The Washington Nationals’ $126 million man, Jayson Werth, returned to the place where he made his name Tuesday night: Citizen’s Bank Park in Philadelphia. He was the center focus of the festivities all evening long in the Nationals’ 4-1 loss to the Phillies, even though he had very little to do with the action on the field, as he went 0-for-3 with a walk and a strikeout. He was received surprisingly warmly in his first at-bat, pausing to tip his batting helmet to acknowledge the appreciation from the 45,000 Phillies fans that pack that ballpark every single night of the week.
It’s a stark contrast to the less-than-capacity crowds that gather on South Capitol Street, where half the crowd is often comprised of fans of the visiting team. Werth must sometimes wonder what he’s gotten himself into in D.C. There’s a very funny cartoon that depicts a possible conversation between Werth and Cliff Lee after they both signed their free agent contracts this past offseason. It’s certainly not suited for linking on this family-oriented Web site, but you can find it easily on the interwebs. Anyway, there’s a vast gap between the Nationals organziation and his previous employers. Manager Jim Riggleman often talks about closing that gap, but it’s still obvious on the field.
The Phillies have transformed their team from one that relied almost solely on a murderer’s row of mashers in the middle of the order - including Werth, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez - into a more pitching-oriented squad that features a collection of staff aces that would make Cy Young blush. Regardless of how they do it, the Phillies have now been the class of the National League East for almost a decade, and they don’t look like they are slowing down any time soon.
And befitting the team they put on the field, they fill the stands every single night. The faithful love their Fightin’ Phillies. And not only do they show up every night, they are loud, passionate and opinionated. It comes with the territory as a sports fan in Philadelphia, and it’s in full evidence in their stadium - and unfortunately in Nats Park, as well.
Werth has referenced on multiple occasions since he signed that he wants to help bring that type of atmosphere to Washington. Frankly, that’s hard to imagine right now. Washington sports fans are vocal, loyal and passionate, but they are just - what’s the right word? - different? It’s hard to describe, but if you’ve ever been in packed stadium or arena in D.C and Philadelphia, there is a noticable, discernable difference in the attitude of the crowd. It’s a presence, and it’s obvious. It’s almost like the success and failure of the teams in Philly have a direct connection to the collective self-worth of the city’s residents.
Perhaps it’s due to the nature of the cities themselves. Washington is full of people that aren’t from here; they’re from across the country and across the world. The vast majority of people that live in Philadelphia were born there and grew up there. Rooting for the Phillies is in their DNA.
When the Nats finally start winning, the folks will come out. The Redskins have one of the most loyal fan bases in the world. Two decades of ineptitude hasn’t been able to kill it. The Capitals, once one of the worst draws in the NHL, pack Verizon Center with red-clad crazies for every home game. Yes, the fans will come. But to expect, or even hope, that the crowds will rival the atmosphere in Philadelphia is unrealistic. They’re a different kind of fan there.
Dave Nichols covers the Washington Nationals for Nats News Network. Read Nichols’ Nationals observations part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. 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.