The cicadas are coming.
Every 17 years, a magnificent scientific phenomenon occurs, and we in the Washington, DC area are at the epicenter. Trillions of bugs, who spend the majority of their lives underground, feeding off of the roots of trees, emerge all at once to mate. This is known as the Brood X cicada emergence, and it is poised to arrive within the coming weeks.
When the cicadas arrive, they make their presence known. They sing from the tops of trees, making a collective noise comparable to the sound of a lawnmower. Researchers estimate that for every square foot in the DC area, 30 cicadas will come out; yes, that means that there will be 1.5 million cicadas for every acre. They’re going to fly into you, pesticides or bug spray won’t get rid of them, and their crunchy shells will line the streets once “cicada mania” subsides. Luckily, cicadas are harmless, and won’t cause anything more than a disturbance in the DC area.
I am not the biggest fan of bugs, especially big bugs like cicadas, but I am excited to watch the massive cicada emergence occur for the first time in my life. That got me thinking—I was not yet born the last time Brood X took over Washington, and neither were the Nationals. There has not been a baseball game played in Washington during Brood X’s invasion since the Senators were around in 1970. How could the cicadas impact the Nationals’ season?
Bugs and baseball have a complicated relationship, with the most famous example of this being in Game 2 of the 2007 American League Division Series. The New York Yankees, who had lost the first game of the series to Cleveland, went into the eighth inning with a 1-0 lead. Legendary manager Joe Torre, in his final series in the role with the Yankees, turned to his rookie reliever Joba Chamberlain to hold the game for Mariano Rivera in the 9th. However, a swarm of Lake Erie midges, a type of bug attracted to bright lights, descended on Jacobs Field—and directly in front of Chamberlain. You can watch what transpired here –
Cleveland went on to tie the game in the same inning, and later win, eventually costing the Yankees the series. In baseball lore, Game 2 is known as the “bug game”. More recently, a swarm of bees caused a delay in a Rangers-Angels game. Rangers reliever Kyle Bird was warming up in the bullpen among the bees, which does not seem like neither a pleasant nor a simple task.
So given that cicadas are going to be abundant in the DC area this summer, and as bug activity has previously impacted MLB games, could the cicada emergence impact both gameplay and the fan experience at Nationals games this year?
Maybe, but probably not, according to Dr. John Cooley, professor of entomology at the University of Connecticut who researches the behaviors of cicadas.
“The cicadas generally don’t thrive in urban areas, because such areas lack large patches of trees. So aside from the odd cicada or so fluttering in, I can’t imagine people at the ballpark will notice much,” Cooley said.
Since cicadas emerge from holes in the soil, bugs that had crawled underground in 2004, before massive development of the area adjacent to Nationals Park, will not be able to burrow through concrete and therefore will not emerge en masse in the Navy Yard area.
While unfortunate for the bugs, this is good news for the Nationals. Players will largely be spared from the erratic flying patterns of cicadas, and fans will be able to enjoy a Nationals game in a rare cicada-free zone.