- The Washington Times - Friday, July 29, 2005

Take comfort, Nationals fans. The team is not standing still during its freefall out of first place in the National League East.

They are taking action.

On Thursday, the Nationals issued the following statement: “The Washington Nationals continue to adjust music and public address levels throughout the seating bowl at RFK Stadium. The club has received comments citing both the intensity and the lack of volume of its sound system in certain areas of the stadium although fans differ in their volume perceptions and preferences, the Nationals organization is committed to creating a friendly and enjoyable environment for all guests. To this end, the club will continue its efforts in attempting to strike a pleasant balance for its fans.”

Great. They are working on what fans hear. The problem is what fans are seeing. If this bizarre losing stretch continues, they may have to pass out blindfolds when the Nationals come home on Tuesday to play the Dodgers.

Everything is new ground for baseball fans in Washington this year — both the good and the bad times. Not that there were no interested baseball fans here before, but let’s face it. If you rooted for an out-of-town team, the team was just that [-] out of sight and probably often out of mind. There may be passionate Cubs, Yankees and Red Sox fans here. But it is not the same as walking into a local bar and asking if the Nationals won or lost. The distance decreases the passion.

This is why certain bars in various cities become identified as places where a Red Sox fan or Mets fan can find others like them so they can find someone to share their passion. When it is the hometown team, the person sitting next to you is often someone who shares that passion.

And as far as Orioles fans in Washington, the distance diminished the level of intensity. The hometown team becomes part of your identity, often the only connection to the community, in the growing isolation that we live in today. Plus, if you have been an Orioles fan, the last seven years must have numbed any feelings other than disdain.

So after the surprising first half ride the Nationals took everyone on as a first-place club, exceeding all reasonable expectations, people are not sure how to react to the collapse of late. There is anger, frustration and all the typical reactions that come with being a fan.

But there also is this pleasant aura that has persisted the entire season that probably produces feelings of guilt when anger and frustration surface. After all, there is major league baseball in Washington, and good or bad it’s better than the vacuum that existed here for 33 seasons. Like Mama said, the next best thing to playing and winning is playing and losing.

An examination of this team before the season would have left reasonable people to believe, in such a competitive division, that this was a 75-win team — an eight-game improvement over the previous season in Montreal. That would have been a noteworthy accomplishment. To have gotten off to such an exciting start was a gift, and if they manage to stay in competition for the division title or a wild card spot, then it will be Christmas.

If you are angry, though, about the way the Nationals are playing and you are not sure where to direct it (other than at Cristian Guzman), here is where things seemed to go wrong — July 6 at RFK.

That was the night when they let a midget Sony robot throw out the first pitch.

If you were there that night and witnessed the cheesy moment when QRIO, the robot that the company’s Web site says “embodies Sony’s dreams,” something just didn’t feel right. It may be a cliche, but it sure felt like bad karma.

Since July 6, the Nationals have gone 4-15 going into last night’s game against the Marlins.

If the team really wants to do something about the sights and sounds at RFK Stadium, what it needs to do is bring QRIO back to the ballpark for an official ceremony that should include the starting lineup with bats ready to perform an exorcism.

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