All posts in baseball

24Jun

nat pack: the team

Remember when Ryan Zimmerman christened the brand-new Nats Park with a game-winning solo home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning? Or that this 2008 squad actually started the season 3-0? Yeah, we didn’t think so.

That’s because the Nats went 9-17 in the month of April and haven’t been any better since. It hurts to say it, but by my estimation, the current roster is the fourth reason to go to a ballgame in D.C. these days. First, you’ve got the new park. Second, you’ve got the racing presidents. Third, you’ve got the shirts vs. skins controversy. And finally, you have this rag-tag bunch that general manager Jim Bowden slapped together (and yet, has somehow managed to keep his job).

Warning: this is the paragraph that hurts.

The Nats have the second worst record in the majors. They’ve scored the fewest and have allowed the third most runs in the big leagues. In fact, only two players are currently batting over .300 this season (Christian Guzman and Jesus Flores), and Zimmerman leads the team with a measly eight homers, even though he’s played 26 games less than the next guy in line. And they’re not getting better with age — they’re currently 6-15 in the month of June. One could argue that right now, there are a grand total of three players on the Nats worth watching — Chad Cordero, Zimmerman and Flores. That’s it.

This is the part where I focus on a fairly simple statement that I feel needs to be reiterated — D.C. went without a baseball team from 1972 until 2005. Hardcore sports fans will still be around, but people aren’t really used to having a home team in the District, so if you want to attract new fans you actually have to give them something worth caring about. That doesn’t mean bringing in every single “I’m over-the-hill and clutching on to my last chance to play in the majors” sob story or players who need a change of scenery (as long as their legal troubles still allow them to leave the state).

While Kobe Bryant has been busy “instilling his DNA into the rest of the team,” the Nats have no such luck. This is a team with no payroll, no identity and no real reason for optimism over the next few years. Because a bunch of no-namers have overachieved, Bowden continues to trot out pitchers who should not actually be allowed to collect a big-league paycheck. That’s why no one in their starting rotation will be confused with an ace, or even a number two pitcher on an actual major league roster. They’re currently 26th in baseball in ERA, and some might say they’re playing better than their talent would suggest they’re able of sustaining.

And don’t think that the pitching is the only issue. It’s actually better than the hitting. The Nats bats scored a grand total of one, I repeat — ONE FREAKING RUN — over 27 innings earlier this month. They’re so pitiful that local newspapers coverage actually applauded the team for not losing the night they were rained out. I’m not talking about columnists trying to be funny, I’m talking about beat writers connecting on more shots than the Nats offense. These guys are in need of something drastic (i.e. – talent). In the absence of that, I’d at least suggest a slump buster.

To be fair, last year’s draft was considering very strong and early reports are that Missouri pitcher Aaron Crow, whom the Nats drafted this year, might be the best college pitcher in the draft, but these guys are a long way away from contributing. Anyone in the organization within earshot of a microphone or tape recorder toes the company line and says, “We’re trying to build a team that will be competitive for more than just one year.” And that’s understandable. I’m just saying you’re not going to run fans off by winning games in the interim.

I’ll leave you with one final (and sobering) fact. At 221 lbs., the 2008 Washington Nationals are the second fattest team in baseball (behind only the White Sox at 227 lbs.) As a team, they average 23 lbs. more per person than the Kansas City Royals. Congrats Jim Bowden, you’ve built a team of fatties who can’t actually hit home runs. Am I wrong for thinking this is some sort of cruel joke?

Overall grade: D

09Jun

nat pack: the grub

Last week, we tackled the look and feel of the soon-to-be-corporate-sponsored Nationals Park. While it’s lacking in overall curb appeal, we still gave it high marks for the overall game-day experience. Today, I wanted to dive into one of the absolute highlights of the new ballpark — the food.

Typically, when you’re trying to get some food and a beer at any kind of sporting event, the lines are unbearably long and the folks behind the counter are painfully slow. Maybe it’s because the team on the field isn’t very good, so there’s not a ton of people attending games yet, but the lines at Nats Park are a non-issue. Some quick research showed why — there are 48 concession stands, up from 35 at RFK Stadium.

