Thursday, October 8, 2009

It's what's on the inside that counts

NOTE: I am re-posting this with pictures at the bottom.

I had some free time in the nation's capital last Monday, and decided to take in a Washington Nationals game with my friend Kate Duis. Here's what it was like: imagine you go to a top-notch, Zagat rated, "Man I hope my date doesn't order the most expensive thing on the menu" restaurant. You place you order, and 15 minutes later the waiter brings over one of those covered trays, gold-plated and everything. You're licking your lips with anticipation. The waiter sets the tray on the table, removes the cover, and ... there's a big pile of s**t staring up at you.

That's sort of how things go at beautiful Nationals Park--the product doesn't exactly match the packaging. The putrid Nationals are 53-103, 37 games out of first place, and a pathetic 31-48 at home. Though they won a rather lackluster 2-1 game last night, the Nats just don't look quite right playing in the $600 million facility which resides on the Capitol Riverfront.

You know the whole "If you build it, they will come" philosophy? Well, the Nationals built it, but they didn't come. They've sold out just 54 percent of their seats in 2009, the second year of the park's existence. Nationals Park, like many of the newer baseball parks, is very open, enabling fans to view the action on the field even while grabbing a cold one or one of the many food options on the concourse. It also affords views of the riverfront, the Capitol and the Washington Monument (though only from certain places; it's not like Busch Stadium where the arch is a key component of the park's landscape). Nationals Park was also the first major stadium in the U.S. to achieve LEED certification for its environmentally friendly design.

But it was difficult to grasp the true quality of the stadium with only 18,000 moderately interested fans on hand. When I judge a stadium, a big part of my impression is based on the environment and atmosphere. At Nationals Park, it ain't good.

But of course, there's an obvious reason for this. You can't blame fans for not showing up to a late September game with their team in the all too familiar last place position. And while the organization hopes to entice fans in the near future by building up the area surrounding the stadium with shops, restaurants, etc., the tumbling economy has prevented such growth from taking place to this point.

But the stadium is a great start. If the organization could fill it with a team even half as impressive, perhaps more than half the seats would be filled.

Here it is, Nationals Park. Beautiful, huh? Wait, that doesn't look right ...

Ah, yes, here it is. From the outside, anyways.


From centerfield. A nice place, this Nationals Park.

Come on, man. If you're not going to move to the lower deck, at least move down a few rows!

Lest you thought it was just the upper deck that was empty ...

The odd "Presidents' Race" ritual. This is kind of amusing, but it has a very unfortunate side effect: after the race (which is in the 4th inning), the presidents remain in the park, wandering the stadium scaring children. And adults. They're very scary with their giant heads. And take it from someone who knows: they're creepy as well.

Told ya. If it's me and one other person in a picture and I'm not the creepy one, you know the other person must be creepy.

They do exist! A hardcore Nationals fan! Shhh, we don't want to disturb him in his natural habitat.

The worst statue of all time, except for the two next to it. The Nationals commissioned someone to do statues of famous Washington Senators (the baseball team), and s/he did it in a "capture the action" "mid-movement" fashion. So, the statue is supposed to be this guy in the midst of hitting a pitch. To me, it looks like he's swinging five bats which are attached to one another with some sort of primitive rope system.

It's never too early to promote your best player, even if he doesn't actually wear a Nationals jersey yet (he played in the minors this year).

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