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So That’s the Point of the Nationals

Last Thursday, when Jason and I availed ourselves of the hospitality of the MLB Fan Cave [1], the first telecast that came on their massive wall of TV screens was the Marlins at Nationals. Like a good guest, I graciously asked our host, “Where’s the Mets game? I don’t want to watch the bleeping Nationals and Marlins.” (It is a credit to the comfort level of the Cave [2] that I had no compunction about saying whatever bleeping thing I’d ordinarily say during a ballgame.)

Our wish was granted, and we got the Mets and Reds (and the Red Sox and Royals; and the Angels and Tigers; and the Cubs and Brewers; and the A’s and Rays; and the Padres and Diamondbacks before we remembered the Fan Cave wasn’t our living room and departed), yet I couldn’t help but return a wandering eye to the action at Nationals Park. What caught my attention was how bleeping empty it was, and how bleeping empty it always is, how in the seventh season of Washington Nationals baseball, there seemed to be nothing to it.

Stephen Strasburg showed up for ten minutes last year and it was a big deal. Then he went out and the crowds followed him to the exits. Bryce Harper, a Gregg Jefferies for the 21st century [3], is en route, but he ain’t there yet. Their manager quit at just the instant the team was improving, which was OK by me sentimentally, since it made room for Davey Johnson, but Davey doesn’t look any better in Nats colors than Carlos Beltran does as a Giant (or Rick Reed did as a Twin for that matter; deadline deals are always toughest on the sellers).

Meanwhile, the Nationals come off like an expansion team despite not having been an expansion team since they were in another country 42 years ago. They perpetually loiter in the depths of the National League East (better them than us) and have fewer people over to their domicile than the Fan Cave does on an average Thursday, yet then they’re perfectly capable of beating us two out of three [4].

Which seems to happen far too often.

I don’t want to them to pick up the pace any more than I do the Phillies, Braves or Marlins, but there seems something particularly pointless to their existence. Those empty seats at Nationals Park last Thursday made me ask, “The Expos left Montreal [5] for this?”

Then, however, I remembered the point of there being the Washington Nationals. It’s so my buddy Jeff Hysen can see the Mets as often as any New York expatriate can.

Jeff was Faith and Fear’s Fantasy Camp correspondent in January 2009 and did a bang-up job of introducing us to the wonders of the laundry loop, the Golden Rope and Pete Schourek’s insistence on good grammar (check it all out here [6]). Though he’s put his ballplaying days behind him since, he remains a fan of the game. He was up in New York the week before last for consecutive visits to Citi Field and stepped right up to greet the Mets all weekend in D.C.

See, Jeff lives down around Washington, presumably by choice. He works there, settled there, raised a family there, even “kills [7]” as a sideline there, but he’s still a New Yorker, still a Met fan, still thrilled that the Nationals stopped being the Expos because it means the Mets step right up to greet him fairly often.

After Saturday night, when he learned neither Jason nor I was able to see as much of the game here as he did there (Jason was at the movies [8], while I took in a fireworks show that, unfortunately, didn’t completely drown out Wayne Hagin), he retroactively offered his blogging services. Do me one better, I said — when you get home from Sunday’s game, give us a full report: tell us what this weekend in Washington was like for a Mets fan living too far from Sheatown and tell us how it compared with your recent pilgrimage to Flushing.

Jeff obliged. His observations follow.


Sunday marked the end of a two-week stretch in which my son Dylan and I went to five Mets games, two in New York and all three this weekend. I won’t get all Donald Hall [9] here about the significance of these days and nights together, but it gave us the opportunity to spend a lot of time doing the thing we love most — watching the Mets — before he departs for his first year of college, at what Greg likes to remind me, because it was mentioned in the movie 1776Thomas Jefferson’s alma mater [10] (Go Tribe [11]!)

Going to Citi Field was a treat. I know that there are flaws (the sightlines, the too-high left field fence, the unnecessary angles across the outfield, and the fact that you can’t buy a burrito for your burrito-loving offspring) but we had a great time. I hope that you appreciate as much as we did the wonderful picnic area behind the center field scoreboard. Greg, my friend David [12], Dylan and I had fun out there before the Wednesday Cardinal game [13]. I know that I don’t see Citi Field as often as many of you and I’m on vacation when I’m there, but I really believe it exceeds its reputation.

We were also there for the Thursday shvitz-fest [14] and could have lived without that bland game. Fortunately, the happy memory of Angel Pagan’s neo-historic [15] walkoff home run the night before will stay with us for a long time.

