As soon as I take my seat at Nationals Park, I look around to take a count of Philadelphia Phillies fans. Do I see a hat with a “P” or a guy with a Phillies T-shirt? A bare-chested fellow with “Phils” spray-painted in red? Are they big—big enough to have my back in case things get ugly?
Call it a natural reaction for a Phillies fan in hostile territory. In case of a brawl, will I be the pounder or the poundee?
Neither, it turns out. My paranoia, which seems to come with being a Philly boy, is apparently uncalled for in Nationals Park. The Washington fans in the South Capital Street stadium are unfailingly polite and generous, even to fans who infiltrated their ballpark and menaced them for the past two seasons.
This cordial state of affairs became abundantly clear to me Wednesday when the Phillies faced the Nats in the final game of the regular season. I try to go to every game when the Phils come to town, so even though my guys were way out of contention, I plopped myself down in left-field seats. I didn’t have the nerve to wear my Utley T-shirt for our second baseman, but I put on my lid with the Phillies “P.” And I counted Phils fans.
It’s the same hat I wore last year when the situation was reversed. The Phillies were in first place; the Nats were not in contention. You remember. Stan Kasten, former Nationals president, had been so desperate to fill his stadium that he went on Philly radio to invite fans to DC. They invaded in buses and caravans. They took over entire sections of Nationals Park. Philly fans were so loud that Nats fans might have thought they were in Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park.
My fellow Phillie fans were numerous and obnoxious. Like paranoia, it comes with. We drank too much and swaggered through the stands with our sense of superiority. Nationals fans tolerated us. I can’t recall one brawl.
Let me assure you that foreign fans do not receive the same genteel treatment in the city of brotherly love. Wear a Nationals hat in Citizens Bank Park and you are asking for trouble. Redskins or Capitals fans should not show their colors in my town. (New York fans know the drill.)
Besides acknowledging the obvious—that we Phils fans are a brutish lot—what can we take away?
Part of me wants to give the fine fellows and ladies and kids who root for the upstart and amazing Nats a pat on the head. You are sweet, even to jerks in your midst.
On the other hand, where’s the passion, the rage, the insanity that leads grown men to drive three hours and paint their bodies to root for their team—in foreign territory?
Maybe it will take a few generations, decades of losing seasons (the Phils have lost 10,000 games), and a World Series title before the Nationals gnaw their way into the local consciousness and the fans get crazy. Then we’ll know Washington is a baseball town.
Until that day, I will enjoy the safety of wearing my Phils stuff, even in territory that’s not so hostile—yet.