Banning Phillies Fans From Nationals Games Won’t Create Nationals Fans

The Nats are trying to force themselves into relevance instead of proving they're a legitimate ball club.

The Phils were tossed from the first round last year, the Dream Team barely showed up, the Sixers are on a three-game skid and Philly’s hockey news cycle is focused on the psychoanalysis of Ilya Bryzgalov. Things have been better for Philly sports fans. But, things could be worse—way worse. We could be Washington, DC.

Usually I wouldn’t be taking shots at a fan base already keeled over in disappointment and agony, but this whole inferiority complex thing is getting out of hand. Last season, Nats fans and the DC media didn’t have much to concern themselves with on the field, so they spent their time lamenting about Phillies fans filling up Nats Park. Then, earlier this winter, the Nationals announced the “Take Back the Park” campaign—an effort to keep their park from filling up with the wrong shade of red when the Phillies head south on I-95. In order to buy tickets to the Phils/Nats games in Washington in May, fans have to use a credit card with a billing address in DC, Maryland or Virginia. Okay that sucks, but it’s 2012 and Phils fans have enough ingenuity to MacGyver around that pesky road block.  Senator Bob Casey didn’t need to step in and flex his political muscles (read: send a strongly worded letter).

Then, last week, we learned that the Nats organization had taken a deposit for group tickets from a Philly-area company, but would not sell the tickets as promised. Even though the Nats refunded the deposit, the company is out the time and effort it took to coordinate such a trip as well as a few hundred bucks lost on a deposit for a bus to get everyone down to DC. Not cool, Washington. Not cool at all.

It’s easy enough to understand why Nats fans are unhappy and why the organization needs to pull stunts like this to sell convince people to buy into the home team. The Washington Nationals are bad.  Since the Expos moved to Washington, they’ve finished an average of nearly 22 games behind the Phillies in the National League East standings every year. They’re 31-59 against the Phils in the past five years and invested the team’s future in a kid destined to be the most hated athlete in America. Stephen Strasburg blew out his arm. The last time DC had a winning baseball team was 1969. They’re understandably frustrated.

But banning us from their ballpark? Not honoring agreements to sell group tickets? That’s dirty pool—especially when Nats Park is typically less than 60 percent filled.

We get it. Their baseball team hasn’t been relevant since Tricky Dick was in office. The Capitals are playing like shit, the Dream Team let Philly down tremendously, but still managed to kick the Skins in the pants on two occasions, and the Sixers have already curb-stomped the Wizards a handful of times this season. They took our Donovan McNabb hand-me-down and shelled out a five-star entree price for our Jayson Werth leftovers. Now they’ve added Brad Lidge to that list. They have to root for a team owned by Dan Snyder and are expected to cheer for Bryce Harper. Life sucks for Washington fans. That’s not lost on us.

But they should have waited for the team to get better. If the Nats were winning baseball games, the average attendance would be closer to stadium capacity. More people would buy season tickets and partial-season ticket packages, which would make it more difficult for Phillies fans to score seats in DC. And that’s a possibility that’s not as far off as many people think. To pull a stunt like this when the Mets have barely gotten comfortable in their role as the punchline of the NL East is as arrogant a move as Bryce Harper showing up a minor league umpire when he’s still a teenager.

For their sake, I hope “Take Back the Park” works. It’s not supposed to be easy to waltz into a divisional opponent’s stadium. The idea comes from the right place. The problem, though, is that the real Nationals fans would have been at the game regardless. Now instead of a stadium filled with legitimate baseball fans it’s going to be a few Nats diehards and a bunch of people who thought it’d be cool to stick it to Philly. But the people who don’t actually care about baseball—and whether the Nats win or lose—won’t throw the home team’s home runs back onto the field. So, I guess there’s that.