Thursday, May 10, 2007

Updating With The President

Fans are suffering through a tough first 6 weeks of the season?-- asked SBF.

“Yeah, I hear you," replied Washington Nationals Team President Stan Kasten. "Thankfully, none of them are suffering like I am. It is a hard time. Even though I have been through it. Even though I remain very confident and committed to how we are doing it. And, have a strong belief this is the quickest way for us to turn this around, its still tough for me. I still don’t sleep after losses. I really should be able to now, after doing this for 30 Years. But, for some reason I really can’t. So, it’s a tough time for all of us, even the ones who firmly believe this is the right way to go.”

No doubt, its also been rough for many Nationals Fans. After 34 Games of the 2007 season, Our Washington Nationals have only won 9 times. Struggling would be an understatement. But, despite those troubles on the field, I wanted to look ahead to the future. A lot of things are happening behind the scenes at RFK Stadium and on South Capitol Street, the site of The New Nationals Park. The Season Ticket Relocation Process for 2008 is coming very soon. Parking at the new ballpark still an issue. As well as, many fan related questions covering this current 2007 season that needed to be answered. So, I approached Mr. Kasten again and he graciously agreed to meet with me, this past Wednesday Morning. His personal assistant arranged for 10AM at RFK Stadium. You bet, I arrived promptly. Mr. Kasten's first comment to me being:" Does a day go by that you (SBF) don't wear a Nationals shirt?" "Well, no--not really," I laughed. He just shook his head from side to side. Having really only a handful of questions, all fan and game experience related--honestly, I only asked for 15 minutes.

As it turned out, we got off on a few tangents and the next thing you know we had chatted for a good 40 minutes. A lot of the time talking about how Mr. Kasten attempts to, and Fans need to, look at The Big Picture as an aide to get through a stressful season. Today, Mr. Kasten will comment on the team's struggles. Tomorrow, in Part Two, The Relocation Process, Premium Seating, Upcoming Team Events with Autograph Sessions, plus Meet & Greets with Players & Coaches. Its a full load of information. As always, whatever I asked, he kindly responded to. But, I want to make something perfectly clear. I did not ask for his time to hammer him all about roster moves, players traded or not. That's not what this session was all about. And anyway, Mr. Kasten would have answered any of those 20 questions. But, in the end, nothing new would come out. I found it more important to concentrate on the long range efforts, getting comments related to "The Plan", the so called moniker now universally associated with the rebuilding of Our Washington Nationals from the bottom up.

(SBF) With the New Stadium coming next season, does it bother you that there is an attendance drop this season?

“First of all, my preference would be for every game to be sold out each and every night. I understand that. But, I also understand that we need to stay focused on building our product right. If we do that, the attendance will follow. The responsibility is ours. The burden is on us. We have a lot of work to get the team on the field better, and the product off the field where we want.”

(SBF )It’s interesting that The Brewers (who just swept Our Washington Nationals) rebuilt their Franchise under a similar model?

“There are plenty of good examples. The one consistent thing you can look at through the History of Baseball--No one has had sustained success without a strong, well developed Minor League Infrastructure. We didn’t have it then (upon taking over The Nationals from MLB). We don’t have it yet. That’s the unfortunate situation we find ourselves in. But, we are making great progress on that front. We've had a great first year. I need another one or so. Or more (chuckling), before we say we have it were we want to be. The Brewers are one excellent example. But, there are many others.”

(SBF) What do you tell fans to help them get through this season?

“We hope the fans continue to appreciate the game for what it is. I am sure most don’t appreciate it on the level that you or I do. If I had 3 Million folks like you, we (The Nationals) would not have ANY ISSUES. But, we don’t. We understand that to attract 3 Million fans, I need to attract more than Hard Core Baseball Fans. I need to attract ethnic groups, seniors and kids, women—The Non Hard Core Fans. That thinking is motivating a lot of the new features into the design of the new ballpark, which really will have much greater appeal for a lot of other reasons, other than the baseball game on the field.”

