A lot of things have changed in baseball from the time the Senators left Washington in 1971 until the arrival of the relocated Montreal Expos in 2005 — both on the field and in the stands.
On the field, there was no free agency or wild card, and pitchers finished games, not just six innings. In the stands, fans cheered for their teams, but it has a less manic tone than today, at least in other cities.
One change is the growth of the fan clubs in the stands — the creative ways fans adopt a certain player on their team and create an entertaining persona for that player, something that becomes part of the whole show.
That has yet to happen at RFK Stadium, and, as the final season of baseball there approaches, unless some creative Nationals fans step up to the plate, it won’t happen.
There’s still time, though — a little more than two months left to put a little fun in the game, in spite of the team’s losing, and make a connection to the players who, even in a losing season, have entertained and played hard.
I’m not talking about the manufactured groups, where players buy tickets for groups of children in a section of a ballpark. That’s a wonderful gesture but a totally different dynamic.
No, this is about groups of fans like the Coneheads, a group of Yankees fans who wore coneheads in honor of pitcher David Cone. And nobody may be better at this than Phillies fans, who, rooting for a franchise that just reached a record 10,000 losses, have come up with entertaining ways to have fun and even close the gap somewhat between themselves and the millionaires on the field.
There was the Wolf Pack, a group of seven brothers who wore wolf masks to root for pitcher Randy Wolf. There was the Duck Pond, with fans wearing duck bills and using duck calls when relief pitcher Brandon Duckworth entered the game. There was Giambi’s Zombies (not for Jason in New York, which may have been appropriate, but for Jeremy), who did a zombie walk when Giambi would get a hit. Person’s People, paying tribute to former Phillies relief pitcher Robert Person, started when one man showed up one day with a sign that said “Person’s Person,” and it grew from there.
The best, though, may have been the Padilla Flotilla, a group of fans who rooted for pitcher Vicente Padilla, wearing sombreros and using imaginary paddles in unison whenever Padilla recorded a strikeout.
One of my all time favorites was a group of fans in Seattle, when shortstop Omar Vizquel was with the Mariners, that brought signs that said, “Older Women for Omar.”
These types of units spring up in the cheap seats, and, in the final days of baseball at RFK Stadium, it would be a treat to see a group or two emerge there, particularly in the dog days of summer.
Time may be running out, with the July 31 trading deadline, but the most obvious choice for such an honor should be first baseman Dmitri Young, a fan favorite with a nickname that cries out for a fan club — “The Meat Hook.”
How about “The Meat Locker,” with fans dressing up in white butcher coats and hanging a piece of fake meat out over the rail for every hit The Meat Hook gets. The cut could depend on whether it is a single, double, or home run. For Dmitri, a triple would have to be prime rib, served rare.
Another one is for one or both of the two Jasons — Bergmann or Simontacchi. Every time one of them takes the mound, there could be a group of fans wearing Jason hockey masks in one section of RFK, with fake axes, coming up with an RFK version of the tomahawk chop, so to speak, every time Simontacchi or Bergmann strikes out a batter (OK, that may not be tasteful enough for a ballpark, but I’m spitballing here, just trying to get the ball rolling).
Then there is Chad Cordero — called “The Chief” — which of course conjures up all sorts of politically incorrect possibilities, but in a town where the No. 1 team is called the Redskins, there may be some cover there.