'Down in Front!': A Few Pointers for Baseball's Worst Fans
Washingtonians are dead last in ballpark etiquette. Here's how they can improve.
That old joke about Washington being "first in war, first in peace, and last in the American League," doesn't work these days, and not just because the Nationals don't play in the American League. (Come to think of it, it doesn't work on the war and peace parts either.) That's because the Washington Nationals have started off the 2012 baseball season on a tear, leading the division even with major injuries to their starting left fielder, right fielder, closer, and three of their four Venezuelan catchers. They've overcome the bad luck because the pitching staff is the best in the league, and Bryce Harper, the 19-year-old phenom, flies around the field like Pete Rose and swings the bat like Mickey Mantle. He's a revelation: Paul Bunyan with a dash of Bamm-Bamm Rubble. He's done the impossible in cynical Washington: exceeded expectations, just as pitcher Stephen Strasburg did before him.
That's the good news. The bad news is we Washingtonians are dead last in baseball fan etiquette. I don't know if that's because all of this success has brought an infestation of new fans to the park who have no idea how to watch a game, or that we don't really have a baseball tradition in this town after losing two teams, or if I'm just getting older and more get-off-my-lawny. But one thing I do know for sure: I go to about half the home games and I miss a lot of the action because people are standing up way too much during play. Like that guy two sections over—why is he suddenly standing during an at-bat? And why did that woman five rows down choose bases-loaded-two-outs as the perfect time to get out of her seat to submit to her jones for Dippin' Dots, "the ice cream of the future?" I'm not even sure many of the new fans are aware a game is going on.
There's not much I can do about it when I'm at the game other than yell "Down in front!" And I doubt the Nationals' brass would go for my idea of distributing tasers to season-ticket holders. I feel a bit like Montgomery Burns when he famously said, "This anonymous clan of slack-jawed troglodytes has cost me the election, and yet if I were to have them killed, I would be the one to go to jail." So I'm left with my soapbox, and it is here where I can reach the audience that I most covet: the one that is sitting down.
Let's start with some basics. There are nine innings in a regulation baseball game. Between every half inning there is a short break while the players change from hitting to fielding. That makes 17 times—at least—when you have a natural moment to get up out of your seat. Of course, it's fine to stand up if Bryce Harper steals home or Ian Desmond crushes another home run, or during the seventh-inning stretch, the salute to veterans, the National Anthem, or when Teddy loses the presidents' race. But that doesn't seem to be enough for stand-happy Washingtonians who don't respect the basic truth that getting up or returning to your seat while the ball is in play is the worst thing you can do at a baseball game, short of throwing up on little kids on purpose or hurling batteries at outfielders, like they do in Philadelphia. (Actual headline: "Man Vomited on Girl, Father at Phillies Game.")
If you get up during play at a Caps hockey game, the fans threaten to do things to you that are both unnatural and I believe—after much thought—physically impossible. That is as it should be. Even those Philly fans I loathe so much wouldn't stand for that behavior. They literally wouldn't stand for it, and they wouldn't let you do it, either.
You also shouldn't stand up when you buy a hot dog or a beer from the vendor. Remain seated and pass the money down the aisle and your change will magically make its way back down the row to you. Nats Park is the only place in Washington where your money gets passed along and nobody takes a cut. Decide on your tip before you send the money down instead of making us all do two passes. Better yet, if you're buying two eight-dollar Miller Lites, you've already proven that you don't value a dollar, so give him the whole twenty. And if the beer man is standing in front of you yelling over and over, "Coors and Coors Light!" don't ask him if he has any Blue Moon. Because he has Coors and Coors Light. That's why he keeps yelling it. (He also doesn't have an orange slice.)
Instead of posting "Make Some Noise" on the scoreboard to tell patrons when to cheer, the Nats should tell them when to sit down. My favorite usher, Martha, does her best, but when she politely asks people to wait until the play is over to make their way down the row, she gets puzzled glares from a lot of the ticket holders. Sadly, the words "entitled" and "Washingtonian" go together like Roger Clemens and denial. People walk around in their bubbles, completely oblivious to the other 40,000 people trying to watch the game.
Now that we've effectively dealt with the standing problem, I have six more questions for you to answer. They will not only make you a better fan but a better American. It will also make attending a baseball game a more pleasant experience for the rest of us. But mostly for me.
1) Are you doing the wave?
You should never do the wave when the other team is batting, or when your team is batting, or any other time. Don't do the wave, not only because you might knock over my eight-dollar beer but also because you'll block my view during play, and it's idiotic. Recently, fans on Twitter were rightfully upset about the Nats crowd doing the wave, and posts were sent with the hashtag #STILLLEARNING. Other Twitterers were bragging about the wave circling the stadium "10 times." Be part of the solution.
2) Are you leaving early?
On one hand, I like this because if you are leaving before the last out you are probably also a stander, but it's still wrong. Unless your house is on fire and there is still a chance you can put it out, stay until the end. I was at a 5-5 game on a recent weekend when an entire family got up in the late innings and left. Two of the boys—to their credit—bitched and moaned about it, but the dad said in a low but sadly recognizable tone for dads everywhere: "But your mom wants to leave." That happened. Right in front of me. What a horrible, horrible example he set for his children, who now think it's okay to leave tied baseball games early. The good news is about an inning later the dad and two of the boys—sans mom—came back and sheepishly sat down again. Pyrrhic victory, thy name is that guy.
3) Are you a grown man wearing a baseball glove to a professional baseball game?
During a recent game, Bryce Harper threw a ball near where I was sitting. I jumped up to catch it. The ball glanced off the tip of my finger and went behind me. If I had been wearing a glove, the ball would be mine. But at what cost? At. What. Cost.
(Also, if I catch a ball, I'm not giving it to your kid. He can catch his own damn ball. I learned my lesson once when I caught a t-shirt, gave it to the boy in front of me, and his little brother cried because he didn't get one, too.)
4) Do you have your two-year-old with you?
You will not have fun. More importantly, I will not have fun if you sit anywhere near me. I watch these families come and go, and it's just a big misery party—arrive in the third inning, leave in the sixth. I know, because I used to do it. Mom and dad have dropped $300 just to claim five chairs that they never sit in. Then they spend at least $20 each to eat and get drinks, and then leave early. Your $400 would be better spent buying a giant screen TV at Walmart, staying home, and standing up whenever you want. Or mom and dad could spend $200 on the world's best babysitter and go to the game and actually enjoy it.
5) Are you talking on your cell phone?
Stop it. If you want to talk to someone you know is in another section, send a text and meet them on the spacious concourse. Don't stand up and wave at them while you're on the phone. Act like you've been here before.
6) Are you from Philadelphia?
I'm not saying the Philly fans are coarse and abrasive and crass, but when thousands of the Jerky Boys descended on D.C. last year, a bunch of them had a burping contest in the row behind me, and the winner was a woman wearing a Chase Utley jersey.
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you probably think I'm the uptight Puritan who is concerned that somewhere someone is having a good time. Well, that is false, because I am a Presbyterian.
They say the hardest thing to do in all of sportsdom is to hit a baseball with a bat, but in Washington sometimes the hardest thing to do is see the feat from the stands. So sit down during play, turn off your phone, tip the beer guys generously, and pay attention to the drama unfolding in front of you on that big green field where all the people are running around. If you do, you'll find that baseball rewards your close attention more than any other sport. And I might not have to take those anger management classes after all.