Don't get me wrong. There are lots of very kind, polite people from Philly. My in-laws are all from Philly, and they are wonderful people. I frequently go to Nationals games with my Phillie-fan friend David, who is a class act all the way. But unfortunately the reality is that when the Phillies are in town, you basically have to put on your armor and get ready to endure an onslaught of boorish behavior. If I was a Phillies fan, I'd be embarrassed.
So on the travel day I thought I would share my list of the things that mark a rude, class-less fan. I'm leaving out the obvious things like loud cursing or throwing stuff on the field. All these actions are strongly discouraged for Nationals fans and the visiting teams' fans alike.
- Cheering injuries. This is the absolute epitome of bad sportsmanship. I was at the Ugly Mug Saturday night during the Red Sox-Yankees game, and there was a group of Sox fans going wild when ARod was beaned, shouting things like, "I hope your hand is broken, you *%@!$." Even given the Youkilis incident, that's shameful. I will use my one and only Green Bay Packers reference of the week here and say that one of my favorite things about Lambeau Field is that there is a virtual stadium-wide understanding that you never, ever cheer for an injury, no matter how disliked the hurt player is, and you always, always give a round of applause when an opposing player gets up from an injury. Even Randy Moss. If and when a drunken lout cheers for an injury, you can often count on the other fans in the section to shout him/her down.
- Booing balls and strikes. Arguing with the ref is bad sportsmanship in all sports. The NFL and NBA are worse by far than MLB in this regard, but it's still poor form. The way I look at it, both teams agreed at the beginning of the contest to have that ump crew referee the proceedings. If you have a problem with an ump (or think there ought to be instant replay to reduce the human factor), deal with it before the game starts (meaning take it to the commish during the off-season). But once the game starts, both teams have implicitly agreed that the ump is responsible for resolving judgment calls. They may get some calls wrong. Them's the breaks, umps are human--you knew that when you agreed to these rules. Probably the most absurd instance of booing umps is when any fan not seated directly behind home plate argues balls and strikes. I often sit in the $5-10 seats at Nationals Park and hear fans arguing balls and strikes all the time. Absurd. You can't see the strike zone from there any better than you can read the names on the Vietnam Wall.
- Fan interference. First, I'll say Steve Bartman got way too much heat. The Cubs never win because they have run a terrible farm system for 10 decades, not because of Steve Bartman. But too many people thought his error was simply that he hurt his own team, as if it would have been ok to interfere with Miguel Cabrera trying to make the same play. Others just think fan interference is fun and acceptable. It's not. Interfering with a player's effort to catch a foul ball is no different in my mind than a courtside basketball fan sticking out his leg to trip a player. Baseball is the only sport where players can make plays outside the official playing field, so the lines are a little more blurry. But if you sit in those first rows, you are not paying for the right to interfere. You are paying for a fantastic seat, and with that comes a responsibility not to mar the event with your selfish desire to get a free souvenir or draw attention to yourself. Just lean back and get out of the way.
- Booing the throw-over. Holding the runner is what good pitchers do. It's good, fundamental baseball to make a couple good pick-off moves when you have a threat to steal on first base. Booing the throw-over is like booing hitting the cutoff man or a successful sac bunt. Fans always say they wish more players would "play the game right," and then they go and boo the throw-over. It happens all the time in every stadium, and I really can't understand why.
- Leaving your seat mid-inning. This is a notch below some of these other things, but it's still rude and should be avoided except in true emergencies.
- Sitting in the middle of a row with kids. This is basically a guaranteed game-long constant violation of #5. Don't get me wrong. I've got a kid, and we go to a lot of games. But we get an aisle seat, even if it means sitting a few rows farther Important corollary to this is that is you are sitting on the aisle you should offer your seat to the family with kids. Also, this whole rule does not apply if and when attendance increases to the point that seats truly become scarce. Then you get seats wherever you can. But for now, there's no reason why all us people with rugrats can't stick to this.
- Throwing your garbage under your seat. I was raised that this was acceptable at the ballpark, that the reason there are ushers is to pick up after you. When it comes to teaching sportsmanship, my dad got almost everything exactly right. This one, he was wrong.
- Talking on your cell phone. Sorry, I just hate those things. Turn it off. You're at the game.
- Visiting fans disrespecting the home team. We'll finish with this one to honor our guests from the City of Brotherly Love. I can't remember ever being as annoyed at a game as I was last September hearing the Phillies fans chant, "this is our house" in RFK. But it doesn't matter if it's the Nationals or someone else. This season, I've seen the Orioles lose in Camden and the Pirates lose in PNC. Both times, there were fans of the other team heckling the home team and doing their home team's cheers. The national anthem "O" should stay in Camden, and you should never hear the Tomahawk Chop in Nationals Park. Cheer loudly when your team makes a good play, certainly, but this kind of thing is like being invited over for dinner and plopping down on the sofa and unbuttoning your pants.