With a few games under my belt now in the Washington Nationals at home in RFK stadium, now in their second year there, it seems a good time to hack out my thoughts on things at the former home of the Washington Redskins, now home of the Nationals and the D.C. United soccer franchise.
Ticket vendors were changed from season 1 to season 2. Last year I believe the vendor was Ticket Master, while this year the vendor is Tickets.com -- have I noticed any real difference? No. Both still get a ridiculous fee from each ticket. A fee that is mistakenly (allowed, but really misnamed) called a convenience charge. For example, as I complained in a recent article, for $12.50 tickets that I recently purchased, the convenience fee was $4.00 per ticket. At approximately 33% per ticket for the fee, I'd say it's pretty darned inconvenient. I'd much prefer to see the fees capped at $2.00 per, or at least some much more reasonable fee. Either way, there's been no noticable difference in quality between Tickets.com and whoever the ticket vendor was last year, at least not for me.
I understand that some season ticket holders may have other opinions as last season (or was it this one?) tickets that were supposed to have been sent in the mail never quite got to customers, or didn't get to them in a timely manner. I hope that problem was resolved for those that were affected by it, but since I tend to do the print at home tickets (which they also add a ridiculous fee of $3.50 for, which is pretty stupid considering it saves the ticket vendor mailing costs, printing costs, etc.), or do Will-Call (which lets me save the stupid fees) I wasn't really impacted by that potential problem.
Food and Drink vending was an area of concern last season when vending stands had horrible lines that never seemed to move. Quite literally if you went to a line to buy a hot dog you'd miss 3 innings of the game (if not more) while waiting in the lines, many times to find out that food items were sold out at that stand -- items like hot dogs, nachos, popcorn, etc., all staples of a ballpark, and apparent none to be found in the place. This season the lines seem to move a bit better, and the stands seem to be staying stocked better, though at the cost of the items they sell, I can't say too much since I haven't tried that hard to buy much there.
I will say that there's an inadequate distribution of some items within the vending booths. Too many booths have the same boring menu, hot dogs, peanuts, beer, soda and maybe pretzels. You see the same thing for 4 or 5 booths running. What you don't see is any of the vendors in that string of 4 or 5 booths (if not more) running is anyone selling Nachos, or anyone selling Burgers, or Fries, or Pizza, etc. You can find booths for those things if you are willing to walk approximately half way around the upper deck, or the concourse areas, but what you typically find is that there's 1 stand selling any of those items. As an example, theres one stand in the entire concourse that sells Pizza. The same stand happens to be the one and only stand that sells the Nachos. Hella lame. Spread the darned stands out, and make sure there's more variety with less walking between stands.
Vendor sales in the stands was another area that was pretty poor last season, and seems only marginally improved this season. First, in both seasons the dominant choice of items for vendors roaming the stands is beer. Approximately 8 different beers. Bud, Bud Light, Coors Light, Miller Genuine Draft, Miller Lite and a few others I think. All things considered though, too many choices, or at least too many choices given the lack of attention to sending out vendors with other items such as say popcorn, or hot dogs, sodas, bottled waters or lemonade and such. I understand that the beer can be a high profit item for them, especially once a silly fan gets one or two down and then starts to lose control over their spending and allows themselves to buy more for themselves and/or their friends, but really the beer needs to be reigned in, and more food choices and non-alcoholic beverage choices need to be available to customers in the stands.
Customers shouldn't have to leave their seats and the action just to buy bottled waters, Pepsi's (oh, how I despise that product, and wish that the choice was Coca Cola, but oh well), or hot dogs. While this season seemed to find a few such vendors enterring the stands, it was certainly not what it could and should be. If the team owners and the vending contractor (I believe it's Aramark, but I'm not sure about that) want more business, they have to change the balance and get things away from primarily being beer sales in the stands to being sales of other items. Heck, for my money, I'd rather see the beer hounds have to get up and take a walk to buy their beer rather than letting them sit in the stands and get served until they are near incapacitated.
And finally, the game play itself. I miss last season when a few pitchers were having career years, and there were miracle wins with 7th inning comebacks. The team jumped out of the gates and went on a tear that unfortunately couldn't be sustained quite long enough to get things out of all of the other teams reach. I'm a realist, and I knew at the time they were due for a fall, though I hoped they'd hang on and perhaps make the playoffs. They came close, but couldn't quite finish it out. Such is life in the bigs.
This season things have been more realistic. They're having "issues" in the pitching rotation and really have only one solid starter currently -- John Patterson. A kid that seemed like a flash in the pan last season, but really has become a dominant pitcher. He tosses strikes, and is hard to hit. I hope he stays healthy for many years to come. I also hope he gets some help in that rotation. Livan Hernandez is tossing up gopher balls too frequently now, and while Armas at times has been ok, he's also put himself in a jam too many times, and been more lucky than good so far.
On the other hand, some credit must be -- even if grudgingly -- given to the current general manager Jim, I think I'll have another drink with myself and the gal friend here, Bowden for bringing Alfonso Soriano to town. Further credit must be given to Frank Robinson for getting him to actually play in the outfield, where's he much less the defensive liability, and yet where he's still available in the line up to do his damage on offense. And finally credit must be given to Soriano for accepting the change that he never really wanted and doing it with a smile on his face. He's a very likable kid, one that I hope decides to stay in D.C. for years to come. I don't know if that will happen, but his offense is undeniable, as he's hit the ball out of RFK a few times, despite claims that it's a pitchers park and "no one can hit home runs here" that have been made by others. If he can be convinced by the eventual new owners of the team to stay and take their money to keep playing left field, than the Nationals have the makings of a pretty darned good hitting team. If not, they could find their offense struggling again, as it did last season, and others in the line-up could find the quality of the pitches they see go down hill quite fast.
I guess I have one more final thought here, inspired by some of the writing directly above -- ownership. I wish like all (insert whatever word seems appropriate here) that Bud Selig and friends would pick the owner for the team already, and I hope against hope that whomever it is immediately announces that the budget for the team is at least $20 million per year than it is currently. Perhaps $20 - $40 million per year (in the $80 - $100 million range). Not that I want the money wasted, just that I want to see money available for keeping the teams current valuable players, and for bringing in other players that could help it be much more competitive. I expect new ownership will eventually replace Frank Robinson, and likely replace temporary GM Jim Bowden. They'll probably also replace Tony Tavares, the temporary "president" of the team. Not that those folks haven't done an admirable job helming a team that was abandoned by it's previous owner, and it's previous fans (who really had a right to abandon them once it was obvious they'd be leaving Montreal), but once a transition period ends, I expect we'll see permanent replacements across the board as new ownership comes in and chooses for themselves who they want in those roles. Again though, I hope whomever the new owners are, they are willing to demonstrate a serious commitment to putting a competitive team on the field, and hope they also demonstrate they respect the fans in the area and want the experience at Nationals games to be envy of the league.