Regular readers of this column know that I am a “born again” baseball fan. I grew up on baseball in New York but lost interest during my teen years. In 2000, I reconnected with baseball through a reintroduction, of sorts, to the work of the late, great Curt Flood, the St. Louis Cardinals outfielder who took on Major League Baseball over its system of indentured servitude called “the reserve clause.”
As a resident of the Washington, D.C.-area, I was excited when Major League Baseball returned to the District. Even though I grew up on the NY Mets and remain a Mets fan, I adopted the Washington Nationals as my second team. While the Nationals remain my second team, and as much as I love attending baseball games, I find myself increasingly uneasy with the culture of the games and the atmosphere that is created.
First, Nationals Park is located in an area that has been fundamentally redeveloped, right next to the Anacostia River. It is an impressive but strange social island in the District of Columbia. At game time, masses of white people swarm into the area and into the stadium. Buses drop off loads of people, more than likely traveling from the suburbs. And then, just as quickly, after the game they are gone except those staying around to drink and party.
Second, there is very little that takes place during the games that acknowledges Black people. Don’t get me wrong. There are the mandated “Jackie Robinson Day” events that celebrate the desegregation of Major League Baseball. And there are certainly Black people working there, at least at the ticket counters, food service and as ushers. But when you look up at the screens during the breaks between the innings, you rarely see anything that has to do with us. Here’s an example. There is an employee of the team who travels around the stadium with a camera team to film human interest moments. There is a contest that he has with three randomly chosen individuals who are all supposed to perform in one way or the other and gain the applause of the crowd, i.e., whoever is the most impressive gets the loudest applause and, therefore, wins. In the years that I have attended Nationals games I can probably count on two hands the number of times that I have seen a Black contestant. Additionally, when the camera focuses on people in the stadium, you rarely see one of us of color.
Another example: The players. The focus of the media is largely on the white players. Consequently, the heroes inevitably are the white players, be they Ryan Zimmerman or Stephen Strasburg, or another Caucasian. Again, don’t get me wrong. I think that these guys are outstanding players — but there is something about the way that they have been worshiped by Washington, D.C. Nationals media and fans that makes me uneasy. There are plenty of reasons to celebrate these players but what about African-American and Latino players?
All of this unfolds in what, at least for the moment, remains a predominantly African-American city. Nevertheless, at a Nationals game it is easy to feel invisible.