Monday, October 5, 2009

We're a One Sport Town. Right?

Last night the Washington Nationals became the first team ever to finish the season with seven wins after starting the season with seven loses. During the 148 games in between, they won 52 games and lost 96. For a second year in a row, they lost more than 100 games, the ultimate achievement for a terrible team. The controversy and excitement of last year, when the city-financed stadium first opened, are gone. But the investment will be on the books for years to come. The payoff can be measured in different ways.

The city will measure success largely by tax revenue. If the owners can sell tickets, merchandise and food, the city will get a cut. Likewise, the city will also get a rent payment for use of the park as long as the Nationals are around. There are two other similar benefits. The seasonal and full time jobs provided by the team provide some work to DC residents. And finally, once the economy comes around the ball park will act as the largest anchor (no pun intended) for other development and construction taking shape around the Navy Yard. The new neighborhood name is Capitol Riverfront, but I like Navy Yard. I always thought the stadium should be called Nationals Park at Navy Yard, or something to that affect. Or the current name, Near Southeast.

However, fans will probably measure success by another metric: wins. Sport is often a "what have you done for me lately" endeavor and the Nationals haven't done much lately. And being a Nationals fan is tough even if you give the team quite a bit of leeway. When teams like the Red Sox, Yankees, Phillies or even Orioles come to town, you feel like you're outnumbered by the other teams fans. When the team is reportedly one of the most profitable in the Major Leagues and dead last in the standings, you think of that old Brian Williams' segment "The Fleecing of America." And when the most expensive seats are $325 and Ben's chili, fries and a drink set you back about $20, you start to measure success not in wins, but how well you can support your team without giving any $$$ to the owners (impossible).

Yes, hockey season is here and the Caps bandwagon is sure to be overflowing. Hopefully the Nationals will have a productive off season and maybe those running the show recognize that there are real fans in DC who aren't transient or who want to root for whoever is visiting a the moment. Just a little respect. That's all we are asking for.

(left: a sold out Nationals Stadium during one of three Red Sox games. above: a mostly empty park at the final home game on Sept 30)