By Derrick Perkin
By rights, baseball’s opening day should feature mild weather, a fair breeze and a lazy afternoon sun too bad Mother Nature wasn’t in the mood when the Nationals kicked off their season against the Atlanta Braves.
Yet the fans came in droves, braving the raw, wet weather with heavy jackets, earmuffs, space blankets and baseball caps by the thousands, all with the ubiquitous curly W. Lest ye be worried, Washington area sports fanatic, the Nats have found a fan base and they’re willing to suffer through a damp game reminiscent more of Fenway home openers.
To a transplant in a region of transplants, that seems no small feat. It’s easy to root for the Red Sox, the Yankees or the Cubs. There’s a shared history; lore passed down through the generations. Fans have the good times to celebrate and the bad times to commiserate.
The hard thing is they’ve played poor baseball since they’ve been here, said Tom, a former season ticket holder leaning against an upper deck railing for a better view. Like countless others watching and cheering, Tom comes to Washington by way of somewhere else: North Carolina in his case.
He’s a Braves fan, but roots for the Nationals whenever it suits him, which is often given the affordability of seats. The dilemma of simultaneously supporting two teams in the same division doesnt seem to bother him.
Despite Toms critiques of the Nats past performances, he thinks theyve got a shoot at a good season. That doesnt mean a trip to the World Series, but maybe a winning record for the first time since the ballclub headed south from Montreal. Theyre doing things the right way, building a team up from the bottom, even if that means years in the National League Easts basement, Tom said.
They havent sold out and dumped a ton of money into the free agent market, he said. Theyve built it from the farm system. The next five years, theyre going to be solid.
By selling out, Tom means bringing in over-the-hill stars to draw attendance, forsaking the future for instant gratification. Its tempting, but its not how you manage a ballclub, he said, offering his two cents from the stands.
And maybe suffering through consecutive losing seasons is the key ingredient in creating a loyal fan base. Collective misery breeds loyalty, just ask any pre-2004 Red Sox fan or a follower of the long maligned Cubs.
When Stephen Strasburg took the mound a season ago, Nationals fans came out of the woodwork, ready to exalt the savior of the local ballclub. But its easy rooting for a winner; how much harder was the day they announced he needed surgery?
The Nationals will win a World Series, and maybe with Strasburgs arm leading the way. When that happens the bitterness and hopelessness of those disparaging moments will make the joy of that shared celebration all the more poignant.
Seriously, stop laughing. Its true.
Its already paying off. Packed together like cattle on a Green Metro Line car Thursday, fans eagerly awaited what would be a disappointing 2-0 loss to the Braves. Young men laughed about taking a sick day to make the game while an out-of-towner photographed everything around him.
And in the front row of seats an elderly couple donning those ever present W caps and heavy jackets silently clutched shaking hands. Now thats loyalty.