WASHINGTON - One of the neat things about this city is that sports really aren't all that important. Oh sure, Washingtonians love their teams - especially the Redskins - but what drives the news and the talk here is the industry.
In D.C. it's all about the government.
Sports seem to be nothing more than a pleasant diversion unlike in Philadelphia where it is everything. In Philadelphia the athletes just don't play for the local teams, they represent us.
It's definitely unique in that way.
D.C. is unique, too. Even though Nationals Park is barely a month old, the Nats rate 17th in the Majors in attendance and 13th in the National League. Usually it takes a year for teams with a new ballpark to see the business at the turnstiles wane, but it's happening right away here in The District.
But the power structure is different here than it is in Philly. The jocks don't have the Q-rating - the folks with the power do.
Nevertheless, I'm sure there are plenty of reasons why the attendance has been so low here. For one, the Nationals aren't very good. At 20-27 they are in last place in the NL East. Plus, aside from Ryan Zimmerman, Dmitri Young and Nick Johnson, the fans don't have too many players to rally behind.
Additionally, this is a presidential election year. That's like the biggest thing they do in these parts, so people are focused on it all day long. Couple that with the fact that Congress (and school) is still in session and our representatives are busy trying to make laws and stuff and it's easy to understand why the last-place Nats kind of fall between the cracks.
Yet before he went to work trying to override a presidential veto of his farm bill and dive into his work as the chairman of the senate budget committee, Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) took the time to hang around with one of his constituents this afternoon.
Chris Coste, the Phillies catcher from Fargo, N.D., spent time with Conrad in his Hart Building office, talked some baseball, signed copies of his autobiography and then had lunch in the U.S. Capitol building. There, Coste and some of the hangers-on from the Phillies enjoyed the senate dining room's famous bean soup and also chatted with Democratic Pennsylvania senator Robert P. Casey Jr.
According to reports, a good time was had by all. Plus, the Phillies' group was quite impressed with Sen. Conrad's baseball knowledge.
Meanwhile, Coste found himself in the lineup against Nats' lefty Matt Chico tonight. Actually, Coste has been in the lineup more than "regular" catcher Carlos Ruiz lately. One reason for that could be that Coste hit .438 (7-for-16) during the last homestand.
However, the Phillies are 17-11 in games started by Ruiz this season.
WASHINGTON - Washington, D.C. is an industry town. And in most industry towns, the matters of business are all encompassing. Generally, the folks who work in The District are on the clock 24/7 even when Congress is not in session and the Congressmen and their staffs are back in their home districts.
Of course, this year is different. The Industry here in Washington is diving into its quadrennial pageant complete with costumes and hype and everything else that goes with the thing called a presidential election. As a result they force the rest of us to follow along, too, which is good. Who doesn't want to understand and participate in the nation's sovereignty?
Because Congress is busy at the work of making laws and whatnot just a short little drive up Capitol Street from the brand, spanking new Nationals Park, and because the candidates for president are positioning themselves just so, big crowds have been few and far between for Nats' games this season. Last night the announced attendance was a little more than 25,000, which is below the season average of 28,983. That average is 17th in Major League Baseball (better than Baltimore) and is higher than only three teams in the National League (Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Florida).
If you build it and bilk the taxpaying citizens of The District, they will come?
Nope, not likely.
Anyway, one of the more noticeable traits of the new taxpayer-funded ballpark in Washington is the open space. In the left-field portico, the corridors and even on the streets circling the park, the plazas are wide and open. That's nice. It also mirrors Pierre Charles L'Enfant's and Andrew Ellicott's vision of The District with its wide avenues, open spaces and parklands, and low buildings that don't suffocate the city and its landmarks.
The view of the city from left field with the monuments along The Mall with the Capitol as an anchor is as good as it gets and is a stark reminder of exactly where you are.
Yet a good indicator at how encompassing the industry is in D.C. was pretty evident within seconds of walking into the new Nationals Park. For instance, in the spacious visitors' clubhouse one of the half dozen or so high-definition televisions hanging from the ceiling was tuned to Chris Matthews' "Hard Ball."
Nope, that's not a show about baseball.
More telling, sadly (or not depending upon one's perspective, I guess), was that the largest advertisement visible on the outfield fence was one from Exxon/Mobil. There are a couple of D.C. axioms that explain a lot. One explains the only ways in which a political career can be destroyed, such as "being caught in bed with a live boy or a dead girl."
The other established truth is that in order to find the basis of something, one must "follow the money."
For now there is no corporate naming rights slapped on Nationals Park, which is refreshing and, frankly, awesome. But is it just a matter of time until the Nats games are played at Exxon/Mobil Field?
That would suck.
Anyway, my knee-jerk reaction o the park was that it was "flavorless." I was wrong. It's quintessentially D.C. based on some of the reasons listed above. Plus, it's really easy to get to and drive away from - 295 is right there. It's kind of like the South Philadelphia sports complex in that regard, only there is no Schuylkill Expressway to fight with and there is more to do in Washington before and after the games and when the team is in the off-season for that matter.
