Nats game fires up D.C.'s Fourth

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Photo - Baseball fans outside Nationals Park.
Baseball fans outside Nationals Park.
Local,DC,Alan Blinder

For a day, the Washington Nationals' boys of summer -- even the stars like Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman -- played second fiddle in the nation's capital to democracy and Americana.

Sure, the first-place squad won its third straight game, defeating the San Francisco Giants 9-4, but plenty of fans streaming into the Southeast Washington ballpark seemed focused on the broader national pastime, not just the local legends in the making.

"Baseball is obviously an American institution," said Derek Wallace, an Arlington resident who estimated he has been to about 30 Nats games so far in what could be the franchise's breakthrough season. "When they play the national anthem today, you'll get goosebumps."

Farther down Half Street, Patrick McGuire, who was more decked out in Nats gear than most, unknowingly echoed his fellow fan.

"It is the quintessential American sport," McGuire said near the park's centerfield entrance, where two fire engines hoisted an enormous American flag over the gate.

"It's the best. It's everything great about the city," said Lisa Thurston, who celebrated her birthday with nine innings. "Nothing better than a baseball game."

The Nats jerseys were still plentiful, but thousands of fans added some patriotic flair to their game attire, including red, white and blue necklaces and American flag stickers.

The Nats themselves even wore special uniforms for the occasion, adding a few stars and bars to the "W" that graces the front of each jersey.

Others' wardrobes for the Fourth took priority over baseball. One man wore a shirt with the Declaration of Independence printed on it, and a group of young men donned shirts heralding the nation's historic military might: "Back to Back World War Champs."

The Fourth has always been a big day for baseball, but with the Nationals leading the division, the first game of the day across the country took on special significance. The Nats' 2011 Independence Day game attracted 32,937 to the ballpark. A win that day took the squad to an even 43-43.

The Nats started Wednesday well above .500, and Wallace admitted the team's performance this season might have attracted more fans.

"It feels different," said Wallace, who attended last summer's Fourth of July game against the Chicago Cubs and said tickets were tougher to find this year. "It's a front-running town."

Whether they came for the beer or the baseball, plenty of folks in the front-running town showed up for game. The team reported attendance was 35,806, a 9 percent increase from last year's Independence Day matchup.

Major League Baseball scheduled the game for an 11:05 a.m. first pitch in part because of the District's other Fourth of July celebrations.

"I love that they put it at 11 so you can watch the game and then go out and do the more traditional festivities," McGuire said.

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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