the game.
 
“The pitcher lost the grip and had to double-pump. If you’re running hard, maybe he makes a bad throw and you’re on base.
 
“I just told him, ‘You’ve got to keep going. I know it’s not the at-bat you wanted, but look at me, bro, I’m still out there grinding.’ If he’s running there, the pitcher could throw it away and he could be on second and we could squeeze a run out.”
 
Howard went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts to fall to .156 on the season. He is 4 for 48 (.083) in the month of May.
 
Mackanin said his message to Herrera was complete. Herrera will be back in the starting lineup on Tuesday night.

NBA Playoffs: Raptors hold off Cavs to even East Finals 2-2

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NBA Playoffs: Raptors hold off Cavs to even East Finals 2-2

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TORONTO -- A series that once looked lopsided is now even.

Kyle Lowry scored 35 points, including a driving layup in the final minute, and DeMar DeRozan had 32 as the Toronto Raptors evened the Eastern Conference Finals by beating the Cleveland Cavaliers 105-99 in Game 4 on Monday night.

DeMarre Carroll scored 11 points and Bismack Biyombo had 14 rebounds as Toronto improved to 8-2 at home this postseason and got back on level terms after big losses in Games 1 and 2.

"We've been counted out, and we like that challenge," DeRozan said.

The next challenge for Toronto? Game 5 on Wednesday night in Cleveland, where the Raptors are 0-3 this season, losing by a combined 72 points.

"We have to continue to make sure that when they punch, we punch back," Lowry said. "And if they punch three times, we punch four times."

The Raptors are 2-6 on the road in the playoffs.

After a 10-0 start to these playoffs, the Cavaliers are counting on home court advantage to help them reach their second straight Finals.

"Going back home we have to play a lot better and I think we will," LeBron James said.

Cleveland lost consecutive playoff games to an Eastern Conference opponent for the first time since dropping the final three games of the conference semifinals to Boston in 2010.

"We had a few defensive breakdowns that you can't have down the stretch of a game, especially in the playoffs," Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. "They executed every time we made a mistake."

James scored 29 points and Kyrie Irving had 26 for the Cavaliers, who trailed by as many as 18 points. Channing Frye scored nine of his 12 points in the fourth quarter.

Lowry scored nine in the fourth and DeRozan had 12, connecting on five of six shots.

"It's a cakewalk for me when (Lowry) gets going," DeRozan said. "It opens up everything."

The Raptors led 78-69 to begin the fourth but Frye made consecutive 3-pointers as Cleveland opened the final quarter with an 8-0 run, cutting it to 78-77. The Cavaliers made their first 11 shots of the fourth quarter.

"It wasn't enough because we got off to a horrible first half once again in this building and you're playing catch up the whole game," James said.

Frye's errant 3-point attempt at 4:12 was Cleveland's first miss of the fourth. DeRozan made two free throws at the other end and, after another miss by Frye, Carroll made one of two to put Toronto up 99-96 with 3:23 to go.

A long 3 by Irving made it 101-99 with 2:00 left, but DeRozan answered with a driving bank shot at 1:33. Toronto got the ball back after Biyombo blocked J.R. Smith's 3, and Biyombo kept the offensive possession alive by rebounding Lowry's missed shot. After a timeout, Lowry let the shot clock wind down before driving for the decisive layup, making it 105-99 with 22 seconds to go.

Toronto jumped out to a 13-5 lead as Cleveland missed eight of its first 10 shots. Following a timeout, the Cavs made five of their next six to cut the deficit but the Raptors led 27-24 after one quarter.

Lowry scored 15 points in the second, making three of Toronto's four 3-pointers, as the Raptors opened a 57-41 halftime lead despite not shooting a single free throw in the first two quarters. It marked the first time a team led by 15 or more at halftime in a conference finals game without shooting a free throw since Game 2 of the 2001 East Finals between Milwaukee and Philadelphia. The Bucks made two of six from the line, the fewest ever made in an NBA playoff game at the time.

DeRozan shot Toronto's first free throws at 6:13 of the third after being tackled by Smith on a drive. The foul drought came after Raptors coach Dwane Casey was fined $25,000 for criticizing the officials following Toronto's Game 3 win.

Fans cheered derisively when Matthew Dellavedova was called for Cleveland's first foul of the game at 8:56 of the second.

Not much to Love
After shooting 3 for 19 in Game 3, Kevin Love shot 4 for 14 in Game 4. He finished with 10 points. Love did not play in the fourth after appearing to injure his left ankle when he stepped on referee David Guthrie late in the third. "It didn't feel too great," Love said. Lue said Love's health was "no concern."

Fair and foul
Cleveland didn't shoot any free throws in the third quarter and had just two in the fourth. Twelve of Toronto's 19 free throws came in the fourth.

Tip-ins
Cavaliers: James and Irving each had six assists. ... Cleveland shot 3 for 23 from 3-point range in the first half. The finished 13 for 41. . Cleveland's Dahntay Jones served a one-game suspension for hitting Biyombo in the groin in Game 3.

Raptors: Raptors C Jonas Valanciunas was active but did not play. He's been out since spraining his right ankle in the third quarter of Game 3 against Miami on May 7. ... Toronto is 10-1 in the playoffs when holding opponents below 100 points.