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Thursday, March 8, 2007

Fan character, OR When are you entitled to "boo"?

Thanks to District of Baseball (via the Washington Post) I read this nice item: "(Austin)Kearns' father, Dan, on the difference between Cincinnati and DC: "They talk about Cincinnati being a great baseball town, but they look for you to strike out so they can boo. Here they were, Washington, in last place, and they cheered everything."
I hope that speaks volumes about Nats fan character. That's certainly the way I see myself, at any rate.

You read a lot about fans in particular towns, usually negative if your source is someone from a rival town. For example, the New York Yankees and their fans have always been a big target because of their history of success and with New York being such a huge "stage", a gargantuan media market where nothing escapes scrutiny. If you ask a Boston Red Sox fan about Yankee fans, you won't hear anything good. Yankee fans are often derisively labled as "spoiled" because they expect nothing less than a pennant every season. Well, with that payroll, who wouldn't? If the Nationals had that payroll, I'd expect them to have a lock on the Series!

I don't know enough about fans in most other cities, but I hear good things about Cubs fans and Red Sox fans and their legendary loyalty. Philadelphia fans, Eagles and Phillies, have always struck me as particularly rude (I once had coffee thrown at me by an Eagles fan outside Veteran's Stadium before the game we were attending even started) and their behavior at Nats games hasn't been the most courteous, but perhaps that's just par for the course (I love mixing sports metaphors). Still, for a city whose very name means, "City of brotherly love", Philadelphia fans seem to me to be living ironies.

After two seasons, I don't know if we Nationals fans have truly established a fan character of our own, but I would hope that Mr. Kearns' observation is right on target. Redskins Head Coach Joe Gibbs has always maintained that Redskins fans were the best in the N.F.L. (of course, what would you expect him to say?)and I'm hoping that we fans never give Manager Manny Acta or anyone else in the club reason to believe that Nationals fans are anything less than 100% supportive and grateful. If a player gets traded and is asked to comment on their time in Washington, I would hope that, whatever problems they may have had with a teammate or with management, that they will say, "but the fans were always great. D.C. is a great baseball town if you play there."

I have heard our fans described as "savvy", as knowledgeable. Look at our demographics. I won't trot out fancy charts and figures here to support my contentions (but I'll bet that there is someone out there who could) but one undeniable fact is that our fan base is highly educated. We have a lot of institutions of higher learning around here, from Georgetown and George Washington and Howard and Gaulladet here in the District to the University of Maryland at College Park, to George Mason in Fairfax, just to name a few. We have their law schools, too. Washington, D.C. has more lawyers than any other city in the world. New York City has more law firms, but D.C. has more lawyers. High education is in and of itself no indicator of civilized behavior at public events, but this is also the city of diplomacy. We are an incredibly diverse market, with people of all nationalities, colors, languages, religions and political persuasions, and diplomacy is a going concern in Shangri-La-on-the-Potomac. We know how to break bread in this town with anybody and do it peacefully and with decorum.

So, do we fans bring our manners to the ballpark, or do we leave them in the parking lot (or on the Metro)? I think that we've been so appreciative for all of the efforts of others to bring us baseball that we've had no real reason to "boo" anything, certainly not for more than a moment. Frank Robinson made certain that players didn't get out of line, and no one was going to cross him (I'm still not convinced that Toma Ohka was shipped out simply because he forgot himself on the mound and "showed up" Frank.) I think that the past two seasons have been a love-fest between the players and the fans. There haven't been any angry outbursts or bad behavior to get fans upset, no run-ins with the law, no steroid-use, so fans haven't had anything to boo about. I get the impression that most of our players are so happy to be here and play at the major league level that they don't want to screw things up. No one wants to be sent down or released. And what player doesn't want to be cheered? Any National who played here last season would probably be thrilled if every game was like that Yankee series (at least the Saturday and Sunday games of that series), with a packed stadium of deliriously cheering fans. How electrifying was that Ryan Zimmerman walk-off home run? That was one of the biggest thrills of my life, seeing that in person. That Sunday game had the largest crowd to ever see a baseball game in Washington, D.C. and I hope that it was a taste of the days and nights to come.

The punitive actions of our military in Iraq and Afghanistan have polarized many of our citizens, but no matter where one stands on these issues, we as a people have learned at least one important lesson from Viet Nam: Hate the war, but love the warrior. In that spirit, I think that we fans may need to be a little more patient and forgiving this season. Boo mistakes on the field, sure, but cheer individual effort. Give 'em a hand as they take the field and as they exit the field. Cheering pumps up the players, gets that adrenaline flowing. If a player is doing his best, yet not achieving 100%, let's not ,for Heaven's sake, break their spirit. Set a positive example for the kids in the stands.

I hope that us Nationals fans establish a reputation around the league for being smart, supportive and well-behaved. But woe be to the player who gives us reason to rain boos down upon them without mercy (Barry Bonds, anyone?) If you've earned 'em, you'll get 'em from us and wish that you hadn't.


JammingEcono said...

