Thursday, April 10, 2008

Signs Of Life--In The Stands

The crowd was alive with the sounds of baseball. Yes--"Let's Go Nats" was heard in EARNEST. From the 8th inning on tonight a vocal gathering of 25,459 was into this game--even when Our Team was down. A pleasant sight to witness. Not since the recent days of RFK Stadium's baseball gatherings--have these noises been heard. Fans were on their feet, whooping it up--cheering on Our Washington Nationals. Even in Section 218--Club Level--The Corporate Folks were ACTUALLY GETTING INTO THE GAME. They were following The African Queen's Lead. A sea change of events over the past two games played at New Nationals Park. Real Baseball Fans had finally arrived on South Capitol Street. Nothing could make us prouder.

And when Nick Johnson lofted an opposite field drive to deep left center--carried by the wind--you just had the feeling a miracle was in the mitts. Down 4-2 in the bottom of the 9th with a runner on second base--the entire crowd rose in unison. The noise increasing exponentially. Without a doubt--everyone believing this stroked baseball was going over the wall for a game tying two run homer. Then, at the very last moment--The Florida Marlins' Josh Willingham leaped--put his glove over the fence and deflected the baseball back on the field--followed immediately by a collective sigh. No--No Home Run--but the ball was still in play. And Lastings Milledge standing on second base already--better get on his horse. Waved on by the entire crowd--Our Number 44 wheeled around third--gliding toward home for run number three. Nick Johnson now standing on second. The Crowd roaring its approval. What seemed like a sure loss--just moments before--was now a potential win. And when Austin Kearns was plunked in the chest by a Kevin Gregg fastball putting runners on 1st and 2nd with one out--those rambunctious fans voiced their approval.

At the very least--Our Washington Nationals were going to tie this game. No one amongst The Nats Faithful did not believe The Florida Marlins were ripe for the taking. As the stomping and cheering continued--up stepped Paul LoDuca. A vocal critic himself of the play of DC's Team over the past week of games. Having lost six straight games to this very moment--Our Number 16 had stated it's time for Our Team to take command of their own destiny. No excuses he's proclaimed--step up to the plate and deliver. Let's Play Ball.

Then--with the game on the line--Paulie took ball one--then fell behind--two quick strikes in the count. The Marlins Closer--Kevin Gregg was obviously struggling. Already--Their Pitching Coach Mark Wiley had visited the mound. The veteran LoDuca fully understood the job at hand. At the very least--move the runners up. Ronnie Belliard was waiting in the wings. Now--with everyone in the stands on their feet--cheering on the moment--Gregg let go of pitch number four in this decisive at-bat, a change up that caught Our Number 16 off guard. Not expecting the off speed stuff--LoDuca swung weakly and grounded the ball to Dan Uggla at second base. Uggla pivoting quickly to second base and firing a strike to Hanley Ramirez coming across the bag to retire Kearns. Hanley taking his time to throw a strike to Wes Helms at first base to, not only kill Our Washington Nationals Rally--but end this game--unexpectedly. Belliard slamming his bat down in disgust in the on-deck circle.

Dropped heads, silence and disappointment followed among the faithful. Just when you thought Washington was going to end their losing streak in style--this game finished with a recorded 7th straight loss. A 4-3 heartbreaker that left the vocal crowd stunned. Speechless because this ballgame should never have reached this climax in the first place--thanks to some poor work from Our Bullpen. Yes, The Crowd was wonderful tonight--but the ending was not. More on everything else in the game notes and highlights.

But I am telling you--if Our Washington Nationals had pulled this one out--those on hand would have gone nuts!! Nuts I am telling you. We need more crowds like that at New Nationals Park. A Sleeping Giant Awoke tonight--Our Fans. Can they keep it up? This evening was fun on South Capitol Street for--not only what happened on the field--but in the stands. People cared and voiced their support. Despite tonight's loss--there were signs of life--in the crowd. Hopefully soon--on the field too. But unquestionably--more fun is beginning to unfurl on the sidelines. We love that.

Game Notes & Highlights.