However, Nats Park cribbed some of the ideas from Citizens Bank Park with the local fooderies selling the concessions. Ben's Chili Bowl, Five Guys Burgers and Hard Times Café have stands, which is like Tony Luke's and Chickie's & Pete's at CBP.
In a nutshell, Nationals Park is a good place to watch a game. It's also just another place to work. Better yet, it's easier to get to than Philly.
Otherwise, the Phillies haven't hit as many home runs in D.C. Actually, the Phillies haven't done a whole lot of hitting, period, lately. Yesterday's loss to extend the season-worst losing skid to three games was exacerbated by the team's inability to hit with runners in scoring position when they went 0-for-12.
Silver lining time: the team might not be all that bad if it loses three games for the first time on May 19.
Anyway, for more on Nationals Park, check out the primer in The Washington Post. They have a lot of good stuff there.
WASHINGTON - We'll dive into the new, somewhat flavorless (knee-jerk reaction) Nationals Park shortly, but in the meantime, we're not at RFK anymore.
Nope, not at all.
In the meantime, here's the camera-phone view from my seat in the press box:
Meanwhile, as far as Phillies news goes, pitching coach Rich Dubee said starting pitcher Kyle Kendrick would be in the bullpen for tonight's game against the Nationals. However, Kendrick would pitch in relief only "if it's an emergency."
The reason Kendrick will take in the game from the bullpen is because he tossed just 12 pitches in his rain-shortened outing against the Blue Jays at the Bank yesterday. So rather than have Kendrick throw just 12 pitches in 10 days, the Phillies are going to make use of the right-hander as best as they can.
"In all likelihood, he'll pitch Thursday," Dubee said.
Thursday's outing would be one day ahead Kendrick's normal turn, which means the Phillies should have some well-rested starting pitchers heading into the road series with the Nats and Astros.
Perhaps that means the Phillies are in no hurry to get a pitcher like Kris Benson healthy and ready in the near future. Benson, a free-agent that went to spring training with the Phillies, is working his way back from an arm injury that caused him to miss all of last season. During his spring work with the Phillies, Benson had some shoulder tendonitis and a groin strain.
"He's going to have to show some improvement if he's going to pitch in the big leagues," assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "He has to pitch like a big leaguer. Just because he's down there throwing doesn't mean we're going to bring him up."
Benson can opt out of his deal with the Phillies on June 1 if he is not pitching in the Majors.
A lot has changed with the Nationals since the last time we were in D.C. For starters, the ball club has an owner – that was evident as soon as one walked through the doors. For starters, the old stadium has been cleaned up a bit and the concessions have taken a major and noticeable upgrade. More importantly, those changes have taken affect in the press dining area as well.
Gone is the slipshod and minimalist manner in which MLB ran the Nats. Now we have a pasta station to go along with the regular fare – including staples like veggie burgers for non-meat eaters like me. On Tuesday night I had a delightful penne with grilled broccoli, green peppers and onions with a marinara with a side of green beans and carrots. Good stuff and definitely worth the $10.
Obviously, it was much better than what the Phillies offer at their ballpark.
Maybe because I spend so much time in the antiseptic and characterless Citizens Bank Park, I have developed a soft spot for the old-timey ballparks in Washington, New York, and Boston. Actually, even Baltimore can be considered older at this point especially since it set the standard and has been copied to death since it opened in 1992.
Now there’s nothing wrong with the ballpark in Philadelphia, and it’s definitely nicer than the Vet. Anything would have been better than the Vet. But the park hasn’t developed a personality yet… actually, watching a game at Citizens Bank Park feels like sitting in an airport terminal.
I’m sure I’d have a different opinion of the ballpark if I were a fan sitting in the stands, but I have never had the pleasure of sitting back and watching a game there yet. Some day, perhaps, but most people don’t want to spend a day off going to the office to be a spectator.
Anyway, regular readers of this little site know what I think about the city of Washington, D.C. and of all the time I spent in the city – including time growing up there in the 1970s – nothing compares to the atmosphere I felt in the city when we were there exactly one year ago.
I don’t think I have to explain why.
Walking around on the streets of the Downtown and Foggy Bottom neighborhoods one could feel an entire city unified in its anger. Everyone was on the same page and felt the same way about what was going on along the Gulf of Mexico. Better yet, the outside world even penetrated the insular world of baseball and I even got a knowing and approving nod from one player when I told him I took my iPod on my run that morning and played Kanye West as I dashed down the 1600 block of Pennsylvania Avenue.
On another note, here's a touristy tip for those going to D.C.: the monuments are open 24-hours a day and there is nothing more chilling than walking along the Vietnam Memorial and up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at night. Looking out over the city with Abe Lincoln and imaging Martin Luther King Jr. standing in that spot during the March on Washington on Aug. 28, 1963 is mind scrambling.