WASHINGTON – As the Washington Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals do battle in the National League Division Series, fans from far and wide, clad in their red, white and blue, pour into the stands eager to see the city’s first home playoff games since 1933.
For many of these fans, however, the Nationals are not their first “home team.” Only those old enough to remember the Washington Senators, or young enough to be born in this century, can truly say they grew up on Washington baseball.
“I’m originally from Pittsburgh, but I’ve been living in northern Virginia since ’62,” said Tony Coupie, who admits he used to root for the Pirates before his move to the D.C. area.
Like Coupie, many Nationals fans used to, or still do, root for another team.
Standing proudly in his Washington Senators jacket, Coupie remembers the days when the old team played at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium. These days, Coupie still supports the Pirates, but only until they play the Nationals.
“It’s all about the home team,” he said.
For other Nats fans, that home team used to be the other “local” team – the Baltimore Orioles.
“Before the Nats were here, yeah, I was an Orioles fan,” said Paul Rader, a D.C. native, fully decked out in Nationals gear. “But now you need to support your home team.”
Rader grew up without baseball in Washington, opting to root for the Orioles as a substitute. Once the Nationals came to town in 2005, however, he soon found himself cheering for D.C.
Not new to changing teams, Rader said he wouldn’t be opposed to switching his allegiance once again.
“There’s a part of me that will always be a Nationals fan, but if I were to move, I’d definitely root for the home team,” he said.
Washington is home to many transplants, like Sean Siperstein, who grew up in Long Island, N.Y., but moved to Washington for school. While he loves the Nationals, the 29-year-old still can’t seem to fully jump onboard.
“I grew up a Mets fan, and that’s something that is seared into your head for the rest of your life,” he joked. “Basically, I will only root for the Nats when the Mets aren’t good.”
For Siperstein, rooting for the home team is still important, and he will always support them to an extent.
“D.C. is my second home now, so if the Mets couldn’t be in it, I’ll go with the next best thing,” he said.
Many in attendance at Wednesday’s game switched baseball teams at some point, or at least have divided allegiances.
“I think it’s a pretty common occurrence throughout the city to have (fans of) different teams,” said Siperstein, who notices many of his neighbors supporting their first home team as well as the Nats.
There will always be the fans that jumped ship to support the Orioles once the Senators left, but it’s those who came back to support the Nationals who seem to feel an even greater sense of appreciation for the return of baseball to D.C.
Greg Bussey, a retired federal government worker, is originally from Pasadena. When the Nationals came to Washington in 2005, he said his decision about who to support was a simple one.
“I was an O’s fan for my whole life, and I’ll still root for them,” he said. “But, not over the Nationals.”
Now living in Carolina Beach, N.C., Bussey still holds Nationals season tickets. He happily wears his Nationals cap to as many games as he can get to.
Wednesday’s announced attendance was 45,017 – a testament to the support of many fans’ “second” home team.
The Nationals faced elimination Thursday, as the Cardinals were one win away from advancing to the National League Championship Series.