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Signs of Life at RFK

Even before the Lerners officially take over ownership of the Washington Nationals, even before the announced July 21 "reopening" of RFK Stadium, there are some initial signs of life at the sad old ballpark:

1. The team is playing much better, not a contender by any means, maybe not even a .500 team, but certainly well enough to escape being lumped together with the Pirates, Royals and Marlins as baseball's worst. Credit goes to a revived pitching staff--the bullpen is not nearly as atrocious as it had been through the first five weeks of the season, and maybe I'm being overly optimistic but it appears that Frank Robinson is finally showing a tiny bit of restraint about plugging the truly awful Joey Eischen into games where he can send the Nats' chances plummeting in a matter of one or two pitches. Emergency starter Mike O'Connor might actually be a keeper, and very very emergency starter Shawn Hill might stick around for a couple of weeks anyway. And who knows, someday John Patterson might come back. And Livan Hernandez appears to be back, or at least has gotten past the horrifying first-inning blues that plagued him through the first weeks of the campaign.

2. The promotions and marketing sides of the operation are showing signs of life. The new TV campaign asking fans to come up with their own ideas for instant Nats traditions is a bit lame, as I mentioned in an earlier post, but the spots are at least funny. And now a reader tells me that the Nats are approaching folks who had bought season tickets last year but let them lapse this year: The team is offering such folks vouchers for free tix to any Nats game--and not just upper deck ducats that the team can't give away. No, the ex-season ticket holders are being offered the best seats in the house as enticement to check out this year's edition.

Here's one fan's account of his experience with this new promotion:
I

'm one of the Nats season ticket holders who chose not to renew after an offseason of a worsening team and no change in ownership. I've been to a few games this season and will likely renew next season as the Lerner-Kasten Era begins its rampage through the NL East. But I got a nice letter in the mail this week from the Nats saying, "We noticed you didn't renew, we hope you come back, here are two vouchers for the best available tickets to any upcoming game." A similar letter in March might've gotten me to renew my tickets, but better late than never! For as much as current Nats management has gotten wrong, it was a nice gesture.

And here's what that same fan wrote to me after he took the Nats up on their offer:

They do mean best available -- I went to cash them in today, and they said they'd have given me Diamond Box ($100 seats behind home plate), but only had two seats together and I had a group of three. Even so, two $50 freebie seats did buy a lot of goodwill with me!

3. Actual ice cream, soft serve, from a machine, in a cone. Will wonders never cease. The machines--I've found two of them--are on the field level behind home plate and on the upper deck just slightly up the third base line, near the (you'll pardon the expression) dippin dots.

4. At Saturday's game, they played Chuck Brown's Bustin' Loose--but not in the 7th inning stretch, just before the game. Still, it's progress. Now, about getting rid of the country tunes on the nightly Fans Pick the Song game....

Have you seen any such signs of life? Or evidence of backsliding?

By Marc Fisher |  June 2, 2006; 6:59 AM ET
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Comments

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The lack of putting Eischen into games might be directly related to the fact he's out for the season with a rotator cuff muscle tear.

Posted by: David | June 2, 2006 8:21 AM

I was excited to see the soft-serve machines, because that means that the helmet sundaes can't be too far behind! Here's hoping!

Posted by: dcsportschick | June 2, 2006 8:27 AM

I'm glad the Nats are going after season ticket holder who didn't renew for this season, but what about an opportunity for those of us who DID? Those of us who paid an extra 20% for a WORSE team. I'd love a credit back to my account or free prime seats.

Posted by: nashpaul | June 2, 2006 9:03 AM

To really see signs of life at RFK, stop going to baseball games, and instead go to DC United games. That crowd has life, passion, excitement. No matter how much money the Lerners pour into RFK there will never be as much passion in the stands at a Nationals game as there is at a United game.

Posted by: sec 204 | June 2, 2006 9:18 AM

And think of all the history that futbol has in the US. How cheap games and barnstorming futbol players helped stitch together the US during the Great Depression. Remember going to minor league futbol games as a kid and watching future stars run up and down and up and down and up and down and up and down the pitch, occasionally touching the ball with a foot or forehead? The scoring races between the great futbol players, some scoring as many as 3 goals in a 162 game season. The memories of going out a dribbling the old futbol with pops in the backyard. The sandlot futbol games. The whiff of weiner schnitzel and empanadas on hot summer nights. Ah nothing like the american pastime.

