WASHINGTON — The first-place Nationals are on the verge of one of their finest seasons in franchise history. On pace, as of this writing, to finish with 96 wins, they could tie 2014’s squad for the second most wins in team history, or best 2012’s franchise best 98 wins.
You might not know it if you were to tune in to a local sports-radio segment, though, where you’ll regularly hear fans groan about Ben Revere’s batting average, Ryan Zimmerman’s nagging health, or reigning NL MVP Bryce Harper’s prolonged season slump.
MASN analyst F.P. Santangelo, a generally positive spokesperson, spoke to this subsection of Nats fans during Saturday’s broadcast of Nationals-Giants, which Dan Steinberg transcribed for The Post.
“You’re 21 games over .500. You’re seven games in first place. And everybody wants to talk about what’s wrong with somebody. And I’m starting to wonder if that’s just the mind-set of a fan….
“And I’m starting to get short with people,” he said, moments later. “I am. I’m like okay, do you want to talk about Trea Turner? Something really good that’s going on? They’re 21 [games] over. It’s really getting old. It is. I mean, if you’re not happy with a team 21 games over and seven games in first, you’re never going to be happy watching baseball. Pick another sport.”
On Tuesday, Santangelo explained to Chad Dukes on 106.7 The Fan the reason for his uncharacteristically critical tone.
“I have about two or three days a year where I’m not in the greatest mood and that might have been one of the days,” Santangelo joked.
“The true story here is, I have a friend. Let’s call him ‘Fred.’ Fred always texts me during the game: What’s wrong with Ben Revere? What’s wrong with Bryce Harper? What’s wrong with Ryan Zimmerman? What’s wrong with this guy? What’s wrong with that guy?”
“And about the third text came through during the game and I’m sitting there going, ‘This is a pretty good ball game,'” he said. “Or maybe it wasn’t. I think it was the one where the Giants were having their way with the Nats, if you will. And it was the third or fourth text by my boy, and I just said, ‘Wait a minute. This is a first-place team. This team’s 21 games over .500. Seven games in first place.’
“And I do get that from time to time when I go around town from fans. Here’s the difference, Chad, and this is why I said it. Trust me, I’m not dumb. This was calculated. I live here now. I’m a full-time resident. I bought a house here. I’m a Nats fan. I’m invested just like anybody else. I’m not the broadcaster that flies in for sixth months and flies home to wherever.”
“Who does that?” Dukes asked.
“I’m just saying, that’s what most broadcasters do,” Santangelo said. “That’s what 90 percent, maybe 99 percent of broadcasters do. … Which is great, that’s what you’re supposed to do, but I live here. I’m with the fans 12 months out of the year. I’m at Caps, Redskins [games]. I’m all in. I’m invested. I’m a D.C. sports fan now. And I know the frustration here, based on what my friends have said has happened here in the past and what I’ve gone through as a Nats broadcaster with 2012 playoffs, 2014.”
“But, the reason I said this,” he continued. “I didn’t mean you can’t criticize, but don’t make that be the first thing you say when you see me. You can say, ‘Hey. This is a really good team. This is the best team we’ve had. Trea Turner’s amazing. What about the year Strasburg’s having?’ And then if you want to get to the other things, I get it. You should.”
“But the bottom line here is — the reason I said this — is I love the passion of Nats fans. I just think it could be directed at times in a better way,” he said. “And this is more to my friends that I associate with, like my buddy that set me off with the text messages.”
“I met all my friends through the Nationals. They’re all fans. They’re all people that live here year-round, too, so that’s my friend base, is Nats fans. And I think they’re amazing fans, and I love how I’ve watched them progress and learn the game of baseball. Nats fans are awesome — they’re the best — but, I really think that we’re getting a bit nitpick-y at times with a team that’s won two division titles, in ’12 and ’14, and hopefully another one in ’16. It’s looking that way… knock on wood.”
“And, if you want to criticize, I love the passion,” he said. “But realize you’ve got a pretty damn good team. A really good damn team. And I know there’s been disappointment in the past with other sports. I know there’s been disappointment with the Nats, but that’s part of being a sports fan. There’s only one fanbase that goes home happy every year. There’s 29 other fanbases that go home a little bit PO’d or broken-hearted, if you will, because your team didn’t win it all.”
Santangelo doesn’t regret his words, but he did attempt to pinpoint the root of fans’ seemingly unquenchable frustration.
“I think there’s a thirst for a championship because of the past failures, and in that thirst for the championship, I think the Nats are the closest team in D.C. to giving them that,” he said. “So the criticism comes from, ‘Oh man, we’re really close.’ And I know there were some failures with the Caps, especially this year with the best record and all that, and you start to relate it, but it’s a different sport. I don’t think it relates at all.”
“I think the true Nats fan — there’s so many intelligent fans in this town that see that this team’s really close, and this is the best team since I’ve been here, by far. There’s no doubt,” he said. “It’s better than ’12. It’s better than ’14. It’s equipped to go deep into October.”
“Whether that happens or not, who knows? It’s a crapshoot once you get there, which is the unfortunate part of the Major League Baseball postseason. That first five-game series, you’ve got to get through that and then maybe it calms down a little bit, but they’re really close. And I think that’s where it comes from.”