New Nats Uniforms: Hold The Flagwaving
The Washington Nationals have more than their share of problems--soft attendance, the worst TV ratings in all of baseball, and a miserable paucity of talent on the field.
Their uniforms were not in the top 20 among their woes. But it's new uniforms that the team unveiled today, and, well, the new duds are, um, duds.
Not all of them: The new away uniforms are just fine--not as attractive or classy as the ones they replace, but fine.
Nationals outfielder Lastings Milledge, with model at right, sports the new road jersery at ESPN Zone restaurant in Washington D.C. (Dominic Bracco II -- TWP)
They even sport a nice traditional touch, a script "Washington" stretched across the jersey front, complete with a underlining of red that harkens back to uniforms from the sport's golden era.
The other bit of good news is that the standard home uniform will remain unchanged. But the alternate home jerseys are a big step in the wrong direction. The less offensive of the two--this bright red number with a curly W and white piping--is perfectly fine, but it's just not as distinctive as the very similar jersey with the "D.C." logo that it replaces.
The second alternate home jersey is like something that would have emerged from the design studio of Up With People! if they'd hired the staff of the Independence Day parade.
Models with the new Nationals home jerseys. (J. Scott Applewhite -- AP)
The "D.C." logo that dominates the jersey front is a caricature of conservative 1970s patriotic graphic design, a painfully glaring jumble of swirling red and white stripes under seven stars (Is there some hidden meaning to the number of stars--is this the launch of a seven-year plan to build toward mediocrity? Is seven the number of new starting players the team needs to have a prayer of playing .500 ball? Is seven the number of fans who will be in attendance by next September if the team doesn't acquire some actual major league players?)
Flag imagery certainly fits with a tourist's view of Washington, but it says nothing to hometown fans other than that the Nationals don't get this region. You don't see the Skins, Wizards or Caps waving the flag anymore than do teams in other cities, and the Nats shouldn't fall into that trap either. The old Bullets and Caps were deep into the red, white and blue years ago, and a fat lot of good it did them. You'll notice that they've left that graphics legacy far behind them--and they're doing far better these days.
The new uniforms smack of change for change's sake--perhaps just to sell more paraphernalia. But to sell more stuff, the team will need more fans to come on out to the ballpark next year, and that means improving the performance on the field.
The good news is that the buzz in baseball is that the Lerner family has gotten serious about spreading some money around and acquiring a top-shelf free agent or two in the coming weeks. That's not going to be easy--even if the Nationals come up with the cash, it's likely to be a hard sell to get one of the top players on the market to agree to come to a team that's just at the beginning of a ground-up (re?)building project.
But that--and not new unis--is where the energy and effort of the team's bosses needs to be. The Nationals have lots of work to do, but they enjoy a stadium that has won excellent reviews from most fans, a ballpark that turned out to be much easier to get to than many had anticipated, an economy that should reward entertainment offerings that are priced at bargain levels (as baseball should be and as the Nats' decision to reduce ticket prices will produce), and a town that rewards success on the field with support at the gate.
There's not a whole lot the Nationals can do about the fact that the rival Baltimore Orioles control their TV coverage. Don't expect much in the way of programming about the Nats on Baltimore-centric MASN. But the Nats can and must get out into the community to build interest in, knowledge of and emotional ties to baseball and the home team. Fiddling around with the uniforms and making them hokier won't help.
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