/Politics Hate Washington? Don’t take it out on the Nationals!
Politics Hate Washington? Don’t take it out on the Nationals!

Politics Hate Washington? Don’t take it out on the Nationals!

Politics

With two road victories in their pocket and two more home games to play, the Washington Nationals are on pace to claim their first World Series win in franchise history barring a collapse against the Houston Astros. That means a burning question is now facing Americans who are not born-and-bred Nationals fans (there aren’t that many, and those who do exist are around 14 years old): How can you root for this team, when you know who else roots for this team?

The Nats seem like they should have on their side the non-affiliated baseball fans tuning in to Game 4 on Saturday night. After all, they came into the contest as the clear underdog, with Houston having won the World Series just two years ago. And on paper, Washington is able to match up to the juggernaut in Houston only in the top two spots of their starting rotation; it doesn’t get any better looking at their batting order.

Regardless of which disaffected political faction you support in this country, you’re likely not a fan of all the politicos and lobbyists in Burberry shirts and jeans getting their tickets comped.

Meanwhile, the Astros have done more than enough to earn the casual fan’s ire. On the eve of the World Series, Sports Illustrated reported that days earlier a Houston assistant general manager delivered an unhinged tirade-cum-gloating session to female reporters making light of closer Roberto Osuna’s domestic violence suspension. The team then smeared the reporters themselves.

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So Houston’s positioning and behavior has a lot of people wanting to get on the Nationals bandwagon. The only problem might be looking around and seeing who else is riding. If you hate the idea of Washington, can you love Washington’s baseball team?

Regardless of which disaffected political faction you support in this country, you’re likely not a fan of all the politicos and lobbyists in Burberry shirts and jeans getting their tickets comped to chuckle it up in the luxury suites at Nationals Park.

Then there are the problematic individual spectators, whom the TV cameras will linger on between pitches. People like the newest Supreme Court Justice, Brett Kavanaugh, who seems to love his Nationals so much it almost ruined his finances. Nats season and playoff tickets were a main source of the credit card debt accrued by Kavanaugh that was exposed during his nomination process, only for that debt to quickly vanish. And then he sneered his way into a lifetime appointment. Washington! We all know how it goes, for certain definitions of “how,” and “it,” and “goes.”

And on Sunday night, The Donald himself is going make an appearance for Game 5. Is he a genuine Nationals fan? Frankly, it’s impossible to tell, since his only allegiance seems to be to himself. Either way, whatever his sports allegiances and your political ones, no, hating Washington doesn’t mean you should hate the city’s baseball team.

Because the Nationals aren’t special in their undesirable boosters. You just see and experience the hideousness of their jetset more. In Los Angeles it’s not just actors, or even mostly actors, but executives taking up those same seats. In New York City, it’s hedge fund managers, especially in Yankee Stadium (it’d be the Mets, too, if they were capable of regularly making the playoffs). In Seattle, it’s tech and aerospace. In Denver, it’s…tech and aerospace. In Miami, that entire class of fan is embodied by the Marlins Man, a lawyer who has women young enough to be his granddaughters pose with him at games. As for Houston, they pack the luxury seats with oil men, finance men and the nexus of the two. In other words, the guys that keep those lobbyists in the Nats stands paid.

There is no mythical, wholly-valorous fanbase anywhere in America — not even in Kansas City, or Minnesota, or Baltimore, and certainly not in Boston — and that’s especially true in Major League Baseball in a way it wasn’t 30 or 40 years ago. MLB now makes a plurality, if not a majority of its money from its media deals, which pay it far more than raw gate receipts. (It’s difficult to tell the exact breakdown because MLB books are not open, despite it getting an antitrust exemption from the federal government.) At the same time, the league’s teams can make the stadium experience into a luxury product— especially during the playoffs.

Even season ticket holders are hostage to their power. These loyal fans merely get first dibs on playoff tickets; they still have to pay team-set prices — and teams know the seats will be filled. Even when people tweet about how empty the stands happen to be during this particular rainy Divisional Series game or that ninth-inning blowout, the majority of those tickets have been paid for, at a significant playoff markup.

We live in a world where both the high-spending teams and the low-spending teams make obscene amounts of money, and no one can claim the high ground.

We live in a world where both the high-spending teams and the low-spending teams make obscene amounts of money, and no one can claim the high ground because they root for a club from Texas or Missouri. Those teams are owned by the same kind of people who own the clubs in New York or Los Angeles or Washington, and the games are played by the same kind of people who will eventually play for those clubs — if they’re the ones willing to spend money in free agency — or they’ll fall out of the league around age 30. If the Nationals are bad, then everyone’s bad. And, maybe, they are.

You shouldn’t base your fandom or your politics off of who likes the team that you like, because every crime the prominent bad people who like your team have committed has also been committed by the prominent bad people who like every other team. In fact, it seems that they’re all friends. And they don’t care that they root for different sports teams. They’ve got a deeper solidarity than that. Do you?

Jonathan Bernhardt

Jonathan Bernhardt has written for Sports on Earth, The Athletic, Vice Sports, The Guardian, Baseball Prospectus and other publications. He lives and works outside of Baltimore and tweets @jonbernhardt.