A fan's observations on the Washington Nationals, from across the virtual divide.


Filed under: Fan Experience,Organization — Tags: , , — Wigi @ 7:04 pm April 6, 2010

I have been in a daze since I got home from the ballpark on Monday evening.

My family and friends all asked me how Opening Day was, and my universal answer was “horrible”.

I have been a Nationals fan (and a Senators fan before that) long enough to know that 11-1 losses happen. It is part of the territory when you fall in love with a perennial last-place team. I was prepared for that.

But I have never… EVER… felt as uncomfortable and unwelcome at a baseball game as I did on Monday… and that includes my experiences at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. To say that a plurality of the Phillies fans in attendance were rude – that would be an understatement. Many of the things I witnessed were just boorish. Some were insulting and a few were dangerous. Overall, it was an unpleasant day all the way around.

I could have sat in my office in Anchorage and watched it on the Internet and enjoyed it more.

The Nationals should be concerned – very concerned. Because when the live experience ceases to be more compelling than the television experience, people stay home. When a family has to weigh whether the excitement of a baseball game is worth the risk that you might end up sitting in a section with drunk, foul-mouthed and potentially violent fans, people stay home.

When your customers are not treated with respect, people stay home.

The part that the Nationals don’t get is they bear some responsibility in making sure that the fan experience is a positive one, and that responsibility goes beyond making sure that the ballpark employees were friendly and helpful – on that the Nationals get a passing grade (but no better). But the Nationals created the situation where the fan base was so weak that they had to rely heavily on group sales to fill the park on Opening Day… and in doing so, leaving many of their local fans without tickets.

How could the Nationals not reasonably foresee what happened? Do they care?

Sure, the game was sold out. But in the process, they severely damaged their brand. They offended their best customers. They offended me.

When you consider how invested in this team I am, the fact that I am offended says something.

And while I am at it, let me say this. The best thing you can say about the President’s Race is that it is tired and stupid. If you really look at what’s happening here, the Nationals and GEICO are perpetuating the idea that “Teddy” is somehow loveable because he is incompetent. The problem is, Teddy has become a metaphor for the team. As long as the Nationals believe that mindset is acceptable, the team will be terrible. Think about this – if the Yankees had a mascot race with super-sized taxi drivers from the five boroughs, the driver from the Bronx would win every race, because for the Yankees, that is the only outcome that makes sense.

It is either time for Teddy to win, or to can the President’s Race altogether. I am a GEICO customer. Perhaps I should let them know.

If you tried to get Opening Day tickets, and you couldn’t get them, consider yourself among the lucky ones.

Spring Returns to Washington

Filed under: Background,Fan Experience — Tags: , , , , , — Wigi @ 6:28 pm April 12, 2009

Sometimes I wonder if all the traveling is worth it.

I make two trips a year to Washington. I come in April for the opening homestand, and again in September, for the last one. I’ve done that for five straight years. In addition, last year I ran down the road to Seattle to see the Nats play at Safeco.

In all, I catch about ten Nats games a year in person. If you ignore the thirty-three year break between the Senators and the Nats, I’ve been to every opening day since 1971.

Two years ago I didn’t see them win… Not once, in nine games. On the other hand, last year they only lost twice out of the nine games I saw in person (including opening day at Nationals Park, and the next day at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia).

Things aren’t looking so hot for the home nine this year, either. It matters to me if they win or lose. But it matters more to me that I be a part of it.

As cities go, Washington is a bit strange, in that there are so few people who are from ‘here’ – and I can say ‘here’ because I am ‘here’ for Opening Day. So many of us are from somewhere else. For those of us who were born here, there is an awareness of place that very few people share. Baseball was a part of that place for me as a child, and after the Senators left in 1971, I have to admit, the Orioles did help to fill some of that gap for me. But for a lot of people, baseball is not enough in itself. Baseball is wonderful, but it must also be about the place… our home. As wonderful as it was to watch the Orioles in the 70′s and 80′s, Baltimore is where you went to watch the O’s, and you came home to Washington. That long commute down I-95 after a night game served to remind me – the hundreds of times that I made that trip – that I had to leave home to watch baseball.

When the Nationals moved to Washington in 2005, it was a restoration of that piece of Washingtonian life that had been missing since my childhood. Even though I lived 4000 miles away, I was drawn to the reality that I could once again watch baseball in my hometown. I’ve been a part of it ever since.

My hometown has a baseball team again. Tomorrow, something wonderful happens. It is a sure sign that summer is about to be here… a summer we went without for thirty-three years.

Does it matter if they win or lose? Absolutely.

But not as much as it does to be a part of it.

It is definitely worth it.

Be a part of it.

Purity of Heart

Filed under: Organization,Personnel,Players — Tags: , , , , , , — Wigi @ 1:34 pm December 22, 2008

The withdrawal of the Angels from the Mark Teixeira sweepstakes adds some important philosophical clarity to the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ in baseball.

There are really only two players left – The Red Sox and the Nationals.  Maybe the Orioles, but maybe not… they probably don’t have the money or the stomach to be at this table.

To me, Teixeira’s choice comes down to being a cog in a corporate juggernaut, or the cornerstone of an up-and-coming franchise. About the choice between buying success and building success. About the choice between being a hired gun and a hometown hero.

It is about good and evil.

OK, not really about good and evil… but the old adage of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” just doesn’t hold with the Red Sox. It is possible to hate the Yankees AND the Red Sox. They’re both on the evil side of the ‘Evil Empire’ continuum. They’re more alike than different.

The stakes are vastly higher for the Nationals than for the Red Sox. Signing Teixeira doesn’t transform the Sox the way it does the Nationals. Collin Balester, Willie Harris and Ryan Zimmerman have all weighed in on the pursuit of Teixeira, and all three agree that it changes the entire focus of the team. It at very least starts the clock for respectability, which until now was just a vague notion of some goal in the future.

It also transforms the Nationals in the eyes of the league, and the public in general. Numerous articles and blogs have been written about the perception of the Nats now that they’re serious players in the pursuit of Teixeira. The disciples of “The Plan” (myself included) have either seen through this misperception – or kidded ourselves into believing that the Nats austerity was part of a larger view – but my opinion is in the minority. For the doubters, here is the proof… but for at least some of the doubters, being in the game is not the same as winning. For them, anything short of a contract would be as if nothing happened at all.

There’s also this: Mark Whicker’s piece in the Orange County Register about the departure of Teixeira from Anaheim. Between the lines in this piece is the argument that there is a lot of pressure in being the “Final Piece” of the puzzle – the very thing Stan Kasten suggested that the pursuit of a major free agent would be for the Nats. Clearly, Teixeira isn’t the final piece for the Nats, but in fact, he’s something more. He’s a necessary piece. He answers questions on the field, but he also answers questions about the Nats future, and for the cynics among us, he answers a huge marketing question, too. Teixeira will not draw fans to the park like Soriano did, but the acquisition of Teixeira will draw fans because the fan base will finally believe that “The Plan” is a viable path to perennial success.

I don’t envy the Lerners. They probably see the acquisition of Teixeira to be as much about  a referendum on their commitment to excellence as improving the on-the-field product.

I like the Nats’ world view a lot better than Boston. Sure I am biased. But it doesn’t matter. Failure isn’t an option.

Use the force, Ted.