An Out-of-Line Usher Almost Ruins a Perfect Night

Scott Watson

You know, things can fall apart so quickly.

My last few trips out to the park had gone so smoothly that I thought I should retire. Who needs to read a veritable love note to the Nats? That's what Stan Kasten's press conferences are for: the bus ride is a joy; the ushers are sainted; Ben's chili cures cancer; the food is nutritious.

OK, that lie is beyond even me.

But you get my point. After a month of working out the kinks, the stadium seemed to have settled into a nice, even rhythm. I'll spare you any reports of my dealings with Ticket Services; suffice to say that were nauseatingly pleasant and helpful.

But Saturday night, all that changed.

Showing off the park to friends on their first visit, I was quietly proud of our stadium. (Folks get damned proprietary about their teams and facilities, don't they?) The weather was perfect, the Nats seemed to have righted the ship, and the Milwaukee fans were downright OK (and blessedly underrepresented). I thought it was the perfect night to be showing off the stadium. When the Nats failed to come back in the bottom of the ninth, I didn't even really mind the loss. A friend settled back, sighed and said, "Let's wait a second and let them [the remaining crowd] get started."

Not a chance. An angry usher -- "my" usher -- flew down the steps to address those of us who'd stayed for all nine innings. But we couldn't hear his speech. He was too emphatic and angry to be understood. "The game is OVER!" and "You have to get out right now" were the only intelligible phrases.

I'll confess, I thought it was an act. Although he's not my favorite usher, I slip him a couple of bucks every game -- even though I'm pretty sure I've figured out where my season tickets are located -- and he hasn't seemed crazy. So I assumed it was a gag, or at the least a pointed joke to get the crowd started. But I knew that couldn't be right, not that soon after the game ended. I mean, three minutes after the last out hadn't led any other ushers to hustle the crowd out. Heck, a couple of players were still strolling off the field.

I started to say something, but a fan in the front row beat me to it. I heard him ask, in a relatively reasonable tone, "Can't we wait 'til there isn't a line?" That's when the usher moved from angry to abusive. He got agitated and leaned in toward the young man. Although describing the scene as "threatening" or "menacing" would be overstating it, I fully expected some after-game fireworks to break out, and we were way too close to the fuse.

It was uncomfortable, but my friends were good enough to laugh it off, with one rhetorically asking, "Do we have to leave while the PA announcer is still talking to us?" But we were all shaken, and it came dangerously close to ruining an otherwise perfect night.

I'll let you know in a future post how the front office responds to the upcoming complaint. A long line for some crappy food is one thing; shame on me if I choose that kind of "abuse." But an usher coming down into the section to angrily roust us -- while the echo of the umpire's last "out" was still rattling around the outfield -- is way over the line.

By Scott Watson  |  May 26, 2008; 1:46 PM ET  | Category:  Scott Watson , Stadium Staff
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Comments

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I had the same thing happen to us in the outfield pavilion after Sunday afternoon's game. Kudos for bringing it to the club's attention.

Posted by: natswriter | May 26, 2008 3:02 PM

Agreed, this has happened to me on more than one occasion. Thanks for bringing it to the attention of management. I'm baffled as to why the attitude of the staff at the park is so varied. I love the people assigned to the exits after the game, but several of the ushers have no business dealing with paying customers.

Posted by: Arlington, VA | May 26, 2008 10:03 PM

The usher for Section 233 is doing an excellent job at enforcing the rules that require you to sit in your exact seat. Today, for example, my wife and 11 year old daughter moved from row F in 231 to the empty seats in the top row in 233, for the purpose of escaping the sun. (both of these are $33 sections.) Mr. Usher 233 insisted on seeing wife's ticket. She had left it at other seat, so she retrieved it, showed it and was told, "You can sit here for an inning, but then you've got to go back to your seat." Way to go, Sir! After I got back from the play area with my 2 year old, I was told by him that the Nationals Management check the ushers' performance on such things. I told him, that if that is the case then he is representing the Nationals well!

Unfortunately, those of us who bought 20 Game Plan tickets didn't have much of a choice for our seat selection and it is only now that the Full Sun and Shady areas are becoming obvious. Now we're stuck with a plan with nine Sundays in full sun and ushers who are trained to force fans to remain in the sunny seats. Wow! Thanks Nats Management!

