I’m predicting a stadium brawl at Nationals Park on May 6th. Not a full-stadium rumble, but there’s going to be fights. How can it be avoided at this point? The Nationals “Take Back the Park,” campaign is flawed on several levels. A sampling…
1. They did this to themselves. They practically sent trains/buses filled with free seats up to Philly in recent years to try to get Phillies fans to come down and fill the yawning expanses of empty seats at Nationals Park. Well, it worked, but now the Nationals are suddenly taking themselves seriously. No more Phillies fans! Well, the toothpaste is already out of the tube.
2. You have to take back the park organically. As any Phillies fan knows, when your team is terrible–you get invaded. It happened with the Mets at the Vet for years and was evident with the Yankees and Red Sox in the early years of interleague play. I don’t think it ever got as bad as it is in Washington, but the point is, you squeeze out the opposition by winning games. The Nationals have some buzz, but no real track record. They don’t have nearly enough support yet to pull this off.
3. The Nationals have absolutely no control over the secondary ticket market. They can sell to all the MD/DC/VA people they want, but that’s not going to stop those people from re-selling to Philly fans, especially if the ticket becomes a hot commodity.
4. Why poke the bear? You’re only strengthening the resolve of Philly fans with this campaign. Is there a better way to ensure they show up than telling them they can’t? The Nats should have laid low, hoped for good ticket sales, hoped for a hot April, whatever…why have every Philly fan circle their calendar in February?
A large part of me actually thinks the Nationals don’t care one bit about Taking Back the Park. They simply want all this attention. If that’s the case, it’s working, and there’s no question this game on May 6th will be sold-out. And, plenty of Philly fans will be in attendance. The Philly blog Crossing Broad is organizing a bus trip for 200 fans–tickets in right field already secured. They certainly won’t be the only ones in attendance.
And, that’s where the prediction for the brawl comes in. Think about a certain type of Phillies’ fan that is going to make this trip and tailgate for several hours prior to the game. Think about a D.C. radio station fanning the flames with an FU Philly promotion. It’s not going to be pretty. I hope I’m wrong, I hope peace and tranquility can prevail, but I’m setting the over/under at 11.5 arrests on May 6th. We’ll see.
The whole Take Back the Park campaign is based on the Nationals being the team that finally supplants the Phillies atop the NL East. I was listening to Jayson Stark yesterday, and he’s very high on Washington’s chances. It sounded to me like he favors them as the Phillies’ #1 threat. Gio Gonzalez has a fan, I know that much, and Stark evoked Justin Verlander when talking about Stephen Strasburg. It doesn’t surprise me that Stark likes the Nationals, because they are full of potential and it’s my opinion that baseball writers cannot avoid the lure of upside. It’s common for them to want to be “in early” on something, so if the Nationals happen to win 92 games or something this year, then they can remind everyone of their own prescience.
I’m not at a point where I’m ready to start thinking about the Phillies’ rivals. I had a post a week or two ago highlighting the issues that teams in the NL East faced, but that was an attempt to curb the tide of defeatism that seemed to be creeping in. Right now the Phillies and their fans should be focused on their own club. Ryan Howard ever getting back to the field is a much bigger concern than which team from the NL East will emerge as a true rival.
If the Nats can pull off their revival it does have the makings of a potential rivalry, but for now, we just wait for May 6th and the fireworks that are likely to ensue.