- The Washington Times - Friday, October 3, 2014

Nationals fans new and old were hyped up, dressed up, and ready to cheer their hearts out as they made their way into Nationals Park Friday for the first game of the playoff series against the San Francisco Giants.

A sea of red streamed down Half Street into the park from the time the gates opened at 12:30 p.m. with fans pausing at nearby watering holes to pregame and meet up with friends.

Amanda O'Brien’s homemade fire helmet, Bryce Harper’s choice of headgear after the Nationals clinched the National League East title, stuck out among a crowd that mostly donned baseball caps at the Bullpen park next to the stadium.

“It’s the first time I’ve worn it out,” said Ms. O’Brien, 25, of Fairfax.

Ms. O'Brien said she had seen gnome hats on sale — that paid tribute to Jayson Werth and the garden gnome crafted in his likeness. But she wanted to show her support for the team with something a little more original and assembled the hat from items bought at party and craft stores.

“I wanted to have something unique and different to bring in to the game,” she said.

The creative display of team pride was among the growing energy that fans say they have sensed among the crowds streaming into the stadium Friday. The enthusiasm seems to be outshining the excited fervor fans unleashed last time the Nationals made it to the postseason in 2012.

“We could feel the energy on the Metro on the way here,” said Erica Hawksworth, 34, of Arlington. “People were chanting ‘Let’s go Nats’ and I do think there was more energy all around.”

With the District’s reputation as having a transient population, 37-year-old Tom Morgan of Arlington said there is often a propensity for people to cheer for their hometown team rather than to coalesce around the Nationals. But once the Nationals secured their entry into the playoffs, he’s seen that habit change for the better.

“It’s postseason time and everyone is wearing red and it makes me really proud to live in Washington, D.C.,” Mr. Morgan said.

Among those for whom Nationals support was late-blooming, vendors hawked plenty of gear on surrounding street corners.

Vendor Thaddeus Jackson, who sold $10 T-shirts and hats outside the stadium, said business had been brisk since he opened up shop at 11:30 a.m.

“I made like $100 in 30 minutes so I can’t complain,” Mr. Jackson said.

Mementos were a necessity for the day, so father and daughter Scott and Jessica Miller paused to snap pictures of Nationals uniforms on display at the Clubhouse store before entering the park.

The pair were longtime Orioles fans who have happily cheered for the Nationals since they came to the District in 2005.

“We were ready to switch allegiances,” said Mr. Miller, 58, of North Potomac.

Having cheered the team on through the first couple rough years of existence makes watching them make it to the postseason that much sweeter, said 21-year-old Jessica.

“We’re soaking up the rewards of our patience,” said Ms. Miller, a University of Maryland student.

Fairfax resident Dave Faeder, who embraced the fully-bearded gnome look by wearing a fake beard and matching scruffy wig, said aside from hoping the Nationals win, he also wants to witness fans go all out at the baseball stadium throughout the series.

“We’re sort of a polite fan base during the season,” said Mr. Faeder, 58. “Hopefully that’s going to change. Hopefully everyone is going to cut loose and go crazy today.”

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