I just enjoyed a good chuckle because I just ran across a story about my Tuesday column that Dan Steinberg posted on DC Sports Bog, his fabulous general interest sports blog whose format I would love to see other newspapers replicate (cough, cough...hi Chuck!). I spent much of yesterday fending off 140-character pitchforks from indignant Nationals fans who managed to find some time in their workdays to defend their fair ballpark. The experience did not come as a surprise. Manufacturing outrage at perceived slights from an out-of-town media members is a time-honored tradition in sports, and I would not be the first writer to go out of my way to indulge a fan base's desire to feel persecuted.
Of course, many readers who managed to make it through the entire column probably realized that my intent was not to lob gratuitous cheap shots in the general direction of our nation's capital. Even Steinberg acknowledges that possibility, qualifying the obligatory pot-stirring lead paragraph with the admission that, "Some diehard Nats fans would say these are deserved shots, but still. . ."
In fact, the ensuing comments section of that blog post includes two types of reactions: Nationals fans unleashing their best neener-neener-neeners, and Nationals fans acknowledging that, hey, you know what, a World Series contender shouldn't need to spend 75 percent of its gameday budget on video bits hyping its mascot race and an in-game television host interviewing fans about how much fun they are having not watching the action on the field because they are talking to him. The latter viewpoint is the viewpoint that I hold. I didn't mean to sound judgmental, but I am, so that's probably how it came across. Still, the intent of the column was to highlight the peculiar dynamic that I felt as I watched the Nationals finish off an ascension that wasn't supposed to happen for at least another year. It is a dynamic that always exists among the nouveau riche when they complete the transition from fun-loving summer entertainers to legitimate contenders. October arrives, and two worlds collide: the cowbell-ringing, rally-monkey-waving, president-racing world of a marketing department that started the season desperate to put fannies in the seats, and the baseball-game-winning, home-run-hitting, champagne-spraying world of a baseball operations department that has succeeded in its quest to make the product on the field sell itself. We saw it in Anaheim and we saw it in Tampa and now we are seeing it in Washington, and this final series of the regular season made that dynamic even more pronounced because the team that watched it first-hand from the visitor's dugout was the Phillies, who five years earlier had witnessed a similar transition on the final day of the 2007 regular season.
I label the transition "similar" because Philadelphia fans of a certain age will recall that their own team was not always above the use of gimmicks to attract fans to the ballpark. In fact, when the Phillies faced the Yankees in the World Series in 2009, fans found themselves on the receiving end of some of the same condescension they may have inflicted on the Rays one year earlier. Put it this way: I have a friend who is a Yankees fan, and he would have a heart attack if he ever saw rally towels distributed in the Bronx.