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Down on the field, Nick Johnson of the Washington Nationals has just broken from first base with the pitch. There are two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, and the visiting San Diego Padres have a three-run lead, so the catcher doesn’t even bother throwing down to second base. The crowd that has stuck around ’til the end of what will soon be another home loss cheers Johnson, who, despite being among the Nats’ slowest base runners, went into the game ranked second on the team in stolen bases with six.
But up in RFK Stadium’s Section 414, one of the remaining few fans stands up, walks into the aisle, and alerts everybody within earshot not to credit Johnson with a seventh steal.
“Your attention please!” he shouts, holding a half-empty beer bottle as if it were a microphone. “That is not a stolen base! Defensive indifference!”
Some folks around him chuckle, some nod their heads in agreement, and others erase the marks they’ve already made on their scoresheets to reflect the unofficial scorekeeper’s scoring decision. They’re used to his act and figure, rightly, that he knows what he’s talking about.
Team sports, the cliché goes, breed character. That’s debatable, but there’s no arguing that sports teams breed characters.
Just look in the grandstands. Around these parts, the Baltimore Orioles had Wild Bill Hagy up in Section 34 of Memorial Stadium’s upper deck, who during the franchise’s glory days became a folk hero simply by spelling out the team’s name using body language. The Bullets had Robin Ficker, a guy with a courtside seat and a black belt in heckling. The Redskins have their enduring, if dubiously entertaining, cross-dressers, the Hogettes.
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Into the Superfan mix jumps the man who tells those around him to call him Baseball Adams. That is, when he’s not telling them to call him Charles Adams or Bob Adams or Shelton Adams. (An air of mystery never hurts a grandstand character.)
What is certain about this guy: He shows up. This night, he announces with his trademark “Your attention please,” marks his 100th Nationals game in the team’s two seasons at RFK. He’s been to every Nats home game in 2006 and spent all but a few of them in Section 414, located in the upper deck above the first-base line. He comes alone and never stays seated for any long stretch.
He’s got a game to call.
And more. Along with giving out accurate scoring advice and updating his own scoresheet, Adams stands in the aisle and reports into his beer bottle who’s pitching and batting, every lineup change, occasional out-of-town scores, division standings, and whatever game-related minutiae he decides fans should know.
During this game, unbeknownst to Adams, one of D.C.’s more recognized announcing icons happens to be sitting a row ahead of him in Section 414. But Ron Weber, the Washington Capitals play-by-play man from 1974 to 1997, becomes just another extra in Baseball Adams’ performance.
“That guy came up to me before the game and asked me what the temperature was,” says Weber. “I turned my radio on and heard it was 79. So I tell him that, and next thing I know, he’s announcing, ‘Tonight’s game-time temperature: 79 degrees!’”
Adams also likes to put the proceedings in context. Late in the Nats’ game with the Padres, for example, he says, “Your attention please! We gotta get some runs, or the New York Mets are gonna win the National League East!”
The routine leaves no question of whether he knows baseball. Not everything Adams imparts is game-related, however. He also shares tidbits about his life whenever the spirit moves him.
Such as: “Your attention please! Tonight, I’m gonna play Boston’s number—53-32,” reflecting the Red Sox record. Or: “Your attention please! I’m gonna go home and watch Terror in Alcatraz!”
Adams’ act isn’t as brilliant as it is relentless. But those who’ve watched it inning after inning, game after game, swear the routine gets more entertaining the more you see it. And the way the Nats have been playing this season, late-inning entertainment isn’t easy to come by at RFK.
“I love what he does,” says Mark Carlson from Leesburg, who during the Padres game is sitting a row behind the guy he calls Bob. “Every ballgame I’ve gone to for years, I look for him, and he’s there. I used to know him as the O’s No. 1 fan, because he’d always be at Camden Yards, and now he’s always here for the Nationals. And every time I see him, he’s doing this act.”
Adams, who’s 53, says he’s played grandstand announcer at 1,890 ballgames, including every Orioles game from 1987 through last year. Section 47 at Camden Yards was his hangout. He says he dropped the O’s for the Nats in the middle of the 2005 season, on a day when both teams had home games. He still goes to Baltimore, but only when the Nats are on the road or idle.
“I live in D.C., so I decided I should go to the games here and not in Baltimore,” explains Adams, who says he lives in Northeast. “Besides, the fans in Washington are much more appreciative of what I do than the Baltimore fans.”
He admits not everybody at RFK gives his performance rave reviews. “Some white dude last night told me, ‘Sit your black ass down!” he says.
On the night he was racially slurred, I found Adams sitting in the lower deck just behind home plate and wearing a Padres jersey. He says he ventured away from his regular perch in Section 414 only because somebody gave him the pricier ticket.
As for his garb in the visitors’ colors, Adams says, “It was the only clean shirt I had.”
Characters like the one Adams is cultivating at RFK have a tougher time getting noticed nowadays than when Hagy, Ficker, and the Hogettes were conceived. Sports franchises exert greater control over “the fan experience” with every season. Downtime is crucial to this sort of character development, and stadiums use even the shortest break in play to pummel fans with advertisements or hold sponsored contests. When Adams was making his announcement of the night’s attendance, for example, he had to compete with the team-sanctioned “Ameritel Guess the Attendance” contest being broadcast over the house PA.
And after Nats catcher Brian Schneider threw out the Padres’ Josh Barfield as he attempted to steal second, Adams found himself drowned out by Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer.” Only the fans in the immediate vicinity got to hear what he screamed into his beer bottle: “Your attention please! Score the play 2–6!”—Dave McKenna