Odalis Perez pitched a fairly nice ballgame tonight. The Marlins began to get to him in the 5th--with a couple nicely stroked hits--but no damage. Then in the 6th--Hanley Ramirez (who must hit the baseball as hard as anyone in the game) hammered a double over Milledge's head in center and scored on a Jeremy Hermida single to center to tie this ballgame up at one apiece. And when Nats Killer Mike Jacobs followed with a single to right--moving Hermida to third base--Our Manager Manny Acta had seen enough. Perez--having struck out six Florida Batters during this affair--was relieved. Only to see Mr. Rubber Arm--Saul Rivera allow Hermida to score the go ahead run when Jorge Cantu drilled Saul's fastball down the left field line into the corner for a clean double.

A tally that set the stage for the final three innings of play. Luis Ayala would enter in the 8th and allow The Marlins a third run. Cantu again with the RBI Single. Then, Big Jon Rauch trotted on and allowed a lead off single to--yes--Hanley Ramirez again. A base hit that soon became the game winning 4th run--when Willingham doubled the speedy Ramirez home.

Our Bullpen tonight a major disappointment. All three of Manny's choices having off nights. Not something anyone would expect from the usually reliable relief corp. Our Washington Nationals need "The Chief" back into the game. Chad Cordero's presence resets Our Relief Corp back to normal. A situation currently out of whack with pitchers competing in different roles.

In the top of the 5th inning--Jorge Cantu was standing on second base with nobody out after a leadoff single. Florida's Cody Ross was next up. Facing Odalis Perez--The Marlins' Centerfielder stroked a sharply hit grounder to Cristian Guzman's right side. Reacting quickly--"The Guz" backhanded the baseball--leaning to his right, turned and fired to Ronnie Belliard at second base--who pivoted nicely to retire Cody Ross at first for a beautifully turned twin killing--and The Defensive Play of This Game.

Speaking of Belliard--"The Ballplayer" is on a roll. A slicing home run tonight off Florida's Mark Hendrickson just inside the left field foul pole for the early 1-0 Washington lead in the third inning. Our Number 10 batting .304 with two doubles, one homer and 5 RBI over his last six games. At Bats--that also find Lastings Milledge hitting safely in 8 straight games--.354 average.

In the bottom of the 8th inning--Our Manager Manny Acta sent Johnny Estrada to the plate to pinch hit for Luis Ayala. LoDuca was standing on second base thanks to a gift double. Florida's centerfielder Ross and rightfielder Hermida had not communicated on a routine fly ball into the gap. The baseball landing between them for the mental error double. A mistake that now found Our New Number 23 looking to take advantage. Which he did--by protecting the plate with a two strike count against Renyel Pinto. Pinto's changeup fooled Johnny--but not enough to keep him from getting his bat on the baseball. A clean single to left--scoring Paulie with run number two of the evening for Washington. And--a very nice piece of hitting by Johnny Estrada.

But Sohna and I could not stop laughing at Estrada's uniform. He's a short, very stocky guy and wears the bulkiness uniform pants since Dmitri Young wore those two times oversized Homestead Grays Replica pants last season. Along with his amazing sock choices tonight--Johnny Estrada had the fashion statement going. Every fielder for Our Washington Nationals wore long knee high red socks--as a team effort to pull together. Not only did Estrada wear knee high red socks--but he pulled them up to show the red stirrups--a la the 1970's style. Then--under the stirrups wore those pre--woven white socks with RED STIRRUPS. So--Johnny Estrada stepped to the plate tonight with Double Stirrups. We could not stop laughing about it. His fashion statement so bad--it was brilliant. He was the talk of Section 218 during his time in the game. This was great stuff--that you just had to appreciate for its humor. Everyone around us was chuckling about it. "GQ" Johnny is his now given name.

LoDuca does not seem to have an arm. Tonight--Ramirez easily stole second base. Our Number 16's throw well off the bag and not on a line. Not good. Jesus Flores may not call the best of games, nor handle the ball well behind the plate--but he's seem such a better offensive threat. Our Number 3's potential so much greater--why not just give him the chance?

The Attendance really was good tonight. The Stands were pretty filled throughout the park. And as stated previously--these were BASEBALL FANS--not just those that came to be seen. That's also a good sign.

And Sohna gives HUGE CREDIT to Five Guys Burgers. She reports they have their act together. Enough employees to move their lines quickly and efficently. Walking from Club Level--Section 218 to Five Guys at Section 240 (Same level)--The African Queen walked there, ordered, paid for, picked up her food and returned--all within a half inning. That's good service my friend. Something we would love to see throughout New Nationals Park.

