After enduring so many struggles since moving to D.C.’s RFK Stadium in 2005, the Nationals would seem to finally be where they want to be. A beautiful ballpark, highly touted young phenoms in Harper and pitcher Stephen Strasburg, and a 15-9 start to the 2012 season that’s got them in first place. Owner Ted Lerner has also shown fans he’s willing to spend on players, supplementing the young studs with eight-figure veterans like pitcher Edwin Jackson and outfielder Jayson Werth.
And yet, fans in the Capital yawn. A market that lays claim to being baseball’s second-wealthiest and seventh-largest (that’s as it stands on its own, separate from Baltimore…viewed as a combined market, Baltimore-D.C would rank as the fourth-largest) has not been kicked into gear by an improved team dotted with appealing, high-curiosity players. The Nats’ 23,800 a game through their first 12 dates ranks 21st in baseball.
...Also an issue: Nationals Park sits in a lonely industrial spot off the freeway.“There were big redevelopment plans for the area, but the recession put a lot of that on hold” says Shawn McBride, a Senior VP at Ketchum Sports & Entertainment and a former D.C.-area resident for ten years.
Baseball failure is a tradition in Washington – two versions of the Senators (one became the Minnesota Twins in 1961; their replacements became the Texas Rangers in 1972) consistently flopped on the field and at the gate before leaving for greener pastures. When the city was up for an expansion team in 1991, Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon’s most compelling pitch was: “what is the capital of America without baseball?” The sentiment made sense – all that U.S. history mixing with the national pastime, etc., but the National League turned her down, granting its expansion clubs to Miami and Denver. Yet when MLB was desperate to get the Expos out of Montreal seven years ago, the nation’s capital got another chance. The third time hasn’t been a charm – the Nationals have been consistent attendance laggards whose only real contribution has been to drain fans away from the Baltimore Orioles and providing fun road trips for fans of the Phillies and Mets.
Posted: May 03, 2012 at 03:53 PM | 77 comment(s)
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