Harper thinks RG3, football can wait
The Nationals have enjoyed one of the biggest attendance increases in baseball this season, but that support has begun to wane at the tail end of a disappointing summer.
Tuesday night's homestand opener against the Marlins drew a paid crowd of only 24,616, the third-smallest crowd of the season at Nationals Park and the smallest since the second week of April.
The empty stands didn't go unnoticed by Bryce Harper, who on Wednesday was critical of local sports fans for apparently shifting their attention away from the Nationals and toward the start of Redskins season.
"I think it's tired, I really do," Harper said in a televised interview with Comcast SportsNet. "Just 'cause football season's coming up, we're still in it. I think having support is hopefully going to help us in this last month. I think fans know that guys feed off the crowd. They've got a whole winter to watch RG3. I think we're all looking forward to that. But we could possibly get into the playoffs and go farther from there."
The recent attendance decline isn't a huge surprise. A Nationals club coming off a division title and widely expected to contend for a World Series title this year has hovered around the .500 mark all summer and bottomed out three weeks ago, falling 15 1/2 games behind the Braves in the NL East.
Prior to that point, the Nationals had been averaging nearly 34,000 fans per game this season, 10th-best in MLB and on pace to challenge the club's record total attendance of 2.7 million set in its inaugural 2005 season.
But once the Nationals began to slip out of the pennant race, the crowds started getting smaller. Four of the last eight home games have drawn fewer than 30,000 fans.
The combination of the team's play, the return of the school year in many area districts and the last-place Marlins coming to town converged on Tuesday, leading to the Nationals' smallest home crowd since April 10 against the White Sox.
Harper, though, implored fans not to give up these Nationals, who enter play Wednesday having won 12 of their last 17, drawing back to within 7 games of the Reds for the final Wild Card berth in the National League.
"Coming to a game without any fans isn't fun," Harper said. "Last night we didn't have that many, and we need that for this last month. I think us playing well and fans coming to the game and really being here every single night we play is huge for us. Hopefully we can get going in this last month, especially when we're at home and we're playing the Mets and Marlins and Phillies, or anybody."
Cliched as it may sound, Harper insisted players do feed off a large and loud home crowd.
"Absolutely," he said. "When this place is packed and they're screaming and yelling and on their feet in certain situations and going crazy, yelling 'Let's go Nationals!' or 'Let's go Werth!' or 'Harper!' or anybody, it's a lot of fun to hear that. We really feed off of that."
Harper saw firsthand as a 19-year-old rookie last season how Washington developed into a baseball town for the first time in eight decades, with crowds swelling in September during the heart of the pennant race and creating a raucous atmosphere for the first three postseason ballgames played in the District since 1933.
"We had one of the best crowds in all of baseball, all year last year," he said. "And I think it's been pretty good this year, except for of late. But I think the postseason what we had and all the people that were here for the playoff games, we really fed off that. I think Werth can vouch for that, and a lot of fans can, too. When Werth hit that homer in Game 4 to get us to Game 5, he fed off the fans. I think everybody feeds off the fans.
"Hopefully we can get them out here for that last month. I think that would be huge. I think they all should come out here and support us for the last month."