The Town, Painted Red
The Lerner family today shells out the big pile, the $450 million it takes to join the billionaire's club known as Major League Baseball. Even if you do own a bunch of shopping malls, that's a sizable check. And given the number of baseball franchise owners who lose money on their wonderful toys, there's no guarantee that there'll ever be a financial return on this investment.
Of course most owners don't get into it for the money. There's the power, and the influence, and the fame, and the glory--and the power. Though, if we are to believe the Lerners and their consigliere, Nationals President Stan Kasten, the power isn't remotely enough to get the District government to do anything to push along the new stadium that's supposed to be rising out of the ruins of the old gay nightclub industrial zone in Southeast.
(I know the owners and the city love to argue, and I don't like to spoil anyone's fun, but take a look for yourself and tell me if there isn't actual, real, live, ongoing construction happening on the new ballpark--cool webcam right here.)
If this weekend's big show at RFK Stadium was any indication of the Lerners' ability to get things done, we should all sleep easier at night. The new owners of the team actually spent money (now there's a novel concept) on improving service, offering new products and making fans happier--and on marketing and promotion--and whaddaya know, people actually showed up at the ballpark. Attendance bumped up by a good 10,000 per game over the tepid counts that the Nats had been able to muster thus far in their sophomore season.
More important, the product was noticeably improved. From the red carpet that greeted fans at the main gate to the startling and very cool sight of Nats players manning the turnstiles at each entrance, shaking hands and chatting with fans--Chad Cordero, who was quite obviously having a ball just hanging out with the paying customers, told us that he prefers the Nats' red D.C. home uniforms to the traditional whites because "This one fits me better"--this relaunch of RFK was something special.
But even beyond this grand reopening weekend, the Lerners have improved things at the sagging old park. The new terrace food area offers a very good catfish platter from AR's Catering, a manhandler of a brisket sandwich from Capitol Q, and strong if pricey margaritas ($9). The hot dogs and sausages from the Aramark stands around the park were indeed improved, as promised, but some of the other promises went unfulfilled--at least nobody we talked to could find the half smokes, the potato knishes or the brown mustard. Where are they hiding?
Beyond the food, fans found some very pleasant surprises, such as the KidsZone out on the 300 level in left field, where you can get very fancy photo baseball cards of your kids made up for free. Kids can also play various video contraptions there and get their pitching speed measured by radar.
Another pleasant surprise: The Nats found their bats, scoring seven runs in each of the weekend's three victories over the Cubs. Who knows what trades in the coming days may send the team plummeting into utter awfulness for the rest of this season? But even if the team loses 75 percent of its remaining games, the prospects for the future are much improved right now.
Now, about that brown mustard....
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