Posted by: Chris | June 2, 2006 9:33 AM

As I expected, within days of the new ownership announcement, season ticket holders received an e-mail -followed by a mailed invite- for a special event honoring season ticket holders on June 11 after the game right smack down on the field. It's a nice, glossy invite with actual printed tickets! We've been pretty much ignored up to this point, but it sure is nice to know they're thinking of ways to hold onto us. I'm impressed; finally.

Posted by: Craig | June 2, 2006 9:38 AM

Mr. Fischer,

Life exists at RFK in DC United, who have won four championships in ten years, plus international competitions that put the team on the map in a way that is not available in baseball. If you would ever like to come to a game to experience this phenomenon, I would be happy to buy you a ticket.

Posted by: Bob | June 2, 2006 9:42 AM

Agreed with all the comments about life existing at RFK in the form of DC United. It's a shame that people totally overlook what is the best performing team in DC. I, too, would be happy to buy Marc a ticket on the Screaming Eagles side of the stands to see what an excited, passionate crowd spurred on by the beautiful game can do for life at RFK.

Posted by: Mike | June 2, 2006 9:50 AM

Yeah, Baseball could learn a thing or two from United, as far as RFK goes. For instance, the problems you'll have with the security, who will (and have) harrassed decent fans of both teams. DC United has this for only 20 or so games, but Baseball has to deal with it for 81 games.
On the second point: Mark, The offer stands from several people now, come see life at RFK, we'll bring you to a tail gate, ply you with beer and have you jumping in the seats by the end. Think of the story it'll make, another side of DC you don't really get to see, that brings together people from all parts of the area in a positive way, much like baseball, but by its sheer nature and affordability and international quality, in a stronger way.

Posted by: Will | June 2, 2006 10:12 AM

Please add my name to those that have mentioned DC United. I've recently moved to Minnesota, and while I enjoyed going to Nats games quite a lot (I loved being able to go to a game on the metro and not having to drive to Baltimore), there was nothing like going to RFK for DC United and US National Team games. I really miss sitting behind El Norte!!!!!

Posted by: Kristian | June 2, 2006 10:35 AM

Marc, don't you read your own paper? Eischen went on the 60-day DL earlier in the week, with surgery scheduled for next week. He's done for the season, possibly forever.

I've found the employees at the ballpark to be a bit friendlier lately. I hadn't run across too many surly ones before anyway, but it seems like they're making more of an effort now.

Posted by: Cosmo | June 2, 2006 10:50 AM

The Nats and United are two different games! A Nats game is sitting in the sun, nursing a beer, letting baseball strategy roll around inside your head. A United game is screaming, stomping, and beating a drum. Both have their season.

As a World Cup novice, can anyone suggest a game that I should watch? US vs. Italy is a lock, but Ghana or the Czech Republic? I'd rather go to a Nats game.

Posted by: NatsUnited | June 2, 2006 10:57 AM

Maybe the Lerners should try what the United do and squeeze all their fans in the lower bowl. Then they can say the "sell out" the stadium.

Btw, I have now seen hot dog venders in the stands (even in that vast uncharted United territory, the upper deck) at the last two games I've been to.

Posted by: Chris | June 2, 2006 11:00 AM

As someone who is directionally impaired, near what section numbers are the field level behind home plate and on the upper deck just slightly up the third base line?

If you see a sad man wandering RFK muttering "Where be the imported beer?", that be me. I swear they move the taps every game, I can never find it twice in a row. It's a mirage, I tells you!

Posted by: NatsUnited | June 2, 2006 11:10 AM

This article was about baseball, not soccer. It's obvious that the lack of popularity of soccer in this country has made it's fans insecure about their sport, hence the defensive blabbering comments here. There are as many Nats fans in the stands for 81 games (often 1.5X as many) as there are at a United game. The "Signs of Life at RFK" was meant for BASEBALL games. There was no hint of intent to insult United. Get a clue.