“This year while we are building, I try to explain how we are going to build this. I try to explain where we began, what the problems were. I try to explain how we are getting through these problems and how confident I am that we are on the right track. That, in fact, this is the fastest way to get there. That’s what surprises people. But, when I explain--Look, if I had taken some of the limited resources we have here (at RFK) this season, and used it for “X” Player, and not use it to improve the stadium, which will last us for 20, 30, 40, 50 Years. And, NOT USE IT to improve Scouting, or Player Development or other Front Office additions here, all of which will last us much, much longer—I think it would have been money poorly spent. It would have set us back.”

"I was just talking to a baseball person this morning. We were reflecting how this season (2007), this off season's Free Agent pursuit is another great example about why Free Agency is your last resort. I think every one concluded, you tell me what your opinion was? (SBF), that the Gil Meche signing (Kansas City Royals—5 Years, $50 Million) was a really bad signing. Everyone concluded the Jason Schmidt signing (Los Angeles Dodgers—3 Years $47 Million) was a great signing (SBF Agrees with both comments). Right now, Meche is doing great. And, Jason Schmidt is out (On the Disabled List). If you do that (spend money on Free Agents) with $1 Million or $2 Million Bucks, you can make those mistakes. But, when you are going that way with $10 Million or $12 Million, you have all of a sudden, changed your season. The risk is SO MUCH HIGHER in Free Agency. (Emphasizing his point) YOU DO IT!! BUT, YOU DO IT FOR THAT ONE PIECE THAT MAKES THE DIFFERENCE!! YOU TAKE THAT GAMBLE. BUT, IF YOU TRY TO BUILD THAT WAY--YOU ARE SUNK!! And, you’ve wasted money you otherwise could have used to build your Franchise.”

“When I explain that to people, I think people understand it in a way, which is different from sitting in a seat and being upset with tonight’s performance. I have to focus on explaining things. I think I have had some success with individuals in getting them to feel apart of the rebuilding process. I think you (SBF) feel apart of the building process, getting to know the guys, and appreciate the little steps we are taking. Those little steps are important to making it all work down the road. The more people I can get to understand that, the better. But, I also understand fans want to see the very best product they can. That’s going to keep our attendance from what it might be for this season. I understand that. I don’t begrudge anyone making his or her own decision and staying away. (Laughing) I hope when they are staying away, they are watching us on TV though. That would be good. It’s better than last year (Nats TV Games), but still far from where I need it to be—in terms of coverage and in terms of overall programming. But, we are making progress too.”

(SBF) But getting back on the subject at hand--If the losses bother you, how about the sniping at you--constantly, from those that do not agree with your way?

“You know I do read. But, in fact, that bothers me less than you expect. I understand that goes with the territory. I say this often publicly. I am not ashamed of it at all. The last time I had to go through this in Atlanta, I had to explain to our owner (Ted Turner) how we need to build this thing. And, he was GREAT ABOUT IT. Just like the owner here (Ted Lerner) is understanding and great about it. But, I explained back then ‘You must understand, for the next little while here, every night on the radio talk shows. [We didn’t have internet back then—chuckling]. Every night on the radio, I am going to be The Village Idiot, until we turn the corner. Get the Franchise were we want it to be.' So, I am in my Village Idiot Phase right here in Washington, DC. It won’t matter to anyone once we turn the corner. We just haven’t got there, yet.”

“I respect everyone’s opinion. I get a lot of emails and phone calls. I try to return all of them. I may miss a couple here and there, but I do eventually get to return all of them. I talk to fans, when I can. I follow up by meeting these people when they are at a game, talking to them, face to face. I am continually pleased at how much better people feel after you sit and talk things through. Because often, it’s just not understanding, as well as, we think. When I have more of a chance to lay things out, it’s always better. So, I try to do just that as often as I can.”

(SBF) There was an online comment from a Fan that was extremely upset with the Aramark lines on Opening Day and wrote a blistering post personally blaming you and the team. Then, apparently upon you personally meeting this fan in his seats—he then wrote a wonderful thank you and appreciated being heard.

