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My Experience at Nationals Park

Sunday afternoon at Nationals Park

Sunday afternoon at Nationals Park from our seats in section 135.

My dad and I made the pilgrimage to Nationals Park all the way from the suburbs of New York in North New Jersey.  240 miles just to see our Nationals play – and a few Presidents’ Races.  Overall, I enjoyed it.  Who wouldn’t?  However, a few incidents made the experience less enjoyable than it could have – even should have – been.  The following is the letter I wrote to the Nationals regarding my experience:

To whomever it concerns:

I want to share with you my recent experience at Nationals Park.  For the most part, the experience was positive, but I do have some concerns that I would like to express.  However, in order to fully understand the magnitude of this story, I need to share my back story.  I hope I don’t bore you; and I would truly appreciate if you would read through the entirety of the message.

I am 21 years old and have been watching baseball since I was 4 years old.  The very first baseball game I attended was in Montreal in 1996 to see the Expos take on the Houston Astros.  I was 6-years old at the time, but I have been an Expos fans ever since.  Although, I still argue that I was born to be an Expos fan and that I had no choice in the matter.

My father, who taught me everything I know about the game of baseball, began watching the Expos in 1969.  He has been an Expos fan since day 1.  Not once has our fandom faltered.  Eventually, our family settled in Northern New Jersey, close to Yankees and Mets territory.  In my lifetime, the Expos had exactly one truly exciting season.  Yet, we have remained true and loyal to the team that gave us many great memories.

Of course, in 2005, the Expos were relocated to Washington, D.C.  I cannot speak for all Expos fans, but I do know that I felt as if the team had been ripped away from me and my home town.  Still, my father and I remained loyal to this new team.  There was some sort of excitement, getting to root for the team that plays in the capital of the country in which we live and are proud to live in!  And so, since 2005, whenever somebody asks, I tell them that we are Nationals fans and proud of it.

Living in North New Jersey, however, does not provide many opportunities for us to see the Nationals play in person.  Sure, they visit the Mets a few times per year.  They even played in Yankee Stadium just a few years ago.  However, rooting for your favorite team in enemy territory is hard.  It is exasperating.  Quite frankly, it is not the same as rooting for your favorite team in your home territory, surrounding by fans of a common cause, creating a fraternal connection with all of your companions.

My father and I made the trip to Nationals Park this past weekend.  We drove five hours to South Capitol Street to see the Nationals play the Philadelphia Phillies.  We arrived early on Saturday, retrieved our Ian Desmond bobbleheads, watched batting practice, and soaked in the entire experience.  And when we took our seats, we were surrounded by Phillies fans.  This, in of itself, was not an enjoyable experience.  However, I understand that any fans are free to buy tickets to watch teams play in whichever ballpark they choose.

The next day, again, my father and I woke up early and made our way to the park half an hour before the gates opened.  We watched the players throwing on the field before the game, visited the team store to buy a jersey and a hat, and finally made our way to our seats.  Again, we were surrounded by Phillies fans.   I have come to expect such occurrences; and I may even be okay with them.  What I am not okay with is what happened late in the game.

As you likely already know, the Nationals played a very exciting game on Sunday.  Down 3-2 in the bottom of the 6th inning, after a 1 ½ hour rain delay, Danny Espinosa tied the game on a home run to center field.  Finding themselves, again, down by a run in the 9th inning, the Nationals were down to their last strike.  All around us, Phillies fans chanted, “Let’s go Phillies!” enthusiastically and stood in expectation of the impending victory.  A standing ovation by at least 80% of the crowd in the visiting team’s park!  Of course, Ian Desmond hit the home run to left field to tie up the game.

In the bottom of the 10th inning, Ryan Zimmerman led off with a double to left field.  The winning run was on second base; and the Nationals were on their way to completing one of the most improbable victories of the season!  Naturally, my father and I stood up in excitement.  Moments later, an usher came and asked us to sit down.  After arguing with us for a few moments, a colleague of hers came and asked us to sit down as well.  This incident caused me to miss the intentional walk to Morse and the base hit by Jayson Werth.  And it very nearly caused me to miss when Jonny Gomes was hit by the pitch to end the game.

I explained to the usher that the game was in the bottom of the 10th inning – extra innings! – in a very tense situation in which the home team Nationals were close to winning.  I explained to the usher that 30,000+ Phillies fans stood up to cheer their team in the bottom of the 9th inning in a very similar situation, with the game close to ending – and no one asked them to sit down.  I explained to her that almost half of the crowd was currently standing, and that, just because the dejected Phillies fans don’t want us to enjoy our moment of excitement does not mean that we should not be allowed to do so.

After the game, another colleague of hers spoke to us about the incident.  He told us that “everything turned out the way you wanted it.”  The best way I could describe what happened was, “the game turned out the way we wanted, but the experience did not.”  I never sat down.  I would have had to be dragged out of the stadium before I planned on sitting down.  I did not drive 240 miles to watch my favorite team play in person apathetically from my seat.  I drove 240 miles to get excited, to feel the brotherhood of watching my favorite team play in person.  The ushers very nearly caused me to miss the most crucial part of the game simply because opposing fans did not want us to be able to enjoy our moment.

I fully understand that Nationals Park and its employees seek to promote a fan friendly atmosphere.  I understand that I am not more privileged or better than any other person who paid to watch the game in person.  However, I do believe that the home town’s fans should be treated with at least a little preference and more respect than we received.  I am not suggesting that the team makes opposing fans feel unwelcome.  I am suggesting that the team does everything in its power to make the home town fans welcome.  Yesterday, I felt like I was an enemy in my own land, and, to be frank, I felt like the ushers did not care whatsoever.

If this was an isolated incident, it might not bother me as much.  This happened in 2010 to us as well.  A very similar incident occurred, during which my dad and I were told to sit down in the bottom of the 10th inning.  It is possible that, by random chance, we sat in the sections where two ushers who did not understand proper baseball etiquette were working.  However, I am more inclined to believe that this issue is a stadium-wide issue.

The purpose of me sharing my experience with you is not to try to receive any compensation or anything of the sort.  The purpose is simply to share my experience and hope that something will be changed.  I love the Nationals more than just about anything in the world.  I obsess over them.  I collect baseball cards, jerseys, hats, all embroidered with Nationals insignia.  Truthfully, I am still a kid-at-heart when I was watch baseball, and I want to feel the excitement of what it was like to watch baseball when I was a young kid.

I sincerely hope that you read this entire message and can at least understand where I am coming from.  If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me.

Thank you,

Sam Diament

1,402 words.  I normally can’t write that much for a project in school.  I would love to hear your thoughts.  If anyone has any similar experience – at Nationals Park or otherwise – please share it.

By the way, I sent the message to Cynthia Goins, who is the Manager of Guest Services at Nationals Park and Robert Asperheim, who is the Manager of Customer Service & Training at Nationals Park.

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