One new thing not mentioned in the post was that nice fresh green paint around the stadium with newly painted section numbers. It does the stadium a world of good.

Posted by: Daedalus | June 2, 2006 11:15 AM

Soft serve is a huge improvement. I never quite got the whole "dippin dots" thing anyway. Now they need to have enough ice cream stations to keep waiting time down to a minimum.

The San Diego Padres, for years, have kept their fans waiting a half an hour for soft serve. They spent $500 million of public money on a new stadium and they couldn't seem to spend any of that in reducing the wait time for a cone.

Posted by: Ice Cream Lover | June 2, 2006 11:16 AM

DC has a soccer team? Who knew? Who cares?

Posted by: bingo | June 2, 2006 11:20 AM

Is there a list anywhere of where the good food and drink at the Nats ballpark is? Too bad you can't print one out and take it to the game - would save a lot of hunting.

Posted by: NatsUnited | June 2, 2006 11:21 AM

Here's something the Washington Post can contribute. Provide two hours worth of pre-game chatter on their radio statio. There's nothing to listen to driving to the stadium or while you're tailgating! You guys have an AM and an FM, pick one and blab away!

Does anyone know if there will be tailgating at the new stadium?

Posted by: NatsUnited | June 2, 2006 11:26 AM

Chris:

RFK opens the upper deck for United games when attendance warrants it. In fact, they're doing it on Saturday. Yes, I know soccer is a niche sport in the US, but your comments smack of ignorance.

By the way, do you think the Nationals will ever draw 56,000+ to a game like United has before?

Marc asked for signs of life at RFK. There is more at RFK than baseball, and some of us wanted to point that out. No harm done.

Posted by: Mike | June 2, 2006 11:49 AM

All I'll say is that baseball fans can bash United and soccer all they want, but maybe you should realize that if it wasn't for DC United, RFK would have been torn down years ago. Hence, there would be no Nationals, and this article would never have been written in the first place.

Personally, it seems that the improvements made to the stadium will help both clubs. Now if only there was a way to improve those power-hungry, wide-bodied "help" known as "security."

Posted by: Greg | June 2, 2006 11:50 AM

BASEBALL IS THE WORST SPORT EVER!!!!!! Who wants to go watch a game of players that use drugs in order for them to perform. Not only does it not compare to soccer, no one cares about the Nationals. The reason why so many Americans do not like soccer is becuase they are to ignorant and arrogant and lack the mind skills to understand the beatiful game. One last point, DC United averages more fans per game then the Nats, Wizards, and Caps

Posted by: Todd | June 2, 2006 11:58 AM

"All I'll say is that baseball fans can bash United and soccer all they want, but maybe you should realize that if it wasn't for DC United, RFK would have been torn down years ago. Hence, there would be no Nationals, and this article would never have been written in the first place."

No big loss...

Posted by: hondo | June 2, 2006 11:59 AM

I think it's worth saying that, to some extent, every sport has some merit and adds to the greatness of our region. Think about it--we've got pro sports teams for every major sport now. One would think that instead of bickering and trying to tear each other down that we would all be appreciative of this fortuitous position and be supportive of the respective sports clubs in the area.

That said, I must also note that I believe soccer is picking up serious popularity momentum in America, with several MLS clubs (including DC United) in possession of/soon to be in possession of soccer-dedicated pitches (yes, I said pitches). I think this is a great step in the right direction. Soccer is the one sport that the ENTIRE globe plays. If America claims to be so great, such a leader of the world, then why does she not embrace the sport that all the inhabitants of the world plays? One would think that Americans, being who they are historically and culturally, would try and prove our greatness in every way possible. The last frontier, then, is soccer. Go Team USA! Go DC United! And go Nats!

Posted by: MichaelB | June 2, 2006 12:13 PM

This is not about bashing Baseball, or it shouldn't be. Baseball and soccer are two different games. I'm glad baseball is here and I still go to way more United games than Baseball. I think the beef is this idea that RFK was this empty hole in the ground before Baseball came. Even if you don't like soccer, or never intend to go, it's there, it draws on par with the capitals, and it's important to a lot of people in this city. So people get thier fethars riled when some baseball fans act as if United should just go away and play in the soccerplex.