In the end, the Usher for Section 233 did not forcibly remove my wife and daughter back to the sun. Nor did he move me and my 2 year old there either, so I give him credit for that. But, I gotta say, much like Scott Watson said, having a confrontation with an usher sure makes an upsetting experience.

Posted by: JR | May 26, 2008 10:53 PM

JR, you know it is possible to get your 20-game plan seat location changed if there's something about your current seat you don't like. I did it myself when it became obvious that all the aisle traffic would block my view for most of the game. I identified a couple of seats in my section that were not occupied and requested that I be moved there for the rest of the season. The ticket office was very accomodating with this request.

It sounds like the seats out of the sun that you moved to might be good candidates for you to switch to, since they're apparently not taken at the moment. Try requesting those, but if they're not available then just tell the ticket office that you want to be out of the sun, and they should be able to find seats somewhere for you. You can do this by phone with your season ticket rep, or go in person to the Ticket Services office just outside the centerfield gate on the left side as you're coming in. (The office is actually in the parking garage structure, just around the corner from Will Call.)

Posted by: Section 419+1 | May 27, 2008 7:39 AM

I think the ushers are taught at all arenas in this area to do that. I was at the last Caps game when they were eliminated from the playoffs. The players hadn't begun shaking hands and the ushers in my section (upper deck because I couldn't get my regular seats down low), began herding people out. I've sat in the upper deck a handful of times and never saw an usher past the second period so this does not seem normal.

At Nats games however, it's almost like there are a few that want to show up, get their pay check and get home. To me, the extra 15 minutes is worth it in salary. Even if they are making minimum wage a game, it's still an extra couple of bucks. This has happened to me at Wizards games too where we're waiting for friends who sat in my seats while we sat further up the section.

They allow fans in an hour or more early, but it's almost like once the game is over, you have to leave, NOW. Not so much fun for fans who want to get one last look, like my 5 year old son at RFK last year, only to be dragged out literally by the usher. He let my son go when he saw me, but the picture on my phone spoke enough and he was removed from the premises.

I say we start recording this abusive behavior and post it online. Maybe something will be done then!

Posted by: Sect. 112 | May 27, 2008 9:40 AM

This practice is especially ironic given that, right before the season started, Metro's GM was quoted as saying that they hoped some fans would hang out for a while after the game ended, so as not to overwhelm the Navy Yard station. Where are people supposed to go? It's not like there are a whole lot of entertainment options around the ballpark, for now.

Posted by: natsfan23 | May 27, 2008 12:12 PM

I'm a 20-game mini-plan holder. On Friday, May 23, I went to the game with a friend. My seats are in 319. My friend and I walked down to the Boardwalk Fries stand behind section 106 at about the sixth inning. Before hiking back up to 319, we noticed most of section 106 was empty, so we sat down so she could eat the fries. The usher came over, and told us that we had to leave because we didn't have tickets there. I told him that my friend was going to finish her fries and we'd leave. He said that I had an attitude and that I was acting like I owned the seats. So I said something along the lines of, "No Sir, this is your section, Sir, and we're only looking to borrow these seats until she's done her fries, and then we'll leave." (I was just as patronizing to him as he was to me, I admit it.) He said that my change in attitude was the only reason he was going to let us stay. When she was done her fries, he came over and asked us when we were going to leave. We left the seats immediately. Mission accomplished on his part. My friend doesn't plan to return to the ballpark.

Also, after the game, there were fireworks and so a good number of fans stayed until the end, at which time the ushers told us to leave. We too were lingering as we could see the crowds backed up leaving the ballpark.

The ushers were just doing their jobs--chasing the fans away--in both instances. The ballpark isn't as fan-friendly as management wants everyone to believe.

The ushers chase away autograph seekers who are want to watch batting practice and try to get autographs near the dugouts too. This is a policy change from how it was at RFK Stadium, which was known to allow fans to stand next to the dugouts and railings until batting practice ended. Management claims that fans are closer to the field at Nationals Park, but they're much further if they want to get an autograph.

