Old School Baseball, Rivalries and Sportsmanship

It doesn’t help that my mood has been foul for about three days. But, there are a few things that are taking up a tremendous amount of space in my brain today. Since Twitter is generally where my evil twin hangs out, I have been trying to condense it all into 140 characters and there is just too much to say. I’ll just focus on one thing, as I tend to get long-winded. And to be honest, I wouldn’t normally be so worked up about this, were it not for the other stuff. So this might sound small and petty in the grander scheme of life, but it’s today’s brain dump.

The Phillies. I have never liked the Phillies, but I have never hated them either. In fact, the only MLB team I’ve ever really despised is the Yankees. Well, and the Braves. Mostly because I think the fans are arrogant and cocky. Yes, I’m generalizing. I met some really nice Yankees fans in Boston at a Red Sox game a couple of years ago. And, in March, I sat next to some really nice Yankee fans at a Nationals spring training game (although the Nats were playing the Mets, so that could have had something to do with it….) Anyway, when we moved here and I became a Nationals fan, I sort of laughed at the Phillies/Nationals rivalry. Mostly because I couldn’t understand the rivalry. The Phillies have been a dominant team, not only in the NL East, but in MLB in general. The Nationals haven’t. Now that I live here though, I know that the rivalry really is about more than baseball.

I went to Washington State University. I’m a lifelong Denver Broncos fan. I spent years in Seattle watching the Mariners struggle through terrible seasons. Sure, each of those teams has had success, but none of them have been dominant for very long. So, I get losing. I’m okay with it. It makes victory even sweeter, I think. And, as a result, I tend to root for the underdog when I don’t have a vested interest in the game. So, here I am, rooting for the underdog again. Pretty typical.

DC is an interesting place because in large part, everyone is “from” somewhere else. Often, the fans for the visiting team are the majority in the stadium. We experienced that in Phoenix, too — especially at Cardinals games. It’s the nature of a transient city. While I do have my favorite teams, I also have a “when in Rome” attitude, so we’ve generally always supported the hometown teams in the places we have lived.

Last year, I was given tickets to a suite by a colleague for one of the Nationals/Phillies games. We have come to expect that the stadium is usually packed with Phillies fans. And, this day was no exception. My 12 year old son and I were the only Nats fans in the suite. This would have been fine except that the Phillies fans were just plain rude. To my son. And, he wasn’t smack talking, he was simply cheering his team on. Even when they were down by a couple of runs, he was a good sport because that’s what he’s been taught to be. And when the Nats scored and took the lead, he didn’t get obnoxious. And when they won, he didn’t get in anyone’s face and scream “Phillies Suck!” No, that was behavior that I witnessed by adults in Phillies gear, who like to refer to Nats Stadium as Citizen’s Park South.

The Nats ended 2011 with 80 wins and 81 losses. There was one game that they never got to make up, so they conceivably could have finished with a .500 record. Regardless, it was a good season for a team that had been dismal in years past. The off-season proved fruitful and the fans have been excited for the new season which has started off very well. I have been around long enough to know that April doesn’t mean a lot in the larger scheme of things, but the fans were beginning to show up and stay longer and cheer louder. I’ve heard more than one person say that they have fallen in love with the Nats. And, that’s the thing that will keep fans coming back even when they get in a slump. It’s good for the team and it’s good for our city.

The marketing team came up with an idea to “Take Back the Park”, where you could pre-purchase tickets to the Phillies games only if you were from DC, MD and VA. Now, of course this didn’t mean that they weren’t going to allow any Phillies fans in the stadium (and certainly, there are plenty of them living in DC, MD and VA anyway)…but it served as encouragement for people to show up and support the home team. Additionally, the hashtag #Natitude was unveiled and the fans have embraced it. It also helps that Bryce Harper was called up from AAA and has been killing it on the field.

We have noticed a few Nationals fans getting a little cocky. A colleague of my husband’s talked some friendly smack before the Dodger games (he’s bled Dodger blue since he was a little boy). And, we saw what happened there. There’s a fine line between supporting your team and being obnoxious — and until you have a real record to stand on, it’s best to keep it low key because as any sports fan knows, anything can happen.

So, the Phillies get to town. Their fans are determined to make a showing. And, they do. And, they lose. Twice. Sunday comes and things start to get tense. Cole Hamels decided to send Bryce Harper a message and beaned him on his first at-bat. We all knew it was intentional, and he went on to admit it was. I’ve seen people praise the move, saying it was bad-ass and that Harper is arrogant and needs to respect the veterans. Bryce Harper, on the other hand, didn’t get rattled. He went on to steal home plate. Who’s the bad-ass now? Arrogant or not, kid can play. And everyone knows it. Hamels defended the move, saying he was just trying to get back to old school baseball.

What annoys me is how Phillies fans have gone on to react, insulting Nats fans, the #natitude hastag and the players in general. They cheered in the outfield when Jayson Werth broke his wrist. To me, it’s just all bad sportsmanship. It’s not a good example — by the players or the fans. And no…I didn’t like it when Zimmermann answered back. And, I’m not saying that all Nationals fans have had exemplary behavior either.

When asked about it, Harper simply said that “Hamels threw a great game tonight”.

My observation is that Harper is the one that showed class. The response I get from some Phillies fans is that I need to remember the record. Yes, the record is impressive. I’m not arguing with that. I’m talking about class, not records. I was then told that class doesn’t win division championships. Clearly not.

I do find it interesting that despite the records, this powerhouse team has only managed to beat the Nationals 3 out of the last 14 times they’ve played each other. Calling the Nats out as being pathetic doesn’t say much for the fact that they only seem to beat them about 20% of the time these days.

Look, I see nothing wrong with a rivalry. It can be fun. But, it can also make for a miserable time in the ballpark, especially when you’re trying to teach your kid some manners. If you really value old school baseball, how about going back to the days when the game was marked by a spirit of gentlemanly sportsmanship?

I respect die-hard fans, even if especially if their team isn’t that good. Baseball is about more than winning. There’s nothing better than a day at the yard. And there’s nothing wrong with some friendly smack talk. Come on out to #ourpark. Enjoy a half smoke and some Nationals hospitality (they are great fans). I’ll even buy you a beer, but only if you’re nice.

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3 thoughts on “Old School Baseball, Rivalries and Sportsmanship

  1. Pingback: Hooray, Hooray for the 8th of May! | Pausing to Reflect

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