Will Yoder: On rain delays, empty seats and anticipation

The Nationals game was rained out last night in St. Louis and I was struck with an empty feeling in my gut. For the first time since opening day I would be forced to sit two consecutive nights without enjoying a baseball game, quite a disappointment, to say the least.

As I scrolled through the tweets from the Nationals beat reporters about the massive rainstorm they were waiting out, I got to thinking about all of the rain delays I’ve sat through as a baseball fan. It’s an experience with unsung beauty that few non-baseball diehards will ever understand. There is something so unique about the sound of rain pattering on empty seats, the painful anticipation for the sun and the cautious calm of an empty but fully lit ball field. In a game defined by structure and deep rituals, the rain delay provides a brief escape filled with controlled chaos and uncertainty.

Finally, when the sun comes out and the game resumes, there’s an energy that can only be matched by opening day, one fueled by the joy of baseball. Players slowly peek their heads out of the dugouts like kids on Christmas as the fans who have waited patiently mosey back to their seats. It’s a classic ritual that has held true since the game began.

Unfortunately, the clouds would not part last night and the game would be postponed until today. Still, my reflections led me to think how unfortunate it was that many fellow Washingtonians had not fully adopted the beauty of baseball into their lives. Many sports are about fulfillment through game-changing plays and on the field accomplishments, but the true enjoyment of baseball comes through immersing yourself in the culture.

When it comes to fan participation in Washington D.C., sports, to quote the late Vince Lombardi, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”

We saw this first-hand this past weekend as local sports fans chose not to go to Nationals Park, but instead to flock to Verizon Center or local bars to root on the Washington Capitals as they began their march towards the Stanley Cup. Just a few years ago we saw the same infatuation as a then-healthy Gilbert Arenas led the Washington Wizards towards the playoffs with one of the best records in the Eastern Conference. This is a city that has large amounts of untapped passion for sports, but with the busy lives of the average Washingtonian, that energy is almost exclusively reserved for a winner.

The Nationals, unfortunately, have not had the credentials in their short existence to tap into any of that enthusiasm. Sure, there was the hot summer of 2005, where the city began to rally around the ragtag group of ballplayers until their playoff hopes faded into autumn. But, ultimately, the Nationals have played second fiddle to the other great summer attractions that Washington has to offer.

Sadly, until a winner can be born on the banks of the Anacostia, our memories at Nats Park will be emblazoned with the backdrop of empty blue seats - and not the sounds of cheering fans. While there’s something beautiful about empty stands as the rain falls from the heavens and the tarps are dragged onto the field, there is nothing pleasant about them when the sun is shining on a beautiful summer afternoon.

Will Yoder blogs about the Nationals for The Nats Blog, and offers his viewpoints 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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