Hey Phillies fans. Have you heard the news? The Washington Nationals are taking back their park. From you, that is. Like dogs and winning baseball, Phillies fans are no longer welcome at Nationals Park.
Maybe you missed the news. It is Super Bowl week. You have likely spent the last few days trying to figure out who to boo the loudest at the party on Sunday, Tom Brady or Eli Manning. Forget about it. The “Gnats” deserve your attention.
They tried to avoid it. They announced their new “Not Friendly to Phillies Fans” policy with great stealth. It came on a Friday afternoon, the eve of Super Bowl weekend and a day when Philly sports fans were preoccupied with Wing Bowl, an annual Buffalo wing eating contest.
Sneaky those “Gnats,” like a Cole Hamels changeup. They are making single game tickets for the May 4-6 series against the Phillies available via an exclusive presale for season ticket holders and residents of Washington, Maryland and Virginia.
Phillies fans looking to attend can take their cheesesteaks and go home. “Gnats” chief operating officer Andy Feffer told mlb.com, “Frankly, I’m tired of seeing the Phillies fans in our ballpark in Washington more than anything else.”
Where’s the brotherly love? Phillies fans are an amicable bunch. They might belt out the occasional “Chooch” to recognize favorites such as Carlos Ruiz, but there is little to fear. These are not your father’s Phillies fans. They rarely even boo anymore.
Just prior to embarking on their current streak of winning the National League East five years in a row, the Phillies became the first baseball team in history to lose 10,000 games. That is a whole lot of heartbreak.
It has now turned to joy. An organization committed to winning will do that. Even last year’s early postseason dismissal, as disappointing as it was, has failed to damper the optimism about spending summer nights in south Philly, or to follow the team on the road.
This was once, not long ago, unmentionable. Maybe you took the transistor to the Jersey Shore, but that was as much to listen to Harry Kalas and Whitey Ashburn call the games as it was to keep up with the Phillies.
It’s different now. Phillies fans are proud of their team. They are pleasantly surprised to find thousands of their kind, wearing Utley and Howard jerseys, bonding with one another on the road.
Phillies fans are not hitting the road to hate on the fans of other teams. They’re doing so because they just can’t get enough of their Phillies. They are relishing the moment and they are sharing it with one another. It simply doesn't get any better.
This all began with the winning, of course. Still, loyalty to the Phillies runs deep. Millions of Phillies fans endured bad baseball for years, whether at Shibe Park, Connie Mack Park or at Veteran’s Stadium. Throughout, they sat next to plenty of other teams fans who cheered as the Phillies got pummeled.
Attempting to keep out Phillies fans can mean only one thing. The “Gnats” are nuts. This is not a surprise. It’s been apparent for awhile. They broke the bank, remember, to sign Jayson Werth. Werth is a good player on a great team. The “Gnats” are not that.
And maybe, that is the problem. In announcing his “Take Back the Park” initiative, Feffer informed mlb.com that, “For several years now, our fans, everybody have been screaming about the number of Phillies fans that invade our park when we have a series here at Nationals Park.”
Aiming ire at Phillies fans is misplaced. It’s a smokescreen that obscures the real problem facing the “Gnats,” bad baseball. Phillies fans who visit Nationals Park in droves are doing Nationals fans a favor.
Their presence pressures the “Gnats” ownership to put a team on the field worthy of fan support. If the Nationals are better this year, they should thank Phillies fans, not work to ban them.
Especially for a team engaged in our national pastime, playing in our nation’s capital, keeping out Phillies fans is not only ungrateful, it is un-American. Like betting against Rocky Balboa.