On the other hand--heading outside The Club Level to pick up a Helmet Sundae behind Section 222--the only plastic team souvenir available was The Boston Red Sox. Now--I know "The Noise Boys" would appreciate receiving that one any day. But, once again--no Curly "W" Helmets. When I inquired about Washington Red Helmets--the lady behind the counter looked at me like I had said something in an unintelligible foreign language. Deciding to purchase the Sundae anyway--when the concession worker gave me the soft ice cream in the helmet--without toppings--I asked: "Can I please get a topping on the Sundae?" The response--"You are really making me work for you?" As I fired back: "Yeah, I am buying the product. I am the PAYING CUSTOMER. I would like to receive all that comes with it--not just want little you want to provide." She gave me the topping--eventually--not happy about what I said. I didn't care. If you are going to pay for ANY ITEM--you better get what's promised--not just what an uncaring employee wants to give you--just to get you out of their sight. No--I am not going to accept that treatment. Anytime--Anywhere.

Finally--As Sohna and I entered New Nationals Park from The Centerfield Gate--we ran into Dewayne Herndon, Co-Founder of Noah's Pretzels. Dewayne was offering samples of his Curly "W" Pretzels in cut up pieces--looking for new customers of his product. Many may not know--but $1 from The Curly "W" Pretzel and other Noah Pretzels goes toward Autism Awareness. Mr. Herndon's son--Noah has autism. His business is in honor of his beloved Noah. It's a nice story.

Tonight's InGame Photo--(AP) Nick Wass
All other photos--Nats320--All rights reserved.


Unknown said...

I came up "Indians" in the Helmet Sundae Lottery.

What was irritating about purchasing the sundae behind section 310 or so is the very inefficient way that stand is set up. There are about six stations, four of which seem to be dedicated to pizza and other concession items, with only the right two lines dedicated to ice cream. When I went to purchase a sundae in the sixth inning, the line for ice cream was long while NO ONE was in the pizza lines. After waiting a couple of minutes and realizing that the ice cream line was moving nowhere fast, I walked over and asked the otherwise-unoccupied pizza-sellers if I could buy an ice cream from them. At first, they tried to laugh me off by saying "they" would get mad at at them for "helping," but soon enough common sense prevailed.

Oh, one other note. Is it wrong for me to think that ushers shouldn't be the ringleaders in trying to get The Wave started,particularly while the Nats are batting? Someone needs to politely let the ushers in 405 know that's bad form.

Anonymous said...

I had an aisle seat on the right side of Section 113 last night and was sorely disappointed. Despite Stan's comments about sightlines, the HD scoreboard, etc. I certainly didn't get much bang for my buck.

Firstly, I missed about 1/3 of the pitches. People were constantly walking up and down the aisle during play, and most of them were not vendors (who did a decent job of staying out of the way). My usher made no attempt to stop them whatsoever.

The park NEEDS a strict policy of not letting patrons back to their seats except for breaks between innings. There is NOTHING wrong with the standing areas next to each section (I watched an entire game from one of these sections the other day), especially if only for a few outs. I am not buying a 50 dollar seat again, at least until this policy is instituted.

Secondly, I think the scoreboards at RFK were superior. Sounds crazy, but... There is no way to see who is due up for the opposition (even between innings). This can be solved by leaving both lineups on the massive scoreboard, as is done in Baltimore. They can also just put it on the ribbons between innings like they did at RFK. Also, the Ribbon Scoreboard design is terrible. It is impossible to read the gold on red info on the top, which denotes what each metric is. And the metrics are silly. Whereas at RFK they displayed AB, H, HR, and AVG, at Nationals Park it is AVG, HR, 2b, 3b, SLG and OBP. These stats are irrelevant!

Lastly, it is impossible to see the score between innings. It isnt shown anywhere. Every single videoboard becomes ads. No out of town scoreboard. No score. No inning. No lineups. NOTHING. Takes you out of the game.

THis has been long, but I am interested as to your thoughts.

At Verizon Center, even when they do advertising, the ribbons at each end keep all the metrics displayed, and the jumbotron includes a small strip which includes Score, Time remaining, and period.