Posted by: Will | June 2, 2006 12:13 PM

To join the list; I love United games and anyone who wants to have a good time should go to one.

Nats games and fans are a joke, however. Im a baseball fan and grew up going to Fenway. Fans there have a blast, follow the game actively, and there is excitement. Nats fans would rather chat with each other about work. The Nats are never going to have fans like DC United because folks here are not knowledgeable baseball fans.

Posted by: Dave | June 2, 2006 12:37 PM

The Nats website has a not-too-detailed list of concession stands under the Stadium A-Z guide. If you're looking for "good" food, you need to define your standard for that. I can tell you about good beer though. The old Foggy Bottom stand behind home plate (sec. 215) has Pilsner Urquell. Closer to first base, probably around sec. 212, you can find Red Hook. Way down the other direction, in the 220s, is a Blue Moon stand. On the 300 level, Red Hook is near the stadium store, at 317; Guinness is at the other end of that cluster of stands. Somewhere around 312 is Dos Equis and Heineken. (I think they have a spot in the 200 level too, but I don't remember where.) I don't spend enough time in the upper level to know what's available there.

Posted by: Cosmo | June 2, 2006 1:35 PM

Nats and work! It's the perfect DC promotion! The Lerners should sponsor Bring Your Laptop To The Game Day and provide free wireless access. All fans get a National Post-It. Aramark serves tepid coffee and stale bagels.

Posted by: NatsUnited | June 2, 2006 2:29 PM

I too enjoy going to all united games and some Nat's games. The excitement at DCU games is great but I can also appreciate sitting at RFK on a Sunday afternoon with a hotdog and a beer and relaxing.

Comparing Nat's fans to fans at Fenway is ridiculous; we have only had baseball back for a year, give everyone time to figure out when to talk and when to watch. Plus remember, the Red Sox are just a less successful version of the Yankees...both of whom I hate.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 2, 2006 3:44 PM

Bob, Mike, Will--
Offer accepted. Contact me at marcfisher@washpost.com and I'll be happy to make the arrangements. Be forewarned: I have been thus far impervious to efforts to persuade me that soccer is much of a spectator sport, but I promise to be open to whatever you're selling.

To all:
Sorry about the Eischen glitch. To be frank, I wrote this item before his injury and didn't remember to change the reference to Eischen after his career-ending injury.

Posted by: Fisher | June 2, 2006 3:48 PM

Just to add a friendly comment, I think the concourse concession stand workers in the upper deck of RFK have been doing a pretty good this season even though it's clear that they're terribly understaffed in their station areas. Last weekend (Sunday's game) there was only one lady running an entire fresh lemonade stand and the line during the 4th inning must have been 50 people deep. She was cranking out those drinks as fast as she could, but an extra person there, even just to take the money and make change, would have made things move so much faster.

Posted by: Mets Fan Living in VA | June 2, 2006 4:13 PM

I like both soccer and baseball (and football and hockey as well) and I don't understand why you people have to cry and moan at each other so much. The hard-core soccer fans who act as though soccer should REPLACE the other sports are (1) unrealistic and (2) just shooting themselves in the foot. Telling people that they're too stupid to appreciate a sport, or that they must stop watching football and watch soccer instead, is NOT the way to win fans for the game. (Yeh, call someone stupid, great way to get him to agree with you!) I think soccer and baseball are cut from the same cloth to a degree in that you appreciate both of them more when you watch a team day in and day out. I appreciate baseball a whole lot more than ever before now that I have a team in DC to watch on TV every night (or to go see in person).

Regarding RFK....some people have ridiculed the fan base. Unfortunately, that's always going to be a problem in Washington. The Capitals and the Bullets face the same issue insofar as the most desirable seats have been snapped up by the corporate types. It's well-known that many companies bought some of the prime seats at RFK solely for the purpose of getting priority in the new ballpark, and that's unfortunate; it would be nice if the team could track whose seats actually get used and then give THOSE people the top priority when the time comes. Anyway, this city is a workaholic town. Consider how many people carry cell phones, blackberries, PDAs, etc., even during a weekend round of golf. It's sad that they don't understand where the office ends and LIFE begins.