Just another example of how they're encouraging me to continue driving to Camden Yards to see games.

Posted by: Lisa of Arlington | May 27, 2008 2:07 PM

If you want to sit in section 106 (or any other section) then buy tickets in section 106. This isn't a seating free for all. Your tickets have a Section #, Row # and Seat # for a reason.

Posted by: Fushezzi | May 28, 2008 8:33 AM

Anyone who pays to go to a Nats game is (a) going to see what your $600 million paid for or (b) a sucker. I'll think about going again when Kasten, Jimbo and the Lerners are long gone.

Posted by: gbooksdc | May 28, 2008 9:11 AM

gbooksdc - you must be 15 years old. Stay away - we don't need fans like you.

I'd be interested to see the other side of Ol' Grumpy's coin. There are two sides to every story.

Posted by: All Raspberries | May 28, 2008 10:30 AM

All Raspberries must be an usher, telling a fan to stay away. Yeah, that's productive. I can think of many a minor league city that's lost it's team with that attitude. Heck, look at Richmond! Lost hockey three times in 10 years, losing baseball (and they way they treated the fans was beyond what the Nats do, I was asked for my ticket stub no less than 15 times in the span of 2 INNINGS BY THE SAME USHER). I wonder how the soccer team stays or if they treat people that go to college sports events like that.

"Do to others as you'd have done to you." So the next time and usher harasses me, I'm harassing right back.

Posted by: Sect. 112 | May 28, 2008 3:55 PM

We have an overzealous usher as well. She's a bit too aggressive about not letting people walk down the steps while a batter is at the plate. She means well but she could be a bit calmer and less strict in her approach.

Posted by: Sec. 225 | May 28, 2008 7:10 PM

Sect. 112, you're an infant. Read the post. gbooksdc said "I'll think about going again when Kasten, Jimbo and the Lerners are long gone."

Bulletin: that's not happening anytime soon.

If an experience with an usher is enough to keep one from coming back - grow up. You probably think getting a speeding ticket is the fault of the cop.

Posted by: Blogwatch | May 28, 2008 7:15 PM

I had a similar experience last year at RFK. My two brothers and I were meeting my uncle at the game. As we hadn't yet bought tickets, we did so and left one at will-call for my uncle.

My brother's friend was doing the fireworks at the game, which he does regularly, and came down to say hi.

When he sits down in the seat whose ticket is waiting at will-call 20 minutes before the game, the usher comes down and tells us he can't sit there. My brother -- never one to back down -- says, "We bought this ticket. This is my friend, and he works here." After two or three minutes of this back-and-forth conversation, my brother and his friend go up to the concourse to have a conversation.

Pathetic.

Posted by: Daniel | May 29, 2008 10:56 AM

Yes ==> The rude comments to leave are very much not appreciated. I don't undrstand why the hot dogs are not hot nor why not all the concession stands are open.

Why the batting cages are mostly closed?

You make a big effort to get there early and well its closed or broken? Escalators broken ?

No scoreboard or monitors near kids play areas. Stan so proud to offer that stuff at park and for most part it is a failure or certainly a let down. Why do concessions close before game is over? Monday's game in extra innings and nothing available after 7th inning? Customer service? The experience is not a priority. Plenty of employees - Some are very nice but majority might very well be slave labor as Quality or customer service is not a concern. MCD's does a better jog serving $5 meal deals than Park does selling a $7.50 hot dog. Repeat business is just not a goal. They ahve that locked in with STDs who paid for all the games already.

Posted by: Sad baseball fan | May 29, 2008 11:34 AM

Here is a letter I wote to Stan K. and my account manager about my experience with an usher back on April 29. I got a call from Andy from the ticket sales office who left me a voice message apologizing for my experience. I returned his call and also left a voice message. I recieved no more calls back from Andy.

Hello Stan and Mike,

Christina Boyd, at least that is the name she gave me, is an usher at Nationals Park. This past Friday, April 25th, she was on duty at the Red Loft. I was there too talking on the phone to one of my friends. The time was approximately 6PM and I was there an hour and a half early for a 7:30PM game to capture and soak in the 'fan experience'.