Nice post, Joe. I think it's really interesting to watch the Nats fanbase develop.

What strikes me as especially interesting is how New York and Washington, two cities that are on somewhat equal footing as far as having a diverse population, have completely different kinds of fans (or at least that's the stereotype).

While popular image of NYY and NYM fans is predominantly loud and obnoxious, the DC fans are knowledgeable and enthusiastic. Here's to hoping that never changes!

Joe Riley said...

Indeed. 8) I hope that D.C. develops the reputation of having the classiest fans in baseball. I already think that we're well on our way to establishing that.

Anonymous said...

Well said! As a dedicated Nats fan who is surrounded by Yankee and Braves fans, I've always thought that it's a lot easier to be a Nats fan -- we have very low expectations! Just give me those ballpark smells and sounds and win-or-lose, I'm a happy Nats fan!

As a side note -- I recently visited NYC for the first time and was surprised at how friendly everyone was. I guess I thought that all NYers were rude, but perhaps it's just the Yankee and Mets fans.

Anonymous said...

One of my cardinal rules of attending a baseball game is to never boo your team. Even if it's Christian Guzman, you still want him to succeed because he's on your side and you are always going to support your side. A team is like a family, and you never want to disrespect a family member in front of others.

Another time never to boo is when a member of an opposing team does something very good. If someone hit a home-run last time at bat, he should not be booed for that. If someone is a very good player, he should not be booed for that. That's just bad taste. And it makes you look pathetic and jealous.

So when is it ok to boo? When the other team does something cowardly. If a player has already hit a double, a triple, and a home-run and only needs a single to hit for the cycle, and then the opposing pitcher beans him, then boo. Boo loudly. And boo every time he comes back.

When the umpires make a bad call, boo, but make sure it really was a bad call. If it was really close and you just hope the call was bad, then don't boo too much. But if it's obvious the ump was blind or might be cheating, then boo.

When an opposing player actually cheats, like pretending to have the ball when he tags a player but he really doesn't, then boo.

When an opposing pitcher keeps making pick-off attempts cause he's too afraid to pitch to your guy, then boo, especially if the guy on first isn't taking too much of a lead.

Oh, and I'd say that the biggest problem with Washington fans is that we are not loud enough. Sure, we get excited when some great dramatics are going on the field, but we can't do a chant to save our souls, alas. Mets and Yankees fans can get their respective cheers going quite easily, even at away games, but Washington fans seem to reserved to start up even a simple "Let's Go Nats".

Chris Needham said...

I boo when players make mental errors. Physical errors happen; it's a part of the game. But when players forget how many outs there are, or they do something stupid like getting picked off, then the gloves come off.


I like your point about the chants. We have the "Let's Go Nats" that tries to get going, but the PA/sound effects guys strangle it in the crib. They're so busy playing sound effects at every moment, that it never gets a chance to build on its own.

Plus, they constantly change up the musical cues they use, so the fans don't know what to do.

If they just did the Lets' Go Nats drumbeat over and over, eventually the fans would catch on and do it on their own. As it is, we're waiting for them to start playing the Can-Can or the Godawful Day-O

Joe Riley said...

This is one of the single-biggest complaints I've heard in the stands from visiting fans of other teams - "Nationals fans are so QUIET!"

I've tried to brush that off as us just being polite - "Quiet, men at work!" and all that sort of thing, but the fact remains, that we're a peaceful bunch.

Personally, I think that we are too timid to cheer because we're all afraid to get our hopes up. I can understand that. I do think that we get a little more animated on those occasions where the Nats have a nice lead.

Chris Needham said...

I think half of it is the midsummer heat. We're spending most of our energy trying to make sure we don't pass out from heat stroke. Why waste it on clapping/cheering? ;)

Screech's Best Friend said...

If someone says "All Nats Fans Are Quiet" There is NO WAY they have sat at RFK anywhere near Section 320!! Just not possible.

Joe Riley said...

HA! So I've heard :-) My section (#223) isn't too far away from you. Hey, do me a favor and email me, willya please?

Anonymous said...

Well, 320 may be an exception, and indeed, the fan excitement is the best in the lower deck on the 3B side. But the rest of the stadium is quite different.

And Chris, needed the loud-speakers is part of the problem. Do you think the Mets or Yankees need loudspeakers to guide them? It's not the heat either.

I grew up as a Braves fan... my best baseball experiences were with the Braves of the early nineties. My father had season tickets to the Braves during the "last place" years, so I went to a lot of those games. Still have a signed Dale Murphy shirt.

And I still went to the games when they won... it was amazing. The crowds were pumped. And in the early days, the chop was awesome. Instead of the announce drum beat they have now, we had a guy in the stands with real drums. And we didnt even need that. The fans chanted without being prompted. Atlanta Fulton County stadium was LOUD. For half an hour straight or more, we'd do the chop and chant. I think it really intimidated the other teams, as they changed their pitchers and we kept chanting. Nothing is like that. And Atlanta is more hot and humid than DC.

Well, hopefully it'll get better when the Nats actually start winning...

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