More Stadium Ramblings

Posted by Dave Nichols | Wednesday, May 07, 2008 | , | 0 comments »

We've Got Heart had a post yesterday about how a sports writer from Western PA came down to see the new stadium over the weekend and really raked the stadium over the coals.

He really takes to task the organization for resorting to gimmicks and tricks inside the stadium to keep the casual fans entertained, and goes so far to call the Nats fan base "seemingly uneducated fans". He bases that opinion on the fact that Nats fans cheered the introduction of Wily Mo Pena despite his low batting average so far this season.

There's a larger point in there that Mr. Knopsnyder could have made much more artfully than the did. It is a true statement that a large percentage of Nats fans are still wet behind the ears when it comes to the nuances of the game and the players on the team. Whether that's due to baseball's return to DC still less than four full seasons, or the transient nature of the town, or the fact that the Nats priced all the good seats out of the range of the average fan and cater solely to the law firms and lobbying firms that can afford full-season packages at those prices--all factors in the equation that Mr. Knopsnyder solves simply as "seemingly uneducated fans".

As for the critique of the stadium itself, I think some of it is fair. There is still MUCH room for improvement. There’s not a single place in the stadium grilling hot dogs or other salted meats over an open fire. Put a grill up on the concourse behind the scoreboard, there’s plenty of room! There are times between innings when they are showing ads—or worse yet, Clint—where they TAKE ALL THE GAME INFO DOWN and you can’t even see the score or inning. That is COMPLETELY UNACCEPTABLE. There’s a laundry list, as we’ve been through ad nauseum.

But I get the feeling this author was looking for another reason to bash Washington. Congrats to him, mission accomplished (pun intended). It seems that his entire article was based on the premise of his last paragraph, something that looks like he scripted before he even left Johnstown.

To be fair, the stadium is still a work in progress. Nationals Park is being counted on to rejuvenate the Southeast section of the city and turn a downtrodden, light-industrial area into a booming commercial district. And with a better team on the field, and a deeper attachment to a club that is in just its fourth season here, maybe that will happen.

Or maybe it will end up being another example of Washington overspending for what turns out to be a mediocre product.

I think the one thing that most people lose sight over, including Mr. Knopsynder in his article, is that the price of the stadium—while listed at $650 million—didn’t cost anywhere near that to build. Easily 40% of the total cost was in land purchasing and clean-up fees. So to say that “it failed to deliver…despite the enormous price tag” is either misinformed opinion or disinginuity.

I think out-of-town visitor’s perceptions of the park is really, REALLY clouded by the lack of immediate infrastructure, construction debris and otherwise “unready” atmosphere around the park. While we were waiting for autographs Sunday, there were a bunch of Pittsburghers waiting for their team bus to pull out of the tunnel, and they were wondering where to go for dinner and a beer around the stadium. When I told them there was no such place, yet…man they got indignant! But even in their profanity, they have a solid point. There is no local atmosphere around the ballpark, and i think it really hurts. It’s a shame the immediate infrastructure couldn’t keep up with the construction of the park.

But sadly, I’m afraid, the atmosphere around the stadium is going to have a corporate feel just like the stadium does. Part of what makes Fenway so great is the Cask and Flagon (and many, many others). Part of what makes Wrigley so great is the Cubby Bear (among many, many, many others). Even Camden Yards has the redneck haven of Pickles Pub. Hard to see joints like that popping up in the retail spaces of $800,000 condo buildings.