An Briosca Mor said...

Watching on TV last night, I indeed saw many signs of life in the portions of the crowd that are most visible during the broadcast. Those fans in the Presidential seats who didn't get the memo to show up dressed as empty Barcalounger chairs were apparently getting lots of bars on their cell phones and great WiFi, because they never put their personal electronic devices down for the entire length of the game. Those fat cats aren't into the game at all, and probably the only way you'd ever get them into the game would be to remove the screen so that they'd be subject to random beaning from hard-hit foul balls. I know it's not the Lerners' fault that the stadium was designed the way it is, but they really need to do something to change the impression viewers get from seeing those mostly empty sections populated only with a few random rich poseurs. I know it would never be possible to open that section up to real fans, but they could at least lower the prices or do whatever it takes to keep those seats filled with bored social-climbers. If the section is filled, the individuals and their behavior tend to fade into the background on the TV picture, but if there are only a few yahoos in it their antics go front and center thanks to the beautiful blue backdrop of empty seats.

Also, there is an outfield or right field down-the-line section that shows up in every TV closeup of the pitcher that is absolutely empty. It's a sea of blue seats, and the impression it gives is that there's no one there at the game. They need to figure out how to get some fannies into those seats on a regular basis.

As for your helmet sundae experience, SBF, up in the Gallery Level they at least ask "What toppings do you want?", to which I always reply "What do you have?", at which point they go totally blank on me. Would you consider that an improvement over the customer service you're getting? If so, maybe you should ask that those servers get moved down to the Club Level!

Anonymous said...

I had a similar ice cream experience to yours on Wednesday night, but at the Gifford's Ice Cream stand on the first base side. The line was not that long, but moving extremely slow. When I got to the front, I asked for a single dip cone. I watched my server stand around for a minute and then pick up a plastic cup. I said, "hey I asked for a cone." He said, "we don't serve single dips in cones." When I pointed to the menu board which clearly said they did he snipply anwered, "well the board is wrong." So at that point I said I'd go for the double dip in a cone. And, you will not believe this, he said, "we are out of cones, someone is going to get some more, but I don't know when they will get here." This was the 6th inning! I just walked away digusted. That would be like a hot dog stand saying, "we are out of buns, but would you like your hot dog on a plate?" I have experienced the same "I could care less" employee attitudes cluelessness at other concession stands. Five Guys is great though!!

We were assured when they switched to Centerplate that things would be better than at RFK. I realize people are still learning their jobs and I am willing to cut some slack about speed, but there is absolutely no excuse for employee snotty attitude problems or them not having a clue about what is on their menu in the new park. Kasten needs to get on Centerplate's case!!

paul said...

How much is Miller paying for their invisible Miller Lite sign? And after hearing rumors of a clock, I was able to tell the time. . . .

I am sure last night's crowd was relatively excited compared to earlier in the week, but I've been hoping for 30+ actually there in the seats actually watching. Won't happen again for a while, I guess.

I am sure the LoDuca/Estrada experiment will be done earlier than our brass intended.

Anonymous said...

Went to our first game in the Partial Season Plan B package last night. SBF has a picture of the right field seats posted today. Cool to see that. Our seats in 231 were okay, but we did not feel they were as good as our seats in RFK in Section 407 last three years. But we are paying about 90% more for them. I envy you folks in the Infield Gallery!

To An Briosca Mor's point about the empty RF stands behind the pitcher: We looked down from our Row E seats and saw that the first four rows of our section are empty. You can see that in SBF's photo. Similarly the sections to our left -- 229, 227 and 225 -- are also mostly empty. These are all $25/$27/$29/$33 price structure Mezzanine Level seats. Yet, the team is determined to save those seats for Full Season purchases only, and they haven't sold them yet. So they sit empty. Which is not surprising -- The Seats Aren't That Good!

Surprisingly, all of us in sold-out Row E dutifully sat shoulder to shoulder for the entire game and did not dare to move into the empty spots. I can't see doing this next year -- better to find someone selling his tickets from a Full Season package and getting better seats that committing to my own 20 Game Plan for worse seats!

That being said, I enjoyed the game last night and it felt good to have baseball weather. The team played pretty well. Got to see a home run and the game was close in the end.

