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

Insulted

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.

Turn Back the Clock

Frank Robinson’s appointment to a position in the Commissioner’s Office has opened the door to a lot of reminiscing about the good old days… you know, the ones with the bouncing RFK Stadium and the 51-30 start… and this Opening Night:

First Pitch at RFK Stadium, 2005

First Pitch at RFK Stadium, 2005

That season was magical… especially the first half. And it begs the comparison between that .500 team, and our lovable Nats of 2009.

I am sure that nobody would want the old 2005 team back. The ride was exquisite, but our current team is much more talented.

The thing is, the 2005 team played excellent fundamental baseball. And last night’s game was a perfect example of both how much more talented this year’s team is, and how much better they need to play.

Despite giving away five bases on miscues and errors, and a bases-loaded walk, the Nats brought the tying run to the plate twice in the ninth inning… against Johan Santana, the NL leader in ERA, and the Mets bullpen, including Francisco Rodriguez.

The 2005 team doesn’t give away those five bases or walk in the winning run. Now I am not necessarily saying that the 2005 fundamentals and the 2009 talent beats Johan Santana… But it beats the Marlins three times last week.

Lets see if it can beat Mike Pelfrey today.

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.