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.
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.