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.