Monday, July 14, 2008

Foul Ball

Oh jeez. Who knew that we'd look back on 2005 as the glory days of the Washington Nationals. How did a feel good story like this transform into an ugly rent strike putting millions (no, billions) of dollars in political limbo.

See, I love baseball, and I'm trying to love the Nationals. I bought a season ticket plan. I supported the new stadium, drawing the ire of 99% of my friends and neighbors. I follow the players, cheering for them when others in the stadium boo mediocre performances. I talk the stadium and team up to my out of town friends. I spend $$$ on the limited vegan food options, but great beer selection at the field.

I stand by when the team lets good players like Ryan Church, and Alfonso Soriano walk out the door. I stand by when they virtually fire the only manager who guided us into first place and gave us our best year-end record. And I marveled when the design-build stadium (yes, a city project) was completed on time, in a record 18 months, and relatively on budget, in time for the big show on March 30, 2008. I there with 40,000 of my closest friends. The Nationals (and the owners, the Lerner family) were made to look competent and ready for a national TV audience, in large part because of the city.

Somehow, all the good will press conferences and dirt shoveling ceremonies of 2005 are distant memories. In a city struggling to find good teachers, honest municipal workers, viable small businesses, and home ownership options for normal people, it's reprehensible and quite disgusting that the team owners are withholding the $3,500,000 in rent from the city. The Nationals claim that the ballpark was not "substantially" complete on opening night, but I have to disagree as a paying customer who explored most of the "substantial" parts of the park that night; and for 15 or so subsequent nights since. At the center of the dispute are team offices that were kept at RFK while the new offices adjacent to the field at the new stadium were being finished.

The term "over a barrel" comes to mind. Not only did the Nationals get a $611,000,000 million dollar, on time, fastest ever built stadium from the city, they got it without having to live up to any future performance evaluations or quality control. Now they refuse to pay rent and want to fine the city $100,000 per day for the "unfinished" stadium to boot. And for the fans, its really too bad. With $325.00 seats, $40.00 valet parking and rumors that we'll be going to see Nationals games at ExxonMobile Field in 2009, some are grumbling that the city should lock the team out of the stadium until the cough up the rent. Just think, we could go undefeated at home for the rest of the year.