Friday, January 29, 2010

Our Conversation With Jonathan Griffith/P-Nats VP & General Manager

One of the real pleasures of enjoying Major League Baseball again in the Washington, D.C. area is the opportunity to not only see Our Washington Nationals play on a regular basis, but also one of their Minor League Affiliates. Just 20 to 30 minutes south of The Nation's Capital, The Carolina League Potomac Nationals compete in Single A Ball, three steps from The Big Leagues.

Last night at Pfitzner Stadium--The 2010 Winter Caravan made it's sixth stop in Woodbridge, Virginia. While players Danny Espinosa, Drew Storen and Ryan Speier signed autographs and took pictures alongside MASN's Rob Dibble for fans, The African Queen and I chatted with Jonathan Griffith--Vice President & General Manager of The Potomac Nationals. The P-Nats share a close relationship with their Major League Affiliate. Both are building newer fan bases. There is a distinct possibility Washington's Number One Overall Draft Pick from 2009--Stephen Strasburg--might pitch a portion of 2010 in a Potomac Uniform. The hype has barely begun. And there is a long standing new stadium issue that many would like to see resolved. For a good 15 minutes, The P-Nats VP & GM chatted with Sohna and I.

Here is Our Conversation With Jonathan Griffith:

How important is it to have the local Major League Team your affiliate? (SBF)

“I believe it is huge. We’ve been associated with many other teams. Having the closeness, not only for us, but also The Washington Nationals, means all these people here are Washington Nationals Fans and Potomac Nationals Fans. We are trying to create the winning atmosphere down here in Woodbridge. And if you look all the way from us and up in their Minor League System—they are all winners. They all have winning records and the entire organization is benefiting from the Minor Leagues.”

“Having The Washington Nationals here tonight is great for us because those people who didn't know about us before—do now. The general public we have just let in here (for the caravan stop). They probably have never been here before. They didn’t realize how close we (The P-Nats) were to D.C. Additionally, this is helping to get the word out: ‘Hey, you can get to see these guys before they go big time’. John Lannan pitched here. Drew Storen was here last year. Craig Stammen was here previously. In fact, Washington’s Starting Five (from 2009) was at some point here over the past two seasons. So, for us, that is our big thumping point. Come See Them Now—Before They Are Stars.”

Are you seeing Washington Nationals Fans coming down here on a more regular basis? (SBF)

“Yes, we are. When they first got here in 2005, it really hurt us because everyone wanted to see the new kid in town. Now, more people are realizing we are the affiliate of The Washington Nationals and they also want to see us because we are less expensive as well. When a family of four can come here on a Monday for $4—that’s a huge drawing point for us. We really benefit off that. At Nationals Park, we have our kiosk set up on the main concourse. We run commercials on the scoreboard and people are realizing more and more: ‘Hey, The Potomac Nationals are only 20-minutes down the road. We can go down there and see them when they are young.’ That especially rings true if we get Stephen Strasburg. We had Storen last year. If we get Strasburg or some of the other top prospects, it will help us out a lot.”

It’s a distinct possibility Strasburg is coming here—at least for a short period of time. (SBF)

“I know. I know.”

How are you going to handle that? (SBF)

“Obviously, the press aspect of it is going to be our biggest concern. We will probably be sold out for the first couple of months. That’s huge for us as April & May are usually tough months trying to get people to come out and see a game here. He (Strasburg) seems to be the ticket for everybody to come see him pitch. We are preparing for it now, especially with the media aspect. On a normal game, you know this; we have two people covering us. On the day Strasburg possibly pitches—we are going to have hundreds of media here. We have already started to prepare for that now. Even though we are in January now—we only have really two months to get ready for that to happen. Hopefully, it will happen. If it doesn’t, we will be prepared for the next top prospect to come.”

In Arizona, Strasburg was pitching in The Arizona Fall League where usually 100 people attending a game is a big crowd. He pitches and thousands show up. He’s a different ball game. (SBF)

“Yeah, no doubt. He was selling out pitching in college games. When you sellout a college start, you are going to sellout a minor league ball field too—especially when we are 20 minutes down the road from the parent club. People in D.C. need a bright point. Hopefully, he will turn out to be our guy. And when he gets up to D.C. he will be our shutdown guy, that number 1 type pitcher. That sense of excitement about what he could be in The Majors, will filter down and draw fans here to see him now. And of course, everyone is going to get the chance to see him here—for a whole lot less.”

“And the access we give here is excellent. Our guys here are as close as we are talking right now when they are down on the field—compared to Nats Park. When The Washington Nationals are down in the bullpen, their players are a few hundred feet away. Here, in the bullpen, you are talking to the fans. So, it’s a big thing for those who come to see us play.”

Hopefully, if Strasburg does come here and gives you big crowds you will be able to keep them. (The African Queen)

“No doubt it will draw us fans we have never had before. We would draw from Washington, D.C. and Maryland—places we normally can’t draw from. But we will then because of the unique circumstances surrounding Strasburg.”