There’s also an amazing variety of eating establishments to choose from — including many with local flavors. The headliner is easily Ben’s Chili Bowl, which has been a staple in the District since 1958. There’s also Gifford’s Ice Cream & Candy, which first opened its doors in Silver Spring, Maryland, back in 1938. Fans in the mood for a taste of D.C. can also enjoy Five Guys, Red, Hot & Blue, and Boardwalk Fries.

Seeing as it was my first night at the park and Ben’s Chili Bowl was staring right at me, I jumped in line and within two minutes was ordering a hot dog and a bowl of chili. I don’t remember exactly how much it cost, but they could have charged me double. The food definitely lived up to the hype. The guys from Skinscast got the same thing and we scarfed it down as if we hadn’t seen food in months. Seriously, you’d have lost a digit if you attempted to take the hot dog out of John’s hand.

The second night, I made sure that my buddy Jason tried Ben’s Chili Bowl and he was equally impressed. And while my wife might not have approved, I went ahead and ordered a chili dog since I was waiting in line with him. Later on that evening, during our two hours of exploring the ballpark during the rain delay, we found Gifford’s. We each decided to get a cone with one scoop, and let me tell you — they’re not bashful about their serving size. This thing was as big as my head, and I would have taken my time and enjoyed every once of it if it weren’t so humid out. Instead, it was a race to finish it before I ended up wearing it.

The biggest downside to your typical dining experience is that you very well might have to sell a child (preferably one of your own) to afford dinner
at the park. Beers are $7.50 a draft, which hurts even more when you’re stuck with Miller Lite and MGD at most of the beer stands. They also had Bass and Stella, which aren’t terrible, but it took a little more digging to find some of the better stuff. The most random beer we ran across at the park was Corona. While it’s a common (and refreshing) beverage, we’d never seen it sold in a can before.

While prices were a little excessive, I will tell you that it wasn’t nearly as big of a deal to us because every single person we came across in the two nights at the park we extremely polite and friendly. Call it the anti-FedEx Field, if you will, but these employees didn’t actually look at customers as if they were keeping them from their break. It’s an amazingly simple point, but it’s worth stressing — people don’t mind paying an extra dollar or two as long as the food and service is on point. After two long days at Nats Park, I can say with confidence that they hit a home run in both of these areas.

Bottom line, you can’t go wrong with your food selection at the ballgame. Treat yourself to a chili dog, a beer and maybe even an ice cream. You deserve it, and while you might have to pick up an extra shift or two at work, it’ll be worth it.

Overall grade: A

05Jun

nat pack: the digs

First of all, let me take a moment to sincerely apologize for the lack of Homer action this week. I got tied up taking care of a bunch of little stuff, and will do my best to make up for lost time today. Along the same lines, we’re dedicating the next several entries to the most neglected stepchild in the Washington family tree — the Nationals.

While most of the locals were smart enough to stock up on bubblewrap and duct tape while bracing themselves for the Armageddon-like weather thrashing the region over the last couple days, I decided it was the perfect time to get out and visit the new Nationals Park. So on back-to-back nights, I risked life and limb by braving the elements in hopes of giving you, the loyal reader, an in-depth breakdown of the good, the bad and the ugly of the newest ticket in town.

For starters, I wanted to limit the first post to the new ballpark. While I enjoy baseball, I’ve probably been to about half a dozen or so Major League ballparks (and RFK) up until this point. As soon as I exited the Metro and made the left turn onto Half Street, I couldn’t help but feel we’re blessed to have such a nice, new stadium. As I walked down the block to the centerfield entrance I immediately noticed that, unlike at RFK, there were no street vendors selling hats, drinks, peanuts, etc. I was later informed that all the vendors had shown up when the stadium first opened, but were run off by the D.C. police (to which I say “not cool.”)

Back to Tuesday night, which was sweet because I met up with the guys from Skinscast, who had scored us four tickets to the Nats-Cardinals game. But we wouldn’t be sitting with the common folks – no, no – we were treated to four VIP seats in the Jefferson Suite. After grabbing some food, we hit the elevators and headed for the fourth floor where our luxurious gameday experience awaited us.