Citi Field is certainly better than Nationals Park. Don’t get me wrong — Nationals Park isn’t bad,  but perhaps I think I’ve just gotten used to it by now. It doesn’t have many flourishes, but it is easy to get to by car (though the Metro is overrated [16] and practically unusable on weekends), the seats are much cheaper than at Citi Field, and it has a nice array of food options now that the Big Four from New York (Shake Shack, Blue Smoke, Box Frites, El Taqueria) are on the second level.

What isn’t so great is the home fans. I have to tell you that I do not like Nationals fans. It’s a different kind of feeling than we have for Yankees fans and Phillies fans because Nationals fans are happy when they win and don’t care if they lose. I don’t like that attitude. If you’re a real fan, you should at least be a little upset when your team loses. Don’t give me this “we stink so I don’t care and I had a good time anyway” nonsense but then be in my face when your team wins. You can’t have it both ways.

There are Nationals fans who care, but just not many of them.

I wonder if this is a baseball town. Neither Nationals Park nor Orioles Park at Camden Yards is sold out for any of the Interleague games between the locals, which makes me question if the DC/Baltimore area can support two teams. Perhaps Nationals Park will fill up when Stephen Strasburg comes back and Bryce Harper arrives, but until then, it’s merely a place for some people to go and drink beer.

The Mets scored four in the first on Friday [17], and Nationals fans retreated to their drinks and Blackberries. You barely heard a word out of them, even when they threatened to tie the game. Saturday was a different story. The place was almost full: Mets fans + bobbleheads = big crowd. We went upstairs to Shake Shack and the line was absurdly long. I guess that Mets fans knew where to go because I’ve heard that the lines aren’t bad for other opponents (I won’t set foot in Nationals Park unless the Mets are playing).

Saturday’s game stunk — Jayson Werth homered early, the Mets’ bats slept; going to the movies and watching fireworks were good alternatives. Harris ended the game by watching a Drew Storen splitter, one almost identical to the one he swung at to conclude the Met loss in Washington on April 28 [18]. As Saturday’s game ended, a dope pointed to my scorekeeping son and said “I hope that you put down in big letters that the Nats won.” This was a guy about 50, not some kid.

Congrats, sir. Your team won. You’re still in last place.

Sunday was the deciding game in the series and the one that would determine if Dylan and I could claim a winning record over the course of our live Mets interlude. Because we didn’t, I am compelled to ask this: Why was Willie Harris in the lineup? I’m a Terry Collins fan (I didn’t expect to be but he has won me over), but I think that he’s the only person in the world who likes Willie Harris as a baseball player.

Oh, and when the Nationals took the lead, a different dope leaned over to Dylan and said “did you write that run down?” Classy!

Hey, you’re still in last place.

By the way, we only saw two other people keep score in these three days, and they give you a scorecard when you walk in.

Something I love about going to a Mets game in D.C. is the passion shown by Mets fans. If you go, sit in the lower level on the third base side and you’ll hear something I haven’t heard at Citi Field: the spontaneous chant of “Let’s Go Mets!” It’s done without prompting by the scoreboard and it’s loud and beautiful.  It sometimes causes Nationals fans to boo us; that’s all they’ve got — they don’t try to drown us out with their own chant, they merely boo. It just makes us louder.

When we were in New York, Greg started chanting “Let’s Go Mets” without it being shown on the scoreboard; he was so loud that a woman in the row in front of us put her fingers in her ears. I leaned over to Greg and warned him, “You can’t chant ‘Let’s Go Mets’ unless they tell you.” My brother Lyle heard this and asked “are we allowed to clap our hands?” (he knows I don’t like the “everybody clap your hands” command). At Nationals Park, there’s no prompting necessary for us. Not so for Nationals fans who need the scoreboard to know when to cheer. Sadly, it seems to have gotten like that at Citi Field for the home fans, too.

Scott Hairston’s second home run Sunday, tying the game in the ninth, was great, but as you know, our joy was short-lived as the Nationals won without hitting the ball out of the infield. I was convinced that Bobby Parnell was a thrower, not a pitcher until his recent streak of success, but now I’m back to wondering about him. And don’t get me started on Daniel Murphy’s baserunning and fielding…though how can be so bad at that stuff almost all of the time and yet make such a nice play on a bunt in the 9th?

I sure hope it wasn’t heat stroke that caused him to wander the basepaths so aimlessly for eight innings. It was sure hot enough for it.

I’ll be back at Nationals Park in September when the Mets return. I know that some of you will, too. But I’ll be a little sadder because Dylan will be at school. The bad news is that if the Mets fall behind, some dope will chime in to tell me the score. The good news is that I’ll be among thousands of other Mets fans at Citi Field South.