It dawned on me as I watched the Washington Wizards grit out a playoff win against the Chicago Bulls on Sunday that I was the very thing I despised the most in the world of sports: a bandwagon fan. As a Heat fan since the days of PJ Brown assaulting Knicks players and Dan Majerle tying the club record for most superfluous letters in a last name, I bristle at the thought of the average person criticizing my status as a fan and assuming that it sprouted because of The Decision. To their point, of course I watched more Heat games when the team signed LeBron; they’re on national TV every other day, the offense doesn’t hinge on Dwyane Wade hoping Quentin Richardson and Daequan Cook make threes, and an early playoff exit isn’t guaranteed. That being said, I’ve turned into an unapologetic Wizards supporter over the last three weeks, once I knew they were going to the playoffs (in the Eastern Conference, but that still counts).
People will always go to lengths to forge a bond with something that’s proving successful at a given point in time. This is the constant truth that unifies pageant moms, art snobs, and apparently, a lot of sports fans. The city of Washington hosts an exhaustive hodgepodge of people from all over the country and the world. Unsurprisingly, some of these people have become fans of the local professional sports teams, but they almost universally lack the life-or-death attitude common in native fans.
This attitude leads to the bizarre spectacle that is a Washington Nationals home game. Washington was created out of whole cloth as a “baseball city” when the major leagues decided to push Montreal out and relocate to the nation’s capital. As a result, a nearly perfect baseball infrastructure issued forth from the earth: a nicely appointed and Metro-accessible waterfront stadium, the prospect of April baseball in cherry blossom season, president races, a burgeoning neighborhood full of lofts and craft beer. After the opening of the stadium in 2008, they had everything in place except for a good baseball team: Lastings Milledge went to the plate 587 times for the team, Tim Redding led in innings pitched.
Then, in a period of time that coincided with my four years spent in DC, the stench of their Quebecois decrepitude waned and was replaced with the sweet aroma of #NATITUDE wafting in from the Potomac. Great, so now they had the whole baseball experience ready for their fans. Problem was, the pool of people who can go to Nats games regularly are people who live and work around Washington, DC. I could dedicate an entirely separate blog to discussing my opinion on DC people, and their many, many inadequacies and foibles, but nothing really makes this point for me in a more concise fashion than the fact that people do not pay attention while at Nats games. The kind of crazed, minutiae-laden analysis common in the stands even at Marlins games has been noticeably absent in my several trips to Nationals Park. While this means that there is no culture of alienation by some curmudgeonly old guard, the experience also lacks the thick layer of traditionalism one comes to a game expecting. Whether the Kindles-over-scorecards thing will be limited to Washington remains to be seen, but there’s definitely a lot less pressure to enjoy the game when you don’t know Rafael Soriano’s exact BABIP.
The Nationals are emerging as a baseball power full of marketable and talented young players. The Wizards, behind the efforts of John Wall and Bradley Beal, are seemingly equipped to field competitive teams for the foreseeable future. The people of DC (myself included) are latching on. People love being in the general proximity of something newsworthy, whether it is positive or negative. The success of these teams, which have few prominent rivals because of their prior ineptitude/nonexistence, provides a benign cultural touchstone for people in DC, where “idle office chatter” is less a pastime than a parliamentary process. I now see the value of the bandwagon. I believe we should all embrace the bandwagon when it can act as a means to ease along social interactions. The abject hatred comes from people who don’t know the joys of rooting for a team solely due to proximity. I won’t yell for the Nats; the Wizards will not make me cry tears of joy. But I’ll quietly hope that Stephen Strasburg’s arm doesn’t fall off for at least a couple more years.
As for the Redskins, it’s at least nice to know there’s an organization somewhere in professional sports that makes the Dolphins look okay in comparison.