One thing that I do not understand is that the majority of advertising I have seen for the Nationals has been on TV and the radio DURING NATIONALS GAMES. That doesn't make sense--the people watching or listening to the game usually aren't the people to whom you need to market the team! (Plus, all the people who feel they have to stick with Comcast cable instead of wising up and getting DirecTV won't see the commercials.) The commercials need to run during other programming on local stations, although I can't pretend to know what would be the best way to go about deciding when and where to air them.

Posted by: Rich | June 2, 2006 4:48 PM

Mike,

Perhaps I am ignorant, perhaps I am alone in thinking it is a silly activity to watch a bunch of short skinny guys in short pants run aimlessly around a grassy field. But my point is valid, soccer does not have any cultural relevency in the United States and never has. Despite the earnest wishes of a fringe group of enthusiasts, many of whom seem to have drifted into this part of the country and have internet access, soccer is something on sports pages that people turn past to get to the baseball/basketball/football/auto racing/ hockey/lacrosse scores. Soccer gets lower TV ratings than hockey, if they kept track of such things I'm willing to bet that test patterns and emergency preparedness warnings would also get higher ratings. Lets face it, the only advertisers in the US who buy ads for soccer are merely hoping that people will see the ads as they flip through to something they want to watch.

What kind of sport classifies a pass backwards as an aggressive attacking move? Only soccer. I'm willing to bet that there are more own goals in lacrosse than are scored on purpose in soccer.

What kind of sport rewards teams for ties? Only soccer--and now hockey, but that "reform" corresponds to hockeys' corruption and dissolution so should not be seen as an endorsement of such a corrosive practice. I am always amuses by the inevitible nil-nil ties that happen in the World Cup towards the end of the first round when both teams realize they have everything to lose and nothing to gain by competing.

What kind of sport treats scoring a single goal like the cure for cancer? Only soccer. Sixty minutes of singing drumming and drinking in expectation of the split second where a goal is scored--usually by accident--sounds like a blissful spectatorial experience to me...

Posted by: Chris | June 2, 2006 6:05 PM

You think United games are fun now, just wait until a soccer specific stadium is built. Ok, don't hold your breath, but whoa that'll be a blast. I'll be first in line for season tickets.

Baseball = CURE for insomnia.

I have no idea why so many like that game as after 3 or for foul balls or three or four looks to pick off the runner at first, I'm thinking about all the crap I have to do elsewhere. Exactly what I want in a sport --something that makes me think of work. Yikes.

Here's to many years of United v Nats rivalry. One in which slowly but surely, United will take fans away from sleepiness and to a big party.

Posted by: delantero | June 2, 2006 7:06 PM

Chris, soccer does have a rich history in the US. Check out http://www.sover.net/~spectrum/overview.html

Posted by: Paul | June 2, 2006 8:23 PM

Wake me up when somebody actually scores a goal in a soccer game. It's a sport mostly known in America for a cute girl taking her shirt off in celebration. Curling may actually be more exciting.

Posted by: Chris the first | June 2, 2006 10:18 PM

Why is it that a PERFECT GAME in baseball is 1-0. Yet, when it happens in soccer some how it's no longer PERFECT, but a travesty. Here's why: they're entirely different sports.

The point is there's a world outside of baseball, and the original headline to this story was a thoughtless snub of people proud of their soccer team. Any sports fan can understand defending their team when they're snubbed, right? That's what being a fan is all about.

Posted by: Brendan | June 2, 2006 10:38 PM

Chris,

60 minutes of waiting for that split second where a goal is scored is better to me than waiting 3 hours for that split second where a home run is hit. But that's just me.

Posted by: Mike | June 3, 2006 3:12 AM

I'm a fan of both teams and enjoy going to both games. I dasagree that there is more life now at Nats games, though. I recently went to all 3 O's-Nats games in which 1/2 the stadium was empty. I was expecting there to be a good atmosphere with the baltimore fans making the trip, but as usual it was a relaxing 3hr time spent talking to friends.

As for all the soccer haters, you are basically just very ignorant people.