“That’s a very common reaction. And very natural human reaction. People want to be heard. No one I think can back that up more than you (SBF—its how we first met, when Mr. Kasten personally dealt with a drunken, well known Washington Politician having a time with me and others in Section 320). I do listen. I do pay attention. If I disagree with you and you haven’t persuaded me to change my mind, you won’t change my mind. But, YOU MIGHT PERSUADE ME. I do change my mind often and I do listen to input of people. Even Writers and Agents have good ideas that can cause me to change my mind (saying that in a snide way), but they are not as important as customers who are ALWAYS CAUSING ME TO RETHINK WHERE I AM ON AN ISSUE.”

(SBF) How do you get people to the ballpark, when the team is struggling?

“Well, we already know, from our advance sales that once school lets out, we are going to have much bigger crowds.” (Really?—SBF) “YES. We have some weekends with some good teams, good draws that are going to be helpful. Early in the winter, we thought (Barry) Bonds would be pursing the Home Run Record at Labor Day. It doesn’t appear that will be the case. Although I am sure many were ready to come out and boo him though (We are both laughing). I don’t know if they still will or not, but it will be a great weekend (when The San Francisco Giants visit RFK). We do have things planned, many things after Labor Day, programs and things like that, leading up to the Final Game at RFK Stadium. Those things will be announced sometime in June.

Can you anticipate making 2 Million in attendance? (SBF)

“I don’t know at this point. But, you know this about me. My Horizon is about much more than this season. I am focusing on much bigger things and much longer term things.”

Unfortunately, many don’t see it that way, correct? (SBF)

“I remind people that once upon a time, I was with a team with four straight years of under A MILLION in attendance (Atlanta Braves). Which, was followed up, instantly, by a decade averaging over 3 Million. So, that is where my head is.”

“I am reasonably philosophical about where we are now and what’s going to come my way because I am in my 'Village Idiot Phase'. I can handle that (criticism). It’s not a problem. Why this is easier for me, because I have been through it, and able to see the Big Picture, I have access to information that you or fans simply do not have. So it’s easier for me to see where things are and where they are heading. So, it’s easier for me to endure the bad times. Even though, I still can’t sleep after a loss."

But, what about those critics?

“What I have discovered in the past few weeks, is that they (critics) have not invented any new insults. There are no new criticisms. Nothing I have not heard before (we are laughing). No routine that hasn’t been run by me before. No gag, as I said, no new insults. So, I take it within the spirit in which it was intended (for fun) and continue to build this Franchise as fast as humanly possible.”

But, its still fun?

(Smiling BROADLY) “ABSOLUTELY. Who’s having more fun than me! This is great. Being able to build a winner, as I said from my first day (with The Nationals)—Building a New Team, In a New Stadium, in The Most Important City in the World is the GREATEST THRILL someone could possible have. I am excited about it. And, I hope all our fans can get caught up in this spirit-Jointly-building this together. I think when we turn the corner you (pointing at SBF) will be proud you were here at the start and lived through it. That will feel better than someone just now trying to go out and buy a ticket package."

(SBF-As I have always stated, the Day Our Washington Nationals actually win The World Series, will be one of THE GREATEST, MOST JOYFUL DAYS, of my lifetime. Undeniably, A Glorious Day!!)

“I will promise you that. It will be,” Mr. Kasten concluded. “There is NOTHING GREATER THAN THAT!!”

Tomorrow, in Part Two, a ton of information: The Relocation Process for New Nationals Park, Parking there as well, Season Ticket Rewards Program (including Free Tickets to other games), Premium Seating, Autograph Sessions with Players and Roundtable discussions--much, much more to come.

PS--Although I will write extensively about this in Part Two, I wanted to inform everyone that during each and every Home Game for 15 minutes, when the Gates Open at RFK Stadium, two or more players from Our Washington Nationals (rotating basis) are stationed at the front of Section 105 and 126 down the right and left field lines to sign autographs for fans. This has been promised for some time and goes into full effect beginning with this weekend series against The Florida Marlins. 5:30PM to 5:45PM, one autograph per fan. But, there is no set schedule WHOM THE PLAYERS WILL BE.


Anonymous said...

Dear SBF,

I feel so fortunate to read your blog, particularly when you get these interviews with Nats officials. Great job!

