Non-Nats Fans Invade Nats Spring Training
There are far, far more Nats fans today than there have been in days past; there are jackets and hats, sweatshirts and windbreakers, plus the marks of Virginia and Virginia Tech and the Caps. Things somehow seem more exciting when 100 or 150 people who aren't being paid to be here decide it's worth it to arrive. (And I know, it's my fault for coming too soon.)
But still, there are oddities. There will be the guy in the Braves gear who approaches Ryan Langerhans and says "When you left Atlanta, it broke my grandson's heart." Seriously.
To a first-timer, it's actually striking how many non-Nats logos you see here, same way it shocks me when I go to Nats Park for a mid-week game against the Astros and see one Red Sox hat after another. And yup, sure enough, they're here too.
"My in-laws live in Melbourne," explained Chuck Coscore, with his 7-year-old son Will, in matching Boston caps. "It's kind of nice to watch the Nationals. Because we've been to Fort Myers, and it's a zoo there. Over there, it's roped off, you can't even talk to the players. Here, you can walk right up to the players. It's great."
Last year, Wily Mo Pena walked up to the Coscores, saw young Will's cap, and patted him on the back. Sigh. I asked young Will whether he was becoming a Nats fan; "yeah, sort of," he said. "My second-favorite team."
The franchise wasn't always so fortunate. Roger and Marge Brubaker came in matching Reds apparel, partially to cheer on the Ex-Reds. "You have Adam Dunn, you have Kearns, you have plenty of ex-Reds," Marge told me. "I like all of them. I was sort of sad to see them leave the Reds."
I asked whether the Nats were now the Brubakers' second-favorite team; "the Braves," Marge said, sympathetically. Third?
"I guess probably the Nationals," she agreed. "It used to be Chicago until they got put in the same division as the Reds."
Nearby was a large man wearing a Knicks shirt and a Yankees cap. I asked what he was doing here.
"I live here," he growled. "What are YOU doing here?"
"What am I doing here? I live here," echoed Bill Weiss, wearing a Tigers hat. I asked what he thought of the Nats.
"Not much," he said. "Oh, I'll tell you what, there's one bright spot: Adam Dunn."
Dixon Holman was wearing a Texas Longhorns cap and was making a repeat visit to this training camp. I asked whether he was becoming a fan.
"They'd have to do a lot more winning before we'd be Nationals fans," he said.
"That's all right, he cheers for the Rangers," said his friend Steve Phillips. "They stink."
(There were also two guys in matching St. Olaf Football jackets; turned out to be the head coach and an assistant, here to recruit a local kid. We talked about ex-St. Olaf coach Chris Meidt, now with the Redskins, and ex-St. Olaf wide receiver Ivan Carter, now with the Washington Post. The head coach, Jerry Olszewski, knows Jordan Zimmermann from when he was a highly regarded wide receiver at Stevens Point.)
Tommy Kelce? He's an Indians fan, with the hat to show it, but he comes to Nats camp four times a week. "I'm too poor to buy a Nationals hat anyway, but I just love baseball," he explained.
Also spotted: Phillies hats, Orioles hats, Tennessee hats, Georgia hats, and so on. Alan Warow? He managed to show respect to 40 percent of the NL East, with a Marlins hat and Nats jacket. But here's the thing: like several other people I talked with, he loves it here. Loves it. He's a Mets fan from Long Island staying in West Palm for the week, which is much closer to the Mets facility, but he comes here anyhow.
"This team is very, VERY good for autographs," he said of the Nats. "I don't know why. Why are some teams bad?"
Warow was getting the "shut up right now" sign from a fellow fan, who didn't want too many people getting the message and showing up here. But he kept going.
"The Mets are horrible. Maybe they have more younger guys here. Just the whole set-up of the stadium is very friendly. The manager is very friendly, compared to what I know. The coaches are very friendly. You go to the Mets, you can't even get close to the players. They're very unresponsive. This is a great place."
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