As soon as we walked into the suite, we knew we had hit the jackpot. This place was clearly fit for a bunch of hate-spewing and yet, completely-biased podcasters. There’s a nice sized HDTV, the suite is big enough for a bunch of people to fit in comfortably, and there were plenty of plush seats to sit down and enjoy the game. Here’s my only gripe — there were no food or beverages whatsoever in the entire suite. I heard rumblings that it falls upon whoever paid for the suite to kick in extra money to have anything stocked in there, but it was still startling to see nothing but ketchup, mustard and plastic utensils in the “high society” section of town.

Speaking of our seats, we were down the third base line, near shallow left field. We had a nice view of everything the ballpark has to offer and luckily, when the rain god’s frowned upon us, we remained dry (unlike the peasants who scattered like ants down below). While “enjoying” an hour-and-40-minute rain delay, we had ample time to dissect the entire ballpark. While it’s very nice, spacious and clean, we came to the conclusion that it’s too bland. Maybe some of it gets chalked up to the less-than-ideal weather conditions, but nothing truly catches your eye. There is no warehouse across the street or distinguishing feature, instead you’re stuck with a sea of drab concrete. If the Washington Monument or Capitol Building was in closer proximity and visible from your run-of-the-mill seat, then the ballpark would go from cookie cutter to memorable. Unfortunately, much like the street vendors, landmarks (unless you’re counting parking garages) are few and far between.

Wednesday night was a little bit different. My buddy Jason (a former Special Forces badass) and I headed back to the park to check out a game with the unwashed masses. We scored some seats in right field, next to the Nats’ bullpen. (We figured since the team has no pitching, we’d be guaranteed to see plenty of action). Let me say, right off the bat, had there actually been a game (we were treated to the first rainout at the new venue), these might be some of the best seats in town. There was no doubt that these would be two absolutely perfect seats, had a game actually taken place. Rest assured, once we get out to a make-up date (we can redeem our tickets for a future date), we’ll once again aim for section 139.

But once the lightning hit, we were no longer allowed to stay in the seated area, so we were off like a prom dress — to see what the ballpark had to offer. After Jason stopped to Build-A-Bear, we stumbled upon a hitting and pitching simulator. Having just lost all respectability for recreating Teddy Ruxpin, Jason wanted to earn back his manhood, so he stepped into the batter’s box against a virtual Jeremy Bonderman.

Like most of America, I am not well versed when it comes to Detroit pitchers, so I wasn’t exactly sure what he was in store for. The answer was quickly apparent — no two Bonderman pitches use the same path to the plate. The guy was everywhere.Through no fault of his own, Jason managed to make contact with just one of Jeremy’s virtual offerings. With no manhood in sight, Jason stormed back over to donate more money into the Lerner Family Piggy Bank for a battle against virtual Pedro Martinez. This time, he made contact with five of eight pitches, even earning a token “Did that guy used to play college ball?” question from one of the passerbys. I think it’s safe to say virtual Pedro doesn’t have the same goods he did when he was in virtual Boston.

Feeling good about himself, my buddy Jason strutted down to the pitching simulator. Sure, he hadn’t attempted to throw a ball with any kind of velocity since Bill Clinton put the cigar back on the map, but he was confident the goods would still be delivered. As we walk up, a 10-year-old offers a 30-mile-an-hour meatball across the plate that virtual A-Rod effortlessly crushes out of the ballpark. Clearly, virtual Rodriguez was bringing his peak “clutch in June” game, and the kid left feeling anything but good about his prepubescent self. So Jason steps onto the mound and tries not to suffer the same fate. He works up a legitimate sweat and gets all the way to a full count, when his 69-mile-per-hour heater on the high outside corner of the plate was deemed ball four by the virtual ump and virtual A-Rod earned a virtual walk. Trust me, Jason did not agree with the virtual call. And trust me, I’ll have a guaranteed sore spot to rile up my overly competitive pal over the next two weeks.

Bottom line, we were able to legitimately enjoy a more than two hour rain delay at the ballpark because this place is a paradise for the entire family. Even if we were flirting with a monsoon, we saw more than a few families sitting on a blanket, picnic style, enjoying food as if there wasn’t a place on Earth they’d rather be. Once management either builds a team worth the price of admission or figures out a way to distinguish Nationals Park from any of a dozen other Major League ballparks, this will be a can’t miss experience for the entire family.

Overall grade: B-

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