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.

Dark Days For Nats Fans

Filed under: Fan Experience,Games,Teams — Tags: , , , , , , , — Wigi @ 3:37 pm October 6, 2008

OK… Dark for me… me and my personal prejudices about the playoffs.

The problem with the Division Championship Series is that you just can’t watch all the games… and I haven’t. It would be easier if I was in the east, because at least some of them would start after I got off work. But no matter… we’re approaching the end of the first round, and there sure isn’t much to root for.

I spent yesterday evening watching an entertaining game between the Angels and the Red Sox, but realized in the 11th inning I was rooting for Mike Scioscia. Red Sox… Scioscia. Red Sox… Scioscia. Can’t they both lose? You know it’s bad when you’re nostalgic for Jose Guillen.

And in the National League, neither palatable team survived. So now we’re left with the Dodgers and the Phillies. Can’t THEY both lose?

The only glimmer of hope is the Rays – they hold the lead, and they are at least one version of what the Nats might aspire to. I think they have the White Sox handled, but it is hardly over… but then they have to face either the Red Sox or the Angels. I can’t imagine them surviving against either team.

So now I am left with rooting for a hopeless underdog – The Rays (at least, I think they’re hopeless), and my schadenfreude pick, the Phillies – and I am rooting for them only so I can see them get beat in the World Series by the Rays.

Gosh, there are so many awful scenarios for Nats fans, and only one good one… and even that one has the Phillies in the World Series.

We really should do something about this next season. Perhaps we should nominate the Nats to play in the postseason? Think they’d go for it?

The Blind Date

One year ago today, you and I, and the thousands of Planetarians that faithfully rotate around the centerfield gate on Half Street, SE (some of us from afar), were in a different universe. A year ago today, the center of our universe was on East Capitol Street, and many of us were making the soggy walk from the Stadium-Armory Metro to RFK on Little League day, to see the Nats play the Padres.

It was a very different year last year. Or was it?

Nats 2007 record on June 3: 23-34, 13 games behind the Mets.

Nats 2008 record on June 3: 24-34, 9.5 games behind the Phillies.

So why the heck are we, the Planetarians,  so cranky this year? The Nats are essentially at the same place, standings-wise, as they were last year (to be correct, we’re actually a half game ahead).

It is because last year, we had very low expectations of the Nats. We expected 120 losses, and except for the first month of the season, we got something better than our expectations. Basically, 2007 was a blind date – we expected very little, but got about what we hoped for.

So here we are in 2008, and our date has new clothes and a new doo, in the form of a shiny, new stadium. Add to that the national television exposure and a dramatic walk-off win on opening day, the 3-0 start, and the perception that the Nats had helped themselves by acquiring lots of young talent, and it didn’t take long before the fans thought that this was going to be quite a different year from last year. When Barry Svrluga asked us to “Pick Your Won-Loss Record”on March 29, most of us (including me) had the Nats’ record quite a bit above .500 – though quite a few were below, too. So far, it seems that none of us are too pleased with the results.

Here’s the difference: The Nats should be better. Regardless of what Ryan Church is doing this year in New York, Milledge is a better talent. Does he need some work? Yes. But I think we’re seeing the best you’ll get from Church, and there’s still plenty of upside with Milledge. Flores is at least as good as Schneider. If Dukes finds his stroke and stays out of trouble, Bowden robbed the stage picking him up. Guzman is having a year that has people wondering whether he should be extended rather than allowed to walk at the end of his contract. Certainly, at $4 million a year, he’s a bargain, playing as he is now. The Nats bullpen will be better when Cordero is back, and all signs point to the fact that the Nats actually have a credible starting pitching corps, and the depth to take an injury or two. If only we could get another third of an inning out of the starters… All in all, the Nats since-the-slump .500 play just doesn’t cut it anymore.

The recurring theme that we hear about the Nats is frustration. But I am concerned.  I suppose that it is good that we’re not hearing ‘panic’ coupled with the frustration. But as a dedicated and thorough consumer of the media surrounding the Nationals, there seems to be a certain laissez-faire attitude surrounding the team, as if the lack of offense was just a period of time to be endured, rather than a problem that needs to be addressed. I don’t know that Lenny Harris is the wrong guy to be the Nats hitting coach, but the terms “growing into the job” and “on the job training” don’t instill confidence in the fan base, and certainly not in me.

Say what you will about Paul Lo Duca, but I think he’s the only one that has expressed any public embarrassment about both his play and the play of the team. Of course, he’s on the DL, and has essentially been beaten out for his job by Jesus Flores – an opportunity Flores would never have had without Lo Duca’s injury.

I am patient, an I’ve drunk “The Plan’s” Kool-aid. But even I am having my crisis of faith.