This past weekend, the Washington Nationals held a Take Back the Park promotion for their series against the Phillies.
Since Nationals Park opened in 2008, whenever the Phillies have come to visit, the stadium becomes overrun with their fans. This has resulted in virtual home games where the Phillies were wildly cheered, while Nationals players received boos and taunts. Phillies fans began referring to Nationals Park as Citizens Bank Park South.
Apparently, Nationals management has had enough, and decided that they would “take back the park” in 2012. They had an aggressive advertising campaign, and took steps to limit the number of Phillies fans who could obtain tickets.
So did the team’s plan work? Partially.
I was at the game, and there were plenty of other Phillies fans present, so they certainly weren’t able to keep us all out. However, since group sales to Phillies fans were minimized, the Philly fanbase was more spread out that it has been in recent seasons. This helped limit the output of the Phillies fans, as a large group will always be more impactful than individuals.
Despite not being part of a large group, I was certainly doing my part. Partially spurred by the Nats’ attempts to prevent it, I was loudly (and believe it or not, I sometimes bordered on obnoxiousness) cheering for the Phillies. I made casual, yet audible dismissals of the Nationals and their stadium. I made sure to let everyone see my 2008 World Champions shirt.
Despite the efforts of Phillies fans, we were never able to take over the stadium like in years past. The key difference was that there were actually Nationals fans on hand for once.
The stadium was mostly filled, and I’m sure the Nats’ management will claim this as a great victory. But was it? Let’s consider the circumstances on Friday night:
- The team had been heavily promoting this series.
- The Nationals were in first place.
- The weather was nice.
- Stephen Strasburg was pitching.
- And of course, the Phillies were in town, which meant that a ton of Phillies fans would be in the house.
And yet, the game still wasn’t a sellout? Perhaps there just isn’t as much latent Natitude in the city as the team had hoped.
Marketing campaigns aside, the real measure of success for the Nationals would come on the field. The biggest reason why the Phillies fans have been taking over the park over the past few seasons is because the Phillies have been winning, and the Nats have been generally awful.
The Nats have realized that the Phillies have been setting the standard in the National League East, and their offseason comments made it known that they wanted to change that. The Nats have taken every opportunity to say how talented they are and how they think they’re ready to challenge the Phillies divisional supremacy.
For their part, the Phillies have merely shrugged off the Nats’ comments. After all, this was a team that has won five straight division titles, and is coming off of a 102 win season. Until the Nationals proved themselves worthy of attention, there was no reason for the Phillies to pay them any.
So while the Nats’ players might not care about the team’s promotions, they did care about having a chance to prove themselves as worthy rivals.
Before the series began, I predicted that the Nationals would win at least two of the three games. It just seemed to mean too much to them. And while they did win two games, I don’t think this was the mega-statement that the Nationals are treating it as.
Both teams had a lopsided victory, and the other game was won by the Nationals in extra innings. That hardly qualifies as an overwhelming display of dominance.
Then again, considering how badly the Phillies have been beating the Nationals in recent years, to even be considered at the same level is a huge improvement. The fact that Cole Hamels even cared enough to hit a Nationals player has to be seen as a sign that the Nats’ fortunes are rising.
Still, as a Phillies fan, I am not taking too much importance from this weekend’s games. Maybe to the Nationals, this series was indeed a big deal. Based on the postgame comments by some Nats’ fans on Friday, the fans certainly felt that way.
But as I was quick to tell them: It’s only May.
After watching so many postseason games over the past few seasons, I just can’t get that worked up about a series in May, no matter how aggressive the marketing campaign.
If the Phillies continue to struggle, and the Nats are still in first place in August, then maybe I’ll place some importance on what happened. But I know that it is a long season. And I still believe that it will be the Phillies on top of the standings when all is said and done.
And if that happens, I have a feeling that next season when the Phillies come to town, the stadium will once again be filled with their fans.