- - Thursday, July 14, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Earlier this week, the Washington Nationals put a tweet out on the team’s account that showed a picture of an empty stadium, along with photos of two “Pokemon Go” figures and the following headline, “CF Gates open at 4:30 Friday.”

I don’t think this is what manager Dusty Baker had in mind when he said he wanted more energy from crowds at Nationals Park.

So what can we expect when the team takes the field Friday to open its post-All-Star Game home stand against the Pittsburgh Pirates? Fans running on the field chasing Pokemon Go figures?

The Nationals crowd, as well as the team, is now being graded about how they will perform the rest of the season. Baker indicated while they watch a first-place team, the home crowd isn’t exactly in first place.

“Some of the guys on the team wish our fans were a little more boisterous and crazy, a little bit, like we see at different stadiums on the road,” Baker told reporters. “But we also realize that a lot of our fans are new Nationals fans; that some of them — or a whole bunch of them — were Cubs and Mets (fans) and you know, wherever they come from. That’s the dynamics of D.C., which we realize. But we’re trying to win everybody to us. And you know, we need their energy, big-time.”

These are tough times to be a Washington sports fan. They are under attack for failing to live up to some sports fan code in places like Chicago — where Cubs fans flocked liked sheep to Wrigley Field year after year of franchise futility, much to the delight of team owners who didn’t have to worry about performance affecting their wallet, Or New York, where Mets fans could have their own YouTube brawl channel while “passionately” supporting their team.

I’ve never seen a fight at a Nationals game — either at RFK or Nationals Park. That doesn’t mean there haven’t been any. But after attending hundreds of Nationals games in the District, I’ve yet to see a fight. I’ve yet to see an opposing fan fear for his life coming to Washington to support his team.

What I see when I go to Nationals Park is a stadium with typically 30,000 people or more 81 times a year having fun, cheering for their team without acting as if they were auditioning for a part in “Frat House Fans.”

Maybe it’s a sign of the times when a large group of intelligent people from all walks of life — in other words, “the dynamics of D.C.” — gather together on a regular basis without spewing hatred or causing harm to other people, like a political rally, and are criticized for it. Remember, we live in times when intelligence is ridiculed and crudeness is celebrated.

Washington baseball fans don’t have to apologize or prove anything to anyone. No city in America waited 33 years between a franchise leaving town and then returning, and continued to have the passion to fight for the return of baseball, even with a team right up the road that was offered up as a substitute. So many times Washington was used and abused by baseball with the promise of a team after the Senators left town following the 1971 season — from one generation to the other — yet the commitment and determination to have its own team never disappeared.

Nationals fans, give yourself a round of applause. You deserve it.

I’m sure Baker meant well with his comments, as perhaps he is just trying to strengthen the connection between the team and its fans. He has done that in part just by his presence. He doesn’t need to push for more.

It’s also not a good time to be calling out Washington fans. It’s a fresh wound following Wizards guard John Wall suggesting that hometown hero (now villain) Kevin Durant didn’t give the Wizards the time of day in his free agency decision-making before leaving Oklahoma City for Golden State because of the fans.

“A lot of people will be devastated. But at the end of the day he never promised us anything,” Wall told CSNmidatlantic.com during the final day of his camp at Fairfax High School. “Every day, everybody said KD-to-DC, coming to our games wearing all the Kevin Durant stuff. He didn’t like it at that time because you should cheer for the team that you got.”

Like I’ve written before, Wall and his teammates should thank their lucky stars that people show up at the Verizon Mausoleum to watch this franchise that has had just 10 winning seasons in the past 38 years go through the motions of, in a year of celebration, 45 wins and a second-round playoff exit. Wizards fans have nothing to apologize for, either.

And now Redskins fans — once celebrated as one of the most devoted in the NFL — were ranked 16th in the league in a study recently published by an Emory University president, and last in the NFC East, behind Cowboys, Eagles and Giants fans.

Given the aura of self-destruction that has engulfed this franchise — and the embarrassments resulting from that self-destruction — for more than two decades, Redskins fans should take a bow for not being at the bottom of the league list. They buy merchandise and show up on Sundays and have turned the franchise into one of the most valuable in the world — eighth on the list just released by Forbes, at $2.85 billion.

Where to you think all those billions came from?

No, Washington sports fans have done just fine by their teams. It is the teams that have something to prove.

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