On Saturday, Nationals Park was awash in an unbroken sea of red jerseys and caps as 40,000 loyal fans came to enjoy baseball played in remarkably clear, crisp autumn weather. Much has been written about the disappointing attendance at Nationals games. Too much has been said about the preponderance of Philadelphia fans who overrun the loyal Washington rooters when their team is in town. Too many have said this is a football town and always will be.
Put that teapot away, the tempest fugit. (From the Latin term, “tempes fugit,” meaning “time flees.”)
The Milwaukee Brewers do not bring out the fans like Red Sox Nation. So the 75,000 D.C. fans who came to watch two weekend games at Nationals Park were there purely to watch their hometown team. The Redskins and RGIII playing their first home game together may have held down attendance Sunday. But there were still more than 33,000 fans whose only love right now is the old horsehide and whether it is going to bounce us into the World Series.
The wringing of hands that there is too little support for a winning team in D.C. can stop right now. The euphoria of pennant fever has taken hold and the Saturday crowd was the first in what will be many sellouts in the years to come. And when the Nationals oblige the loyal fans with games like Saturday’s trouncing of the Brew Crew, they are likely to come again. Ten runs, 13 hits and three home runs behind Gio Gonzalez’s 20th win. What’s not to like about that?
There were 2.7 million fans that came to RFK to watch baseball in 2005. It was new and exciting then, but those people who lost interest in the intervening years will be back next year. And with playoff baseball being played for the first time in D.C. in 79 years, there will be new fans as well, curious to know what all the blather is about.
There are many in this town who grew up rooting for other teams, who wear the colors of those teams to games at Nationals Park. It may take time to win them over, but there is nothing like winning baseball to do it. And unlike those Stephen Strasburg whiners who think this season is a one-off thing, I believe playoff baseball is here to stay and that will help pack away for good those fond memories of rooting for other teams.
It won’t be just the playoffs that will focus attention on the Nationals far after the end of the regular season.
The superlatives for this magic season are just beginning. As the first pitch to reach the 20-win mark, Gonzalez staked his claim to the Cy Young Award in the National League. That award will be announced well into November. Adam LaRoche’s 32nd home run of the season earned him ongoing discussion for the Most Valuable Player award and the debate as to his merits versus others will enliven the sports pages as well as the thermometer drops.
Davey Johnson deserves the Manager of the Year Award in the National League and it is difficult to imagine anyone else winning it. There is no team that has performed above expectations like the Nationals. If the measure of the man is getting the best out of his players, then Davey has excelled like no other this year.
Then there is Rookie of the Year. Who could possibly top Bryce Harper in the National League? You don’t mess with a force of nature and that is what Harper is. His baseball instincts are uncanny to watch. He just knows in a blink of an eye - in a nanosecond of reaction time -- that he can score from first on a double, that he can stretch the double into a triple or that he can make a routine single into a double. The plays are often close and always exciting. Sometimes, he doesn’t make it, but not often.
There is much the young man has to learn about the game, especially how to play center field, but for a player just turning 20, he is truly one of the most remarkable players to take the field in quite a while. And he is taking it here in Washington next season.
So no matter if the Nationals’ playoff surge washes ashore in the National League Championship Series or the World Series, these accolades will pour forth in the offseason. Baseball will be shouted from newspaper pages well into the Christmas shopping season and while the usual football games may be played out on Thanksgiving, baseball fans will still be buzzing about postseason awards and the team’s chances next year.
And thus will be buried for the foreseeable future the care about how poorly attended Nationals games are in Washington. There is just going to be too much good news in the weeks and months to come. So get used to it.
Ted Leavengood is author of “Clark Griffith, The Old Fox of Washington Baseball,” released last June. He serves as managing editor of the popular Seamheads.com national baseball blog and co-hosts with Chip Greene the “Outta the Parkway” Internet radio show. His work appears here as part of MASNsports.com’s effort to welcome guest bloggers to our little corner of the Internet. 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.