Ted Lerner's To Do List
Welcome to RFK Stadium and welcome back to Washington, Mr. Lerner. Thanks for the $450 million; here's hoping you're ready to pump lots more into the Nationals and the District. We're thrilled you're not Danny Boy and we're eager to watch as you hire strong leaders to start digging the Washington franchise out of the hole it has fallen into under the long-distance guidance of Major League Baseball.
Today, you get to take part in the ceremonial groundbreaking for the new stadium in Southeast. But it will take enormous skill and luck to get that stadium open by 2008; more likely, 2009 will be the start of action at the new location. Until then, RFK Stadium is home, and man, do you have your work cut out for you there.
In the spirit of helping out, here's a starter To Do list--readers will post their additions below and together, the list will give you a sense of how much has to be done, but also how much both fans and non-fans who live in this region care about making sure that baseball flourishes here.
In no particular order:
--At last night's game, most food stands were shut down in the sixth inning. Through the stadium, fans grumbled about their inability to get a bite to eat in the final hour and a half of the game. Even before that, lines are unconscionably long, primarily because of the slothful pace of too many of the workers. The difference in service time between RFK and Camden Yards stands is dramatic.
--Amazingly, Aramark, the utterly inept food service provider now holding the contract at RFK, has finally added ice cream to the offerings, but the one ice cream cone stand behind home plate shut down at the end of the 5th inning. For the rest of the night, frustrated fans kept walking up to grab a cone, only to be turned away by surly staffers.
--If you do nothing else but get the games on TV, you will be a major piece of the way toward creating a lasting fan base.
--The Nats' radio and TV broadcasters are vastly better this year than last and the broadcasts are a pleasure to listen to and watch. But the stadium announcer remains an embarrassment, regularly mispronouncing names and missing on-field changes. He's got to go.
--Ok, we understand that the stadium scoreboard is too great an expense to replace for the relatively short sojourn at RFK, so we'll just live with the fact that only those with perfect vision can possibly read the thing. But it wouldn't take much to hire a scoreboard operator who actually kept up with the changes on the field and made certain that the scoreboards reflected the current batter and lineup.
--The dwindling crowds at RFK reflect the team's poor performance this year, the lack of TV coverage, and the standard sophomore slump. But they are also a result of the almost total lack of marketing during the off-season. The Nats' new ads are reasonably clever, but the team has to reach out to new audiences. There's no sign of the Nats in local high schools and colleges--that's an easy and essential market to grab hold of. I still go to D.C. high schools where the kids don't have a clue about Nats baseball. As long as you have all those empty seats, why not paper the house and fill them with kids enjoying their first game? Add some music to the mix--a band performing before or after the ballgame--and make it a party.
--The PA system at the ballpark is somewhat better than last year, but only marginally so. The announcements are still mostly inaudible. Investing in a few loudspeakers wouldn't break the bank and you could probably take them with when you move over to the new park.
--How about piping the radio coverage into the stadium bathrooms and the vending concourses? Other teams do it and it makes fans much more willing to go spend half an inning waiting in a queue to purchase or eliminate liquids.
--The Foggy Bottom Ale brewpub was Aramark's best touch last season; now it's gone. Please replace it with something equally local and creative.
---It took half a season of nagging and lobbying to shame Aramark into offering half-smokes last year. Now they're gone. You grew up in D.C. You know half-smokes. Can we please have them back? (And while you're at it, how about a bunch of other stuff from local eateries?)
--Bowden out. ASAP.
--Ok, it wouldn't look good to bounce Frank Robinson mid-season. But when this season ends, a nice graceful retirement from the dugout would be appreciated by all--and keeping Robinson on the payroll to work on spreading the gospel of baseball to the lost generation of black fans would be a sweet touch.
--Soriano is a joy to watch--that tightly coiled swing, the stunningly athletic pre-steroids ballplayer body, the glorious mix of speed and power. But he has value for this team only for another eight weeks or so; start the rebuilding by trading him as soon as possible, when he's at maximum value for a real contender. He should be worth a couple of really strong prospects for the Nats' future.
--Don't give an inch to Marion Barry, Vincent Orange and the other race-baiting politicians who want only to advance their own careers with divisive rhetoric and appeals to the worst in all of us.
--The city clearly has no intention of maintaining the baseball field at Eastern High School, one block from RFK. Adopt it and offer to maintain it yourself, with zero city role. It's the right thing to do, and it might even win over some neighborhood friends.
--Go to the games and walk the stands. Every night.
That's a first cut at a list from me. Readers, please chime in.
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