Tonight marks the start of "Natitude Weekend" as declared by D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray yesterday in an official proclamation. The Washington Nationals' attempts to stem the tide of Philadelphia Phillies fans filling up Nationals Park have involved efforts on the part of the Nats' front office led by COO Andrew Feffer, who temporarily, "... blocked single-game ticket sales outside the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia," earlier this year as a Wall St. Journal article recounted yesterday, while simultaneously trying to rally support within the nation's capital for fans to come out to watch the Nationals this weekend and avoid having Nationals Park once again turn into what Philly fans have in years past referred to as Citizens Bank South.
Though Mr. Feffer points in the Wall St. Journal article to last August's series with the Phillies and specifically the August 20th game which saw, "The Nationals set a single-game attendance record," with a crowd the COO estimated was two-thirds Phillies fans, the problem for most Nats fans really began on Opening Day 2010 when, invited to come to D.C. by then-team President Stan Kasten, Philly fans filled up the park in the first home game of the season, drowning out the player introductions with boos and even jeering the presentation of the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards Ryan Zimmerman had received for his efforts in the '09 campaign.
As we wrote here at the time, after having sat in the stands in a section dominated by out-of-town fans:
"It would not be an exaggeration to say that nearly half of the 41,290 fans in Nationals Park this afternoon were Philadelphia Phillies fans. If it wasn't obvious from all the Philly t's, caps and jerseys around the park, it became clear in the top of the fourth, when Ryan Howard launched a first-pitch curve from Nats' starter John Lannan deep into the right field seats for a two-run HR that put Philly up 2-1 over Washington to the roaring approval of the crowd."
It did not make for the most enjoyable Opening Day experience and the memory lingered with fans in the nation's capital criticizing the way in which Phillies fans were courted. The "Take Back the Park" campaign the Nationals launched this winter was the long-awaited response from the team, which sought to openly confront and antagonize fans of the Nats' NL East rivals. While yesterday's Wall St. Journal article claimed that the Nationals' efforts, "... required some willingness to sacrifice profit to pride," the more likely result is that the Nationals, while rallying the local fanbase to some extent, have stirred up enough anger among Philly fans to guarantee strong attendance for each game this weekend one way or the other.
"Philadelphia will be well-represented when the Phillies visit Washington for a three-game series beginning Friday night," Philly.com writer Mark Kram wrote this morning in an article entitled, "Phils fans set for march on Washington," citing the fact that several blogs have, as in years past, organized trips to Washington and bought blocks of tickets in right field where they can boo Jayson Werth to their heart's content. D.C. GM Mike Rizzo told Philly.com writer Bob Brookover yesterday that he had his own plan for returning the home field advantage to the nation's capital's Nats. "'My 'Take Back the Park' plan,'" Rizzo explained, "'is proving that we can beat [the Phillies] to the point where [their fans] don't want to come [here] anymore and our fans are going to fill the park.'"
Nats' skipper Davey Johnson said much the same last year after his first experience as a manager during a so-called Philly invasion. "I think anywhere I've ever been when the team starts winning, fans come out," Johnson told reporters, "They didn't come out the first year in New York, by the third year, we were packing them in, and that's what I'm hoping happens here."
Mr. Feffer pointed to Sunday's nationally-televised matchup with the Phillies as being particulary important, saying that, "... it would be a huge embarrassment if the crowd were dominated by Philadelphia supporters," for the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball broadcast. Friday night the Nationals have Stephen Strasburg on the mound and likely Bryce Harper in the lineup for the NL East's first place team. You'd think that would be more of a draw than even a nationally-televised game. The Nationals will find out tonight if their efforts result in the Nationals fanbase turning out en masse to turn the tide inside Nationals Park or in Phillies fans angered by the actions taken to restrict their access showing up in greater numbers and being more boisterous than before.
Even if the Park is once again full of Phillies fans, one way to quiet them down is to simply beat them, something the Nationals did in 10 of 18 games last season, including two of the three games during the series last August that the Nats' Mr. Feffer said spurred the Nationals' initiative. "Take Back the Park"? How about take two of three or more instead?