I chose to buy a Five Guys burger in Greenbelt at 6:00 last night. When I saw the line for Five Guys at the Park at 6:50, I was glad I had bought ahead of time. The lines at other concession stands looked pretty short. The park seems to run a little better at 24,000 than 40,000. But Five Guys and Ben's Chili Bowl are just extremely good and justifiably popular. Thankfully there are lots of other good food choices at Nats Park.

Unknown said...

Another scoreboard nitpick (and keep in mind that I have 20/20 vision):

During the Tool's game-ending at-bat, I looked for his batting average on the scoreboard, and as others have noted, BA is not shown on the HD, only on the smaller wrap-around boards. When I located the Tool's stats, I noticed that not only BA was listed but also, presumably, on-base and slugging percentages. I say "presumably" because the size of the column headers for what those stats were were so small that I couldn't make out what was what from 409. It might be helpful if the Nats could make that board a bit clearer.

Anonymous said...

The comments on the lax service are spot-on. It's ridiculously bad in many, many places. The people behind the registers are often extremely slow. They can't remember your order and you have to repeat it several times, as in "two Nats dogs, a water and a beer." Response: "You want a Nats dog?" "Two Nats dogs, a water and a beer." "OK. Two Nats dogs. Will that be all?" And so on. Then when your order is finally in you have to remind them to actually get the food for you or they will just go on to the next customer (after staring vacantly in various directions for a few minutes).

Also, as has been pointed out elsewhere, the fact that they routinely have things on the menu that are not actually available is insane. "I'll have a lemonade." Response: "We don't serve lemonade here, that's false advertising." Then, laughter.

It's not funny people.

SenatorNat said...

The comments today are very constructive and correct: between the huge HDTV and the ribbon scoreboards there is too much color and not enough cohesive information displayed in a meaningful easy to digest way. RFK was simpler and gave better info actually, incredible as that may seem.

Lopez and Kearns are busts. We need to have them on the bench as defensive replacements only. Harris and Mackowiav should go: we should bring up Justin Maxwell and the starters should be Pena-Milledge-Dukes (Maxwell).

I am hopeful that LoDuca is playing himself back into shape - he did not get a full Spring Training. I suspect Estrada will be a bust, too. And, while I support giving Flores more everyday playing to hone his skills, he is the only .500 hitter on the team, correct? Zimmerman off to another very slow start...Johnson's comeback incredible (knock on wood); and Milledge looks like a good thing for us in center - first centerfield for the Nationals!

Attendance for first four games averaging 27k - imagine that should hold for the year, giving the team 2.2 million, or slightly above the Soriano year 2006 at RFK. No stars on the field, as I have said, hurts attendance. The food is the "star" is would seem, thus far.

I like the the fairness of the park, and the interesting angles - seems like it is not overly tricked-up, just interesting...

Team may lose this homestand, now facing three Hall of Famers and a team in Atlanta due to break out of its own hitting slump and three game slide...

Everyone looks way too uptight in the dugout and on the field. Need to loosen up, and enjoy.

Fans need to take the same cue, and revel in the fact that "there are no real Superlawyer fans in Washington!" What did we real fans expect? They are like churchgoers who go twice a year. My suggestion is that all the food that must be going uneaten at the President's Club go to the nearby shelters every evening - seriously, what a treat it would be to see the homeless dining on scallops and prime rib left uneaten by those billing at $550. per hour!

Trust in Free Parking. All Good.

Anonymous said...

I was up in the 400 level and the food service at the couple of places I went to were fine. I have the same scoreboard notes as everyone else so I'll skip those except to say I really like that the AVG/OBP/SLG stats are provided (which demonstrated Kearns's nice OBP).

We too noticed Estrada's getup, although I'd like to point out that all of the fielders had socks showing EXCEPT Lopez. I was impressed with the stadium though.

Anonymous said...

I want to make clear that I am not opposed to having more data than before. OPS and SLG are fine, so long as they are done in a clear fashion (You can't see the descriptors) and are in ADDITION to the basics, such as ABs and Hits. And I am willing to sacrifice 3Bs, because that is really unimportant.

