Rachel Levitin: Root, root, root at your own risk

Ever since baseball returned to Washington in 2005, Philadelphia Phillies fans have targeted their share of rowdy behavior toward the Nationals. They trek en mass to the nation’s capital, eager to shatter the souls of Nats fans and their players with nothing more than their die-hard allegiance to their own boys of summer.

Opening day 2010 at Nationals Park is a day Nationals fans are not likely to forget - for at least a few years to come. As a patron in the stands of that game, my We Love DC colleague Tom Bridge felt beyond uncomfortable.

“I’ve had some baseball experiences that were less than enjoyable,” Bridge wrote lin his post-game reaction. “I’ve watched my childhood team get swept in the World Series, I’ve watched my team decimated by the Yankees at home in the playoffs, but Monday’s shellacking on the field, and the sheepish feeling required to cheer for your own team while everyone around you boos your own team, on your home field? Unacceptable.”

With the resurrection of Phillies fans overrunning Nationals Park (as usual) this week, I decided to try and figure out why this particular group of baseball fans almost seems to prefer making Nationals fans uncomfortable rather than focus solely on their team, and their team alone, during a game.

To find my answer, I dug up my copy of Paul Dickson’s “The Unwritten Rules of Baseball” and turned straight to the fan section.

“(Rule) 5.5.0 Root for the Visiting Team at Your Own Risk - Professional fan and baseball author Zack Hample puts it this way: ‘If you root for the visiting team, you WILL get verbally abused, and if you’re in Yankee Stadium, you’ll get physically abused as well.’”

That’s the unwritten rule, as verbalized/re-written by Dickson for clarification. But, he continues:

“There are now major exceptions to this rule. Red Sox fans who have trouble getting Fenway tickets sometimes come down to Baltimore in such great numbers that it seems like a Boston home game. The same can be true with some Philadelphia games in D.C.”

At face value, Dickson’s clarification reads as saying, “The Phillies fans invading D.C. is OK because they’re the exception to an unwritten rule,” or at least that’s how I read it.

I’m all for exceptions to rules, but in a game known culturally and historically for being rooted in tradition and following the rules (minus that whole steroids issue), I feel the unwritten rules are just as important as the written ones to follow.

But is Washington really an exception the unwritten rule? Is it because the Nationals are still the new guys or is it because they’re the Philles’ division rival?

During Tuesday’s game, Twitter streams were flooded with 140-character messages describing, in as much detail as possible, the amount of boos directed toward ex-Phillie and current Nat Jayson Werth.

One tweet by Jessica Quiroli (aka @heelsonthefield) explained that Phillies fans were lashing out at Werth because he talked trash to them after being traded to Washington.

“I don’t recall that, but ok. RT @Thel00secann0n Jayson #Werth Talked Trash About The Philly Fans That`s Why We Don`t Like Him,” the tweet said.

Werth did let the words “I hate the Phillies, too” slip from his lips during a conversation with General Manager Mike Rizzo earlier this year, according to the Phillies Phollowers blog.

Sure, that does sounds petty out of context, but it must have made sense to Werth at the time, otherwise he wouldn’t have said it. The fact is that Werth is National now and continues to demonstrate his leadership as a person and player.

“Inexperienced players, you’ve got to hold their hand in a sense and teach them how to play the game the right way,” Werth told MASNsports.com’s Ben Goessling. “The only way to do that is to have veteran guys around them, teaching them the right stuff, which hasn’t been the case in the past. It is now, though.

Maybe, in a few years, the rivalry between Phillies and Nats fans will no longer be an exception to the unwritten rule of “Root for the Visiting Team at Your Own Risk.” But for now, it’s safer to just ignore the ruckus and watch the game.

Rachel Levitin blogs about the Nationals for We Love DC, and will be sharing her observations about her adopted team this week as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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