It seems like all the talk from Philadelphia folks about spoiling the Nationals’ “Our Park” series was just that. From the perspective of the left field stands on Friday night, the campaign was an unqualified success.
The announced crowd of 34,377 certainly included fans from both teams, but unlike years past, it was not the Philly fan-fest we’ve come to expect at Nationals Park, which was (a bit cheesily) renamed “Natitude Park” for this series. The whole scene was far removed from years past when Philly fans took over the park for entire series, or the regular invasions of a certain ballpark in Charm City by the Red Sox and Yankees “nations.”
There were more than a few tour buses seen coming to the park, but whether or not it was because COO Andy Feffer kept them from unloading next to the park, those tour groups debarked in the parking lot of the McDonald’s a couple blocks away. No big Philadelphia tailgate parties were evident. There were also a good number of fans in Phils gear seen walking from Lot HH, the most distant and least expensive parking area, which had conveniently doubled its rate to $10 for this series.
Once inside the park, it appeared that about the quarter of the crowd was supporting the visitors, but those fans appeared to be spread out. The largest concentration was apparently over the out-of-town scoreboard in right field, with a few pockets in left, next to the Phillies’ bullpen. Some cheering for good plays by the visitors could also be heard from the walk-up-sale grandstand section, but their numbers weren’t evident.
Those plucky out-of-towners did their best to make themselves heard, too, cheering for home runs by Hunter Pence and Carlos Ruiz. And the boos could also be heard when Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel was ejected in the first inning and someone in the Red Porch section decided to throw back Pence’s home run ball, a-la Wrigley Field. But every time they tried to put up a rallying call, they were drowned out by choruses of “Let’s Go Nats!”
The din from the visiting rabble was nothing compared to the joyous noise that erupted from section after section dominated by fans in Curly W shirts and caps. Admittedly, most Nats fans still have a bit to learn about supporting the pitcher when the count reaches two strikes, even with the help of recorded sound effects and visual scoreboard cues, but they eventually got the hang of it.
When the Nats were at bat, they needed no help. Every time rookie phenom Bryce Harper came up, it seemed like the whole stadium erupted in chants of “Let’s Go Har-per!” And when Wilson Ramos stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the 11th, there was no doubt that crowd was behind him. Once the game was over everyone filed out peacefully.
So the Nationals and their fans successfully took back their park this weekend. The campaign was never intended to keep Phillies fans out entirely, only to keep them from rudely dominating the game and intimidating the hometown team and its crowd, and to that end, it achieved its goal. As for General Manager Mike Rizzo’s own “take back the park” plan — turning the Nationals into a team that hometown fans want to see and visiting fans don’t want to bother with — that was evident, too, in the final score.
With a few more series like this, and a winning season, the Nats won’t need this kind of campaign; They’ll be drawing raucous home crowds on their own.