Like you, I am a faithful believer in the plan. To me it makes perfect sense that a franchise that was neglected and left to rot for 4 years while owned by MLB is one that needs to be rebuilt from the bottom up. It's the only way to sustain any level of excellence that this team might enjoy in the future. Those who are complaining about this season are, in my opinion, very short-sighted and demonstrate a somewhat childlike sense of entitlement to immediate gratification.

I'm glad that we have an ownership group that is approaching the construction of a team in a mature and realistic manner with a sense of long-term success in mind.

I am really looking forward to the second part of your interview with Stan. Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

SBF=Stan's go to man.
A blogger who is a real reporter.
See you Sat evening.

Crash said...

Excellent news all around.

Stan Kasten and Jim Bowden have seen the lean times, and they have a valuable degree of perspective. Yeah, this year may be almost historically bad, but someday when things are great, we'll look back on this year and have a good laugh, I'm sure of it.

JayB said...

Very interesting read.....

My question is, what would Stan say differently if things were truly going poorly? How would we ever know? If it is true we would not ever know, is that a good thing are bad thing?

Anonymous said...

Excellent interview, as always! So often we see sounds bites, one liners, and editorializing that claims to be analysis. No, I don't have anyone in particular in mind, because it seems to be the case throughout the media. (I suspect being the epicenter for politics here inside the beltway may means it come with the territory.) It's a breath of fresh air to get beyond all that and read an interview with incisive questions that allow an interviewee to SPEAK FOR HIMSELF.

Anonymous said...

I am more excited than ever to be a Nats fan because, for once, a Washington DC sports team is focusing on building from within and setting long-term goals. It is very refreshing to watch the Nationals build the franchise the right way. I am proud to call myself a Nationals fan and I cannot wait until we "turn the corner".

Great post today!

VP81955 said...

I like "the plan," but some of us are going to have reservations about it as long as Jim Bowden -- a holdover from the old MLB-owned days, ostensibly as a caretaker --is general manager. Especially since Bowden has no visible track record with building starting pitching. If Kasten had installed his own GM, many of us would have more confidence.

Oh, and would you please tell Stan to have the music people stop playing "Sweet Caroline"? Send her back to Boston where she belongs and let's get something original.

Brenath said...

What Stan needs to do to attract fans is to have an entertaining product-he does not have anything close to that now. Everyone knows he needs to redevelop the Nat's minor league system, what does that have to do with putting an entertaining product on the field? Fans would accept the loses better if the team was at least entertaining.

The Plan so far = boring.

Still hard to believe that he threw in the towel on this season so thoroughly and expects fans, especially the young ones, to ride it out with him.

SenatorNat said...

We shall look back on these days and these interviews with great fondness - SBF and Stan the Man have a chemistry, obviously, and Kasten deserves a lot of credit for appreciating the energy and the SPIRIT which is conveyed through these periodic exchanges.

A few comments: "limited resources;" "money to go into the stadium to last 30-40 years" etc. Well, that translates into Soriano's potential $18 million to keep him is a 360 degree baseball, etc. above the new stadium, and a high-tech scoreboard screen.

I think we are would prefer that these two line items NOT BE LINKED - D.C. sprung for a $650 million stadium, and Bud Selig hand-wrapped the franchise for the Lerners and gave them the brain, experience, and energy of Stan Kasten as a trustee besides!

As to the Village Idiot line, overused now by Kasten, while it is appropriately self-deprecating, and deflects attention from the Lerners and their Landover Mall persona (cheap and tone-deaf), he should recognize that as long as former Mayor Barry and current President Bush are around, the best he can finish in the VI race is third! (And Linda Cropp still lives in the area, so fourth, in all probability...)

Zimmerman thinks that next year the Nats have "$40-50 million" to spring for power hitter; lead-off hitter; and two starters!!

Best in can hope for is another $25 million to current budget: that buys half the loaf, and keeps the current nucleus in tact.

Lerners are on a pay as you go budget (Hoover economics) and they aren't about to front another dime, since they are banking on 3 million fans for the novelty of new stadium, and want to net $20-40 million each year, with no exceptions.

Plus, in 2009, we lose Guzman's contract, putting a Big $4 million back in the kitty - means that we can have Roger Clemins pitch one game in 2009 for Nats!!

Trust in Kasten. All Good.