BY PAUL MANCANO—Yesterday, I made the trip down to Nationals Park in D.C. to catch a good ol’ NL East matchup: Phillies vs. Nationals. I had never seen a game in the District (do they call it that? If they don’t, they should), so NATurally, I was excited (had to sneak at least one Nat pun in there. Yes, I know I suck).
After swiping my ticket card (So technology. Much innovative. Wow), I take in the ballpark. It’s small, yet imposing. Everything is tighter and closer together. The seats are much closer to the field than those at Citizens Bank Park. The upper levels tower over the lower ones, to the point where it looks like the broadcast booth at the top might lean over too far and tumble onto home plate below. Unlike the cavernous hallways of CBP, the trails around the stadium are more constrictive. Beyond the outfield stand encroaching gray parking garages instead of blue sky. All in all, it seems like a cheap bootleg version of CBP.
I weave through a sea of Nats and Phillies fans (who appear to be wearing the exact same things with the exception of a letter). I cram myself into my seat behind the first-base dugout proceeded to take in the game. I wish I hadn’t.
In the first inning, the Nationals take a 1-0 lead. Then, it’s 2-0. Then 5-0. Then A.J. Burnett, wishing the nightmare would end, pretty much throws himself out of the game. I would too. And it’s only the 2nd inning. Then Phillippe Aumont comes in. Two innings and approximately 4,586 pitches later, it’s 11-0. Nats fans dance around with glee. I cover my face with my Phillies hat and
call for a plague upon every member of the organization weep. I decided to take a walk.
As I strolled through the nice, clean, albeit boring stadium, I thought about how easy it is to be a Nationals fan right now. The team is still young and pretty good, and apart from the embarrassingly bad stretch at the beginning of its time in Washington, there’s no depressing
baggage from a history of losing. With their winning record and new ballpark, the Nationals are cool now. (The players all have beards!! How looney!!!) Fathers bring their sons to the games. The young people who star in every Taco Bell and Corona ad head down to the ballpark on a Saturday night to drink and laugh and talk about Taco Bell and Corona. Here, baseball is fun, not life or death.
It reminds me a little of how things used to be in South Philly, circa 2008. Phils games were a hot ticket in town, a hip source of entertainment on a Saturday night. The team was young and good, and the pressure of a postseason appearance had been eased slightly by the drought-ending 2007 season. People were just having a good time.
By the summer of 2011, the Phever had taken hold of the city. Tickets were in short supply as the team stood firmly atop the standings. After disappointing finishes in 2009 and 2010, the thirst for one final WS title run was stronger than ever. Games weren’t just fun, they were exhilarating.
Now, the stands at CBP are speckled, instead of jammed. Those who attend a game are awarded a Medal of Honor for bravery. Fathers bring their sons bowling on a Saturday night. The young Taco Bell and Corona supporters decide to see a concert at World Café Live or walk around South Street or something.
Games aren’t fun anymore, and they sure as hell aren’t exhilarating. You go to a game not to see some great baseball but to prove to the world that you still support this team in the darkest of times. You sit through two-and-a-half hours of frustrating agony so that you can feel good about yourself. It’s like confession. Or hell.
We still love our team, even though we hate its guts. One day, games will be entertaining again. Then, maybe, they’ll be exhilarating again. But not today. So for now, let’s keep showing up to the ballpark if for no other reason than to feel good about ourselves. Or let’s go bowling or something.