Posted by: Max | June 3, 2006 4:02 PM

I'm not all that avid a soccer fan (though I was glad to see Maryland win the NCAA men's title last fall), but I have no beef with United, which from all accounts is a professionally run organization. They are a nice part of the metro D.C. sports scene (the Mystics, too) and should be appreciated, not derided.

"Nats games and fans are a joke, however. Im a baseball fan and grew up going to Fenway. Fans there have a blast, follow the game actively, and there is excitement. Nats fans would rather chat with each other about work. The Nats are never going to have fans like DC United because folks here are not knowledgeable baseball fans."

Oh boy, another we're-so-smart-and-sophisticated Red Sox fan. I'd like to see what kind of crowds Fenway would have if your product was similar to the Nationals or Senators, and had been for years. (In fact, look at attendance records in the early and mid-sixties, when the Bosox and expansion Senators were regularly in the second division, and there's not much difference.) Take your smug attitude back to New England, and carry "Sweet Caroline" with you.

Posted by: Vincent | June 3, 2006 10:34 PM

I've been to a number of DC United games and the one thing that puzzles me is how Marc manages to smuggle in food to RFK. Unless there are different rules for the Nats and United, or different personnel, I can't tell you how many times a small bottle of water has been confiscated from me or a member of my party, let alone smuggling in a whole ham (with knife) that Marc mentioned in his last chat. Also, I don't know if the concessions are the same at both games, but the food at United games remains atrocious this season. You'd think with all the Hispanic fans there would be some concession (pun intended) to them with empanadas etc.

Posted by: Soccer Mom | June 5, 2006 10:20 AM

I liken scoring a soccer goal with making a touchdown in football. How many NFL games have you seen on TV where one team marches down the field, punts the ball, and the other team does the same?

Posted by: NatsUnited | June 5, 2006 11:05 AM

Category: Worldly Customs

Answer: Soccer, Socialism, and the Metric System.

Question: What are three things Europe has but Americans don't need, Alex.

Posted by: Alex Trebek | June 6, 2006 11:18 AM

To all the soccer advocates, yes, soccer could , I suppose, be a slightly entertaining game for five-year-olds to play once a week. I, in fact, did participate in a soccer league at that age. Maybe even the occasional game among older people can be entertaining for a day. However, to pay to watch a game so lacking in excitement, or even to watch it on TV, seems not to suit American culture. Perhaps it is because the field is too big and there are too many players to keep track of that soccer is simply not a popular spectator sport in the US. Although I am not a fan of football or basketball, I could name several teams and players of each sport, but for soccer, I only know of the DC team's name. Soccer, although perhaps enjoyable to a handful of fans, is not an American sport, and never will be.

Soccer is also not the only worldwide sport. Consider the World Baseball Classic. Although it wasn't nearly so popular in America as the regular season games, most Latin countires, supposedly obsessed with soccer, poured emotion into the WBC. Fans in such countries as the Dominican, where baseball is the best way off the island, cheered madly for their teams to prove their countries' value. Even if anti-American Europeans eliminate baseball from the olympics, it is still emerging more and more as a universally loved sport.

Despite so many of you who deny it, RFK is surely coming alive. When the Nats return to Washington, attendance will probably be way up. Kids are out of school, the team is playing almost as they did last summer, and, soon, the Yankees are coming to town.

Mike: The Nationals have never and will never draw 56,000 to a game because they only sell 45,000 tickets. A crowd of 45,000 is a sell-out, and the new ballpark will only be smaller.

Posted by: Zonka | June 6, 2006 1:16 PM

Who the hell is Chuck Brown?

Posted by: Anonymous | June 6, 2006 4:55 PM

I'm reading the comments on the board. It seems that noone is interested in the product on the field. Baseball fans are more preoccupied with hotdogs and beer than the game itself. True fans would take delight in watching their team play in a dungeon. Baseball fans have to have a pool, good food, nice bathrooms, etc just to enjoy themselves. That likely is due to baseball being such a boring game. And that is why it is not the nation's pasttime anymore. Football, from high school to the pros, has the hearts of most sports fans in America. A popular college football player, such as Michael Vick when he was at VaTech, is more popular as a college player than almost all MLB players.

Posted by: Baseball Skeptic | June 8, 2006 11:34 AM

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