Now Stan and Mike, I will be the first to tell you that I was sitting in a seat that I did not pay for. Oh, did I mention that I was there an hour and a half early for the 'fan experience'? Well, the fan experience that I got was an interruption of my personal phone call along with a total destruction of any positive fan experience when Christina Boyd walked up and asked me if I had a ticket for this seat. When I told her no I did not, remember I was on the phone at the time, Ms. Boyd then told me that I had to get up. Did I mention that I was there an hour and a half early? Oh yes I did.

Stan and Mike, I have to say that I was very embarrassed by this because my friend heard this interruption of privacy on the phone. He said: "Is that how they treat paying customers there?" I said: "Yes. Apparently. Obviously my money is no good here." After I quickly got off the phone I left the Red Loft area but not before I told Ms. Boyd that I would not be renewing my season tickets because of her. After spending $30 on one ticket, spending $25 on food and drink, spending $$ for Metro, it is a simple shame that a paying customer is treated with such disrespect. You may say that Ms. Boyd was only doing her job. That is true. If her job is to alienate and dismay loyal customers then she was doing her job just fine. I was at the ballpark 90 minutes early just to be there and try to be happy after working all day. Does she really think I was going to sit there throughout the game and usurp someone else's seat? Could she have simply left me alone until someone came to sit there? Most certainly. That is all I wanted was to be left alone so I could enjoy myself. I did not want to be embarrassed by an overly aggressive usher.

So Stan and Mike, how do we fix this? Retrain the person who is training the ushers. Tell them to back off, leave happy people alone, and ask people for their tickets when the game is about to start and not 90 minutes beforehand.

I have been a season ticket holder since year one (2005). I have been getting progressively more angry at your organization as the years have gone by. Christina Boyd was my proverbial straw. I will not renew my tickets because of her.

With the shoddy product on the field and the overly aggressive, in your face, ushers that the Nationals employ, I will not be back. I have tickets for tonight's game but I am not going. I would rather eat them instead of facing your customer bashing employees.

Posted by: RyanDylan | May 29, 2008 2:28 PM

To - RyanDylan

Don't sit down unless you have a ticket

Posted by: Anonymous | May 29, 2008 4:20 PM

RyanDylan - that is the most ridiculous, condescending, preposterous letter I have ever seen. I wouldn't call you back either.

It reads like you just want to pick a fight. And you have an expectation of phone privacy in a public place? What? Is the usher supposed to STAND THERE and wait until you're done?

You won't return to a baseball game because of an USHER? Gee whiz. Talk about petty.

You and gbooksdc are the type of fans we don't want in our ballpark anyways. You were CLEARLY in the wrong, you get called on it, then embarassed, then you have the audacity to blame the usher? You probably pushed in front of someone on Metro too.

Bye-bye now.

Posted by: :oP | May 30, 2008 3:25 PM

Seems the response to the ushers "doing their job" falls along two lines: those who take the business approach, i.e., you should sit where you paid to sit; and those who take the emotional/experiential approach, i.e., if the seat is empty, what's the harm?

Personally, I fall into the latter camp. Unless I'm in YOUR seat and refuse to leave it when you arrive, what's the harm to anyone, the team and its business interests included, with my sitting in an otherwise empty seat? Some would even argue that the team benefits from having the lower bowl full, since that's what is most frequently captured by television cameras. I believe the Post has even had an article or two to that effect.

In any case, I admit I frequently sit in seats not my own, regardless of the stadium I visit. I like to experience parks from different perspectives, from as close in as I can get to the nosebleed seats. In my years of doing that, I have NEVER had a seat owner get upset to find me there. S/he tells me I'm in her/his seat. I apologize for the inconvenience and move on. Even if I move just a seat or two over, no one has ever turned me in to the usher. Why would they? Because I paid $8 to sit in $45 seats? What's that to them? They watch the game. I watch the game. It's all good.

Related to all this, I also suggest that the rude, forceful, aggressive ushers learn to smooth out. They can and should "do their jobs" without being offensive, but they should be given leeway to look the other way when no harm is being done. It's the spirit of the business rules here that should govern the situation, not the letter.

Peace, folks, it's all about peace. Just watch the game and enjoy.

Posted by: TribeFan | June 3, 2008 12:29 PM

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