I wrote an article a while back at SB Nation.com right before Stephen Strasburg's MLB debut about how Washington, D.C., as I've been told many times since the Montreal Expos relocated following the 2004 campaign, is an "event town". Whenever I wondered aloud to baseball fans I'd met in the nation's capital why Major League baseball was so eager to relocate their first international franchise to a city that was once again failing to draw substantial crowds and had twice before lost teams to other cities, I was told time and again that the DC was an "event town" and when the Nationals started winning and Nationals Park was the place to be, the people would show. As I wrote then, Strasburg's debut, like Opening Day or the Inaugural game in Nationals Park in 2008, was truly an event and the crowd did show. The night after Strasburg's first start drew 40,000+ on June 8th, however, just 18,000 fans filled Nats Park on what was admittedly a rainy unpleasant day. For game three of that series against Pittsburgh, 21,600 fans were in attendance.
The Nats are still in the bottom third of the league in terms of home attendance, averaging just over 24,500 fans per game, so I braced for the worst when I drove to Nationals Park last weekend for the three-game series with the Philadelphia Phillies, whose fans had invaded the nation's capital on Opening Day 2010 and made their presence felt in such a way that most found unpleasant. What I found, however, were glimpses of a fanbase that is finally beginning to assert itself and make Nationals Park feel like home. The ovation Adam Dunn received when he stepped to the plate for the first time after fans realized he wouldn't be dealt at the Non-Waiver Trade Deadline as national baseball writers around the country had predicted. An ovation Dunn told Nats Insider.com's Mark Zuckerman on the Twitter (@markzuckerman) he would remember, "When I retire, that's one of the things that will be at the top of my list to remember." The explosion when Ryan Zimmerman hit his 7th walk-off HR off Phillies' closer Brad Lidge later that night. The way the DC Faithful's chorus of boos hushed the "Let's Go Phillies!" chants that broke out repeatedly throughout the weekend series. The gasps of shock bleeding into applause as Nats fans watched Adam Dunn's Hondo-esque HR to right on Sunday afternoon...
During Sunday's game I turned to another writer who sat beside me watching the game. "Sounds like NatsTown is finally asserting itself," I said as Nats fans drowned out another attempt to inspire their team by the 10,000+ Philly fans who filled Nationals Park on Sunday afternoon. "Yeah, I was just talking about that [with another writer] earlier this week," he responded, "It's great." Was it just the challenge Philly fans presented or something else, the start of something different? I've seen NatsTown, in glimpses. When the Nationals compete will every game be an event? If so, I can't wait.
Sign Dunn. Sign Harper. Bring up Ramos. Keep Stras healthy and Let's Go Nats Go. Do you see what I see?