The match up was a baseball fan’s dream: two teams on hot winning streaks representing East Coast power cities, the battle made possible by Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig’s public relations strategy to create excitement with inter-league play. So the weekend series between the American League’s New York Yankees and the National League’s Washington Nationals sent fans in both cities scurrying for hard-to-find tickets. Although the Yankees continued their winning streak, sweeping the Nationals in three games, the capital’s team played hard, its young players—particularly the 19 year-old phenom Bryce Harper—generated the kind of buzz that continues to energize loyal fans and perhaps attract some new ones.
A Yankees-Nationals World Series? Is it too much to hope for? No! Despite the Nat’s trio of losses this past weekend, the team still leads in the National League East and, with its youthful, talented team, could make it into October. The Yankees, of course, consider it a losing season if they don’t play in October. The season is long and still in the early stages, but imagine the excitement if these two teams were to meet. Not only would fans be happy, but also the TV networks, corporate sponsors, hotels, restaurants, airlines, Amtrak, souvenir shops, and the odds-makers in Vegas. Did we fail to mention all those political candidates who could pose for photos in two all-American stadiums weeks before an election? A win-win no matter who prevails.
Sports rivalries add juice to the game. A New York-Boston series brings out the fans in droves. A good sign was that the Yankees-Nationals meet also produced sell-out crowds. And like the games between the Yankees and Red Sox, the Nationals-Yankees series created a sea of red and blue. Couples were divided—one wearing the famous NY, the other sporting the cursive W. Families came together with some members boasting their allegiance to Derek Jeter, others to Harper, who, incidentally, calls Jeter one of his role models. One young man (center, above) demonstrated his ambivalence—wearing Yankees number 44, Reggie Jackson’s retired number, and a Nats hat. No surprise that he was on his feet twice as much as other spectators, applauding hits and plays by both teams.
And Nationals Park is a grand setting for such games. The new stadium, opened in 2005, is a gem—comfortable seating, attractive scoreboard, great sound system, requisite VIP lounges, and numerous food stands to avoid long waits in lines.
The roaming vendors, at least in the downstairs sections, made constant rounds and were cheerful and eager to accommodate.
The stadium exudes a youthful, albeit quirky, vibe, that constantly reminds fans they are in the nation’s capital. The Nationals mascot, Screech, is a large, furry American eagle prone to jumping on the dugout’s roof, exhorting the fans to cheer on the team. He is joined by several team cheerleaders who frequently toss free T-shirts into the crowd.
Many stadiums entertain the crowd with races, and Washington’s is truly fitting. Four costumed presidents—George, Abe, Tom, and Teddy—race halfway around the field’s outside track to the finish line. They are prone to engage in unsportsmanlike, to say nothing of un-presidential-like behavior, knocking into each other to reach the red tape first. Poor Teddy! At this point, he’s winless. What about that big stick, Ted?
Youth was on display during the “National Anthem” and “God Bless America.” Two violinist from the Heifetz International Music Institute mesmerized the crowd with spirited, masterful, and original renditions of those two patriotic songs.
Of course, all this extra entertainment wouldn’t make up for a sub-par baseball team. Under Davey Johnson, a former Mets manager, the players are coming into their own. There’s excitement and promise on this team. Harper right now is the one receiving the most attention, but there are others—first baseman Adam LaRoche, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, and right fielder Michael Morse—poised to become stars. There’s no bigger stage to shine on than the one in October. The Yankees are looking to win their 28th World Series; the Nationals, their first. This is the ticket that gets our vote.
D.C. Metro needs to step up to the plate. The capital’s mass transit system was ill-prepared to handle the sellout crowds that showed up for the Nationals-Yankees three-day slug fest. Two turnstiles at the Navy Yard’s Green Line station were not working resulting in a huge backup. Police officers were stationed on the platform for crowd control. There were 20-minute waits at L’Enfant Plaza for those transferring to the Yellow Line. Extra trains? Forgettaboutit! Compare that situation to what happened at Citifield that same day with sellout crowds for the Mets game. Extra Number 7 trains whisked people home.
One big suggestion for the Washington Nationals: ditch the capital W. It’s tough cheering for a team whose logo resembles that of a drug store chain.