Phillies, Nationals fans engage in turf battle

Phillies fans make themselves at home in D.C., while Nationals fans are intent on defending their park. Greg Fiume/Getty Images

The first shots were fired in February.

Andy Feffer, chief operating officer of the Washington Nationals, grew tired of seeing the wrong kind of red in the stands at Nationals Park. For years, Phillies fans had shown up in droves -- so he decided to put a stop to it. Literally. When the Nats’ May 4-6 home series against their northern neighbors went on sale on Feb. 3, buyers had to use a credit card with a Maryland, Washington, D.C., or Virginia address in order to purchase tickets.

Gauntlet thrown.

Philly fans, never known to rest on their laurels, responded swiftly. The Nationals wanted to take back their park? Not on their watch. So, the Takeover was born.

Kyle Scott, founder of the Philadelphia sports blog “Crossing Broad,” made the three-hour trip south with 185 of his closest Phillies friends for Sunday night’s game. Sporting "Occupy Nationals Park" T-shirts, they purchased a block of seats in right field, not-so-coincidentally situated within earshot of former Phillie and current $126 million-Washingtonian Jayson Werth.

“Our initial reaction was to laugh at it, to be honest,” Scott said of local response to the Nationals’ attempt to keep Phillies fans out.

Coming off five consecutive NL East titles, the Phillies’ half-decade of dominance had lent the club -- and by extension its fans -- an air of superiority. This was, after all, the fan base that led the majors in attendance in 2011, pulling in 3,680,718 over the course of the season, filling Citizens Bank Park at 104.1 percent capacity.

By contrast, the Nationals were perennial bottom-dwellers, in both the stands and the standings. So when the club threatened to pull the plug on the Phillies’ annual invasion, they were mostly bemused.

If only the Nats had stopped there. In preparation for this weekend’s series, the team from the District:

  • Re-christened its home base “Natitude Park”

  • Jumped on the social media bandwagon, using the proprietary #ourpark as a rally cry

  • Released an official “Fan’s Guide to NATITUDE Weekend

Oh, and this: they actually started winning. Now sitting at 18-10 atop the NL East, the Nationals have won eight of their first nine series while boasting a league-best 2.59 team ERA. The Phillies, meanwhile, have languished in last place while sorely missing Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and any semblance of a functioning offensive attack.

When Scott & Co. departed for Sunday’s Takeover, the Nationals had already won the first two games of the series. Early in the third and final game, it appeared the Phillies might be in trouble again. With two outs and the bases empty in the first inning, Cole Hamels plunked Washington’s 19-year-old phenom, Bryce Harper, square in the back. Two batters later Harper stole home. Advantage, Nats.

What followed was nine innings of back and forth -- and not just on the field. In the seats, Take Back the Park versus the Takeover raged on. At 9:05 p.m. ET, ESPN broadcasters proclaimed the “Phillies fans have come to life,” following Hunter Pence’s fourth-inning, two-run homer. Fifty-two minutes later, having snuffed out a potential bases-loaded rally by the Phillies, they joked that the suddenly vocal Washington crowd had “taken the park back.” There were “Let’s Go Flyers” chants. Then there were “Let’s Go Nats” cheers to drown those out.

Thanks in large part to a six-run outburst in the ninth inning, the Phillies salvaged a win. Whether they will ultimately win the fan war, however, remains to be seen. Unlike in past years, Nationals fans were noticeably vocal and engaged. Scott even estimated that crowd was 65/35 in favor of the locals.

While there’s no denying Washington’s strong, young nucleus and bright future -- Philly fans still seem unconvinced the D.C. fan base has made similar strides. Not yet anyway.

“You look at Bryce Harper’s [home] debut, they had 22,000 folks. We just look at it and laugh. You can’t sell out for the ‘second coming?’” Scott summed up.

The first shots were fired in February. Another round came in May.

Further conflict is likely when the Phillies descend on Washington for two more series this season: July. 31-Aug. 2 and Oct. 1-3.