The issue is that you should, from any seat in the stadium, be able to ALWAYS find out what inning it is, what the score is, who is up, and who is pitching, how fast their last pitch was, and their pitch count with balls and strikes. I cannot think of a seat at RFK (aside from maybe some of those in the 300s behind home plate with the massive overhang) where you couldn't do all this. Nationals Park doesn't come close if you are in the Red Porch, the Beerpen, or any of the 200s in Right Field.

It would be nice to also be able to see from any seat what the player has done in his previous at bats (now relegated to the HD board only), and to use the CenterField Restaurant "ticker" scoreboard to display something other than cheesy slogans about Baseball in DC. That seems like a great place for pitch count, or info on who is warming in the bullpen.

SBF, your thoughts? Do they have anything in the pipeline?

Anonymous said...

I went Wed night, and I agree with the scoreboard complaints.

I have another related complaint: the speed gun display only displayed the speed of about half the pitches (which also include half of the warmup pitches).

(I totally agree that it's really ridiculous that they don't show the lineup of the team that's in the field -- so you can't tell who's coming up next, or even who the defensive substitution was).

An Briosca Mor said...

"We too noticed Estrada's getup, although I'd like to point out that all of the fielders had socks showing EXCEPT Lopez."

On TV, it looked like Guzman was wearing the long pants last night. But maybe that was just because of the crappy stretch-standard-def-TV-into-fake-HD trick MASN tried to pull on us home viewers.

Unknown said...

OK, I know that harping on the very oddball pricing structure inside the stadium is beating a horse that's long passed merely dead, but I just came across a specific example while looking for tickets for a specific game this summer that baffles the mind.

A front-row seat in the 300s -- or more specifically, the second-row seat in the 300s even with first base for an attractive Saturday night summer game that would have long ago been snagged in many other stadiums -- is $3 less expenive than a seat in the back row of the right field upper deck, immediately below the HD screen which you couldn't see while sitting in that seat.

How drunk were they when they worked on the pricing structure? I can't think of even one way that could be justified logically.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the comments about Flores, let him play! The kid can hit and as for his defense, he's bound to improve on the job, everything I've read about him says he's a hard worker.
In any case, LoDuca doesn't look so great on defense so far.

Anonymous said...

K, I agree. The outfield ticket prices are waaaayyyy too high, compared to both other stadiums and other seats within Nats Park.

Those scoreboard pavilion seats are some of the worst in the park (although ticket prices might say otherwise). It's no wonder entire sections there remain empty.

Steven said...

I was standing behind the rail watching from the standing room section (because my 5-month-old won't sleep unless I'm standing and bouncing) but had to keep moving to see the action because CLINT was standing in the section right in front of the rail, you know, where you're supposed to be a paying customer, screwing around with the Nat Pack chicks. Nothing to do with their job, just standing in the way of fans trying to watch the game playing grab-ass.

I was going to say "hey you obnoxious punk, sit down! some of us are trying to watch the game!" but I feel bad making the baby cry when I yell at Clint.

Steven said...

One other thing--why can I buy a baseball cap for a teddy bear, but not for my kid???

Jim H said...

Okay...since we're laying it out there:

- Team store in the Club level (as well as others, I hear) are not accepting the season ticket holder MVP card for discounts.

- I thought the gates were supposed to open 2.5 hours before the game. On Wednesday, I arrived at 5:30 and the gates opened shortly after. I thought they were supposed to allow entry into the centerfield pavilion at 4:30 for Nats' batting practice. Has that been scrapped?

Unknown said...

JimH, I had the same experience re the season ticket holder discount. I was told that only the two main stores, and not the smaller stands throughout the stadium, would accept the discount card. I did relay this oddity to a member of the front office who thought that to be odd as well, but who knows if they're taking steps to change that.

One random question: whatever happened to that giant baseball that all early drawings showed was going to be on top of the Red Porch? I'm kind of happy not to see it -- seemed like an odd and unnecessary feature to me.

Chuck B. said...

Jim H.,

I thought the gates were closed to when I got there at 5:00 yesterday but, if you walk over to the right by the team store they were letting people in.

Anonymous said...

I am glad there is some life in the stands. There sure isn't any on the field.

Anonymous said...

401 was wonderful Thursday night. Hope it's fun Sunday afternoon vs. the Braves. My voice is returning. Everything else has been said.

El Topo

Anonymous said...

It was great meeting you at the game today, SBF and African Queen!!