Saturday, April 21, 2007

Frustration

(My stupid computer froze and ate an almost finished post. You'd think with my infrequent blogging, the blogger gods would make it easy for me to get a post up. But noooooooooo...)

Last night the Rocket family spent much of the evening taking in the ballgame on the tube, taking advantage of the fact that Dad didn't have to get up at an ungodly hour for work. Little Rockette conked out pretty early, and we finally put her in bed with her pjs on around 10:30, sometime after a few extra innings.

Like Wednesday night, I had to decide how long to stay up and see if the Nats could save Cordero's bacon. After all, with the baby fast asleep, I needed to take advantage of my window to get some sleep of my own.

At the beginning of the 13th, I decided that this would be my last inning. Well next thing I knew, I was waking up on the couch around 11:45 pm with Ray Knight's ugly mug staring at me. I missed Snelling's heroics, as the Nats bailed out the Chief again.

There are a lot of things you could probably say about this one. Shawn Hill - yay. Nats hitters - yay (mostly). Chad Cordero - boo. Manny double-switching Cordero into the eighth spot - huh? (Even if there was a good reason, it sure would have been nice to have someone other than the pitcher up there with men on base.)

But the thing I'll remember is how Friday was the first time I've seen Zimmerman outwardly frustrated, at least this year. Maybe I haven't watched as many games as usual, but he really has seemed fairly unflappable about his slow start. (Even the state-run media has picked up on it.)

So it came as a surprise to me when after Zimm struck out looking in the third inning on an admittedly borderline call, he turned to the ump and jawed at him a little. Then, walking back to the dugout, he appeared to say to himself, "That was a f#$%ing ball. F#$%ing horse$#*&!!" Then, after Joe Borchard hauled in a well struck ball in right field in the top of the eighth, you could see Zimm scream "G*ddammit!" as he rounded first.

(Then there's Cordero, a normally level-headed kid, who screamed "F#$% me!" to himself after Ross's game tying homer in the ninth.)

Is the frustration catching up with Zimm (and Chief)? It'd be totally understandable, but these are guys who are say the right things and are normally pretty level-headed.

I'm just grateful everyone else is doing a pretty good job of picking up their slack.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Nationals win a game! The Nationals win a game!



Who would have imagined? The Nats two-hit the Braves and beat John Smoltz behind Jason Bergmann. (And of course, the Chief gives us all a heart attack nailing down the save in the ninth.)

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It's good to know the Nats can still make me smile.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Growing Pains

Time to dust off the ol' blog and post some thoughts that have been rattling around my head the last 24 hours.

In the wake of Monday's Opening Day drubbing at the hands of the Marlins, a prominent storyline emerging from the media, the Natosphere and the message boards was the horrible fan experience at RFK on Monday. The complaints ranged from the truly disturbing (Raw hotdogs?!) to the comical (WHERE THE F%$# WAS THE KETTLE CORN?????????).

For some reason, the focus on the fan experience and not the debacle of a baseball game really bothered me. I expressed that in the comments at Capital Punishment and at YudaChat, which more or less caused people to vigorously defend their complaints.

Well, I've thought about why these complaints bother me so much, and I have a few theories.

First, let me say right off that some of the more egregious complaints, such as raw hotdogs or a 90 minute traffic jam in the parking lot, are fully understandable. Whoever is responsible for such issues -- whether it be the Nationals, Aramark or DCSEC -- need to be held accountable.

But I believe the overwhelming number of complaints and dominance of this storyline across several forms of media -- newspapers, blogs, message boards (and not just the notoriously nitpicky BPG), and radio shows -- speak to a larger issue. As the third year of baseball in DC begins, I still believe that Washington is an immature (or "rusty," if you prefer) baseball town. This cuts two ways, against both the fans at large and the franchise.

The Fans: Admittedly, I'm going on hearsay, but apparently after Monday's game, nearly every caller on Sportstalk 980 complained about concession lines and poor service at RFK. And the comment sections of St. Barry's National Journal were full of the same.

Not that some of the complaints aren't fully understandable, but not being able to get a hotdog is what bothered fans about Monday? Really? They didn't notice Patterson's stinktastic performance on the mound? They didn't notice the tape measure dingers by the Marlins that landed well into the upper deck? They didn't notice two of our starting players limping off the field with injuries?

Maybe I'm the strange one, but when I go to a ballgame, I'm most concerned by what happens on the field. (EDIT: I've ranted about this before. The first time was the third to last paragraph of my Opening Night 2005 post.)

Again, if a lot of what people say happened actually occurred, then that's bad and it should be rectified. (Even though RFK is a nearly 50 year old facility with a single freight elevator and antiquated infrastructure.) But I'd hope there'd be more outcry over the fact that the Nats stunk up the field Monday (and Tuesday too).

Perhaps the fans have already come to terms with the very real possibility of the Nationals being historically bad in 2007. (I haven't.) But I'm not so sure that's it. The service and the fan experience at RFK has been a common complaint of Nationals fans, even in the midst of the joy of the 2005 season.

Look, the Nationals fanbase is still relatively young. What I'm worried about it is Washington developing a "Chavez Ravine" -- arrive in the third, leave in the seventh inning, Blackberry in one hand, premium cocktail in the other -- attitude about baseball.

Maybe I'm expecting too much out of today's baseball fan, but the rampant complaints about service when the state of the team is so alarming don't give me a lot confidence about the future of our fanbase.

The Franchise: Stanley, Stanley, Stanley. You swept into town last summer preaching the wonders of the fan experience, touting your brisket, knockwurst, bockwurst, bratwurst, sausages, chili, barbecue, crabcakes and more. You've preached the wonders of "Teh Plan!" (which most of us have bought) and slashed payroll 41 percent. You've promised us the future is brighter, and asked us to "Pledge Our Allegiance!" You've told us how awesome the fan experience is going to be once the new stadium opens.

A majority of fans seem to be willing to fall in line with "Teh Plan" and believe things are going to get better. But although I personally care most about the baseball, it's awfully hard for a lot of fans to feel confident about the future when the present experience seems so crappy. Although some things may be the fault of Aramark or DCSEC, their performance reflects directly on the Nationals. The fans need something to help them feel good about the future, other than just a wink and a smile. The little things matter.

***
I realize it may seem like I'm trying to have it both ways by ranting against both the fans and the franchise. I truly do wish that Nationals fans could be less focused on the amenities of the ballpark and more concerned with the product on the field.

However, perception does matter, and the lack of the attention to detail from the Nationals could be a symptom of taking the fans goodwill and trust for granted. That's equally as disturbing.

Either way, it's clear to me the Nationals and the fans each have some growing to do before Washington becomes a fully thriving baseball town.

Though perhaps I'll revisit this post in three or four years when Little Rockette -- sitting in the nosebleed seats at Geico Park dressed up in a Esmailyn Gonzalez t-shirt and pink cap -- demands some F%$#ING KETTLE CORN, and Dad has to walk halfway around the park to find it.