There is a branding aspect to this that is unbelievable. (SBF)

“Yes, there is. And we know this is kind of a once in a lifetime deal. We do realize that and we are going to try and jump on it as much as possible. As soon as we have him show up at our team hotel, it will be on. (laughter among us)”

Could Strasburg arriving to play for The Potomac Nationals jumpstart the delays in getting a new stadium for this team? (SBF)

“When it comes to the new ballpark, it’s not a matter of anyone not wanting it. No one has the money right now. If we could find a naming rights sponsor it would be a done deal. We have everything set up and ready to go. Prince William County is behind us. We have The Washington Nationals behind us, but it’s just a matter of $25 Million and where it comes from. And that is the biggest question. You hear talk about us moving to Loudon County or this place or that place, but like I tell everyone—until we have that $25 Million, we are not moving anywhere. If someone wins the lotto and wants to give us $25 Million (laughing)—Hey, I am in!! But that’s really the only chance for us to move unless we get a naming rights holder. We are trying very hard along those lines, but it just hasn’t happened yet.”

The toughest thing here is the day games during the hot summers. There is no protection from the heat. (SBF)

“It’s brutal. It’s just so hot. It’s also the ballpark. In the average ballpark, the clubhouse has things these guys don’t have here: the gym equipment, the spas, things like that we just don’t have so we have to go outside for it. It would be nice to have a nice little ballpark for our fans and our players, especially after Harrisburg (Washington’s AA Affiliate) did all their renovations. And they were basically, a bigger us as far as the building used. Now, they’ve kind of stepped it up. So now they’ve done it, we need to follow suit. And we are doing everything in our power to make something happen.”

Something like Bowie (P.G. County Stadium/BaySox) would be terrific. (SBF)

“That’s a great little ballpark. It really is. I love Bowie; even Frederick (Maryland—home of The Keys) is a nice ballpark. They’ve done some renovations to their ballpark the last year or two. And it’s so funny, every time we play them up there, you see just as many Nationals Fans as Orioles Fans now. It’s really pretty funny. And I tend to walk around the ballpark in Frederick and remind those folks The Potomac Nationals are just down the road. Come on down and see us.”

You mentioned earlier that when The Washington Nationals first came to D.C. you lost some of your fan base. Now catching lightning in the bottle, do you think you can sustain that momentum? (SBF)

“This is what I tell people. Our fan base is five years old. We don’t have the hard-core fans like The Orioles yet. We haven’t been here as long. The Washington Nationals haven’t been here that long. We are growing our fan base just like The Washington Nationals are. We get more of the casual family that wants to go out for an evening. We don’t get the fan here that is living or dying on us winning and losing. You get that far more in The Big Leagues. All these kids we see playing at Potomac, we are growing them for Washington. We do these baseball camps out here every year for children. Danny Espinosa was out there last year. Michael Burgess was out there last year instructing. Those guys are going to be in The Big Leagues. Those children are going to be telling their parents to take them up to Nationals Park for games for that reason. And that is kind of the whole point of the Minor Leagues anyway. We are all building this together and we can do nothing but grow.”

It also has to help with The Washington Nationals close that so many of their players come down here to Woodbridge on re-hab assignments? (SBF)

“You look at how many Big League guys we get in comparison to all the other Carolina League Teams. No other team is getting the quality of guys we receive. On average, we are getting nine to twelve guys per year. Big League guys who come down here to get themselves back into playing shape. That doesn’t happen anywhere else. Dmitri Young was here last year, Elijah Dukes. We also had Lastings Milledge here for us and then for The Pirates Organization as well.”

And he hit a couple home runs here off your guys. (SBF)

“Yeah, he did. But it makes the atmosphere here more fun because we have such good access to Major League players coming to play for us for short periods of time. And those guys love it because they can stay in their own homes in the D.C. area, be with their family and come down here, play ball and go back home. We provide more of a family atmosphere for those players than they would get going to Harrisburg or Syracuse for re-hab assignments--and living in a hotel. That’s makes our situation nice for both them and us.”

With that final answer, Our Conversation With Jonathan Griffith/P-Nats VP & General Manager came to a close. The Potomac Nationals do offer a nice alternative and a good opportunity to watch, at Pfitzner Stadium, some of Our Washington Nationals youngest stars develop--a year or two before they ever play a single game at Nationals Park.

All Photos Copyrighted--Nats320--All Rights Reserved


cass said...

He sounds pretty assured of getting Strasburg. Does he know something we don't? Given how well Strasburg pitched in the AFL, wouldn't AA be a more likely starting point for him?

And how would the team sell out for two months? Wouldn't only Strasburg games sell out? Or is the idea that people will have to buy all the games well in advance because if they wait for probably pitchers, the game will already be sold out?

For what it's worth, I'd be one of those Marylanders who would show up for the first time to see Strasburg pitch. I'm planning on catching his first minor league start that's in VA, MD, or PA. I've never been to a Nats farm before.

Screech's Best Friend said...

Mike Rizzo has continually stated no player will be rushed to the majors. Everyone has to master each level. It's going to be interesting if this is how Strasburg plays out. Thanks.

Wooden U. Lykteneau said...

Pedro Alvarez is fairly comparable situation (Pittsburgh's #1 draft pick, #2 overall) and he started '09 in Lynchburg. In fact, May 14-16 may just get the dream matchup of Strasburg vs. Crow, though I suspect when Crow struggles (and he will), Kansas City won't let him match up against SS.