Hell Freezes Over: Orioles Could Learn From…Gulp…Nationals

May 04, 2010 | Glenn Clark

This is particularly painful for me to write. As you know, I have absolutely NO positive feelings for the sports franchises in Washington-be it the Redskins, Capitals, Nationals or Wizards. My disdain for the Skins has lead to me despising all of the other teams that have the name “Washington” in front of the team name. As someone was born and grew up in Baltimore, I’ve been told that Baltimore was a “DC suburb” one too many times to EVER support ANYTHING that started with the word “Washington.”

Disliking the Washington Nationals hasn’t been particularly easy during their short history, as the Nats franchise has been mostly irrelevant since their inception. They finished .500 in their first year at RFK Stadium, and they got about a month’s worth of traction when the new Nationals Park opened, and a few days worth of traction when they drafted Stephen Strasburg.

Other than those times, the Nationals have struggled to garner any interest-even in their home town. Sports radio stations in DC rarely devote any team to Nationals discussion, and their flagship (WFED) is a news talk station, which prohibits them from spending the day promoting the baseball team. Their TV rights are owned by Peter Angelos, and his MASN TV network does little to help the Nationals gain traction. Their only “live” programming is a simulcast of a radio show in Baltimore.

There are of course bigger problems than that within the District. There was no guarantee when Major League Baseball moved the Montreal Expos to DC that the market was even ready for baseball. Even if the market was ready for a MLB franchise, there was no guarantee that a transient city would show passionate support for the team within the market. To this day, there remains a large number of Washington DC (and surrounding area) residents who choose to root for the Orioles, or the Philadelphia Phillies, or the New York Yankees, or the team in the city they were they were born.

With that in mind, the Washington Nationals have began the 2010 baseball season looking like a legitimate team. A 13-12 start might not be earth shattering in a number of cities, but in the District of Columbia, it is a real reason to be interested. Moreover, the team stands just one game out of first place in the NL East-and could realistically threaten to surge past the likes of the New York Mets and Atlanta Braves this season.

On top of that, the team has the appearance of being able to extend their decent start for at least some amount of time. They have a solid lineup-including young superstar Ryan Zimmerman, power-hitting outfielder Adam Dunn, and potential Hall of Fame catcher Ivan Rodriguez. They also have a steady leadoff man in Nyjer Morgan, and have gotten contributions from Josh Willingham and Cristian Guzman.

Their pitching will likely be their undoing, unless Livan Hernandez continues to pitch at a Cy Young Award level. However, Stephen Strasburg will almost certainly reach the big leagues at around the same time Matt Wieters did a season ago; and he could give the staff a shot in the arm to help keep them respectable.

Bottom line-there’s a chance the Washington Nationals could be playing important baseball games after the All-Star Game this season.

Even so, fans haven’t exactly started streaming in to Nats Park. “Nats Fever” has yet to reach epidemic status in our nation’s capital. In fact, the team has averaged just 19,777 fans through 13 home games-inflated by an series against the Phils the week of Opening Day. They currently rank 25th amongst 30 Major League Baseball teams in terms of home attendance; despite being one of the Top 10 markets in the country.

For perspective-the Orioles (who won just 7 of their first 25 games this season) are 19th in attendance; averaging 24,163 fans per home game-numbers also likely inflated by home series against both the Yankees and Red Sox.

When asked about the small crowds at Camden Yards, O’s manager Dave Trembley had an interesting response last week:

“This is your team.  This is your city.  If you love your team, you love them through good times and bad times.  And you’ll want to be here when they turn things around.  This is our ballclub.  This is our city.  We’re very proud.”

Trembley directly faulted the fans for their choice to stay away from OPACY. He immediately used terms like “your” and “you’ll”.

Nationals team President Stan Kasten recently made an appearance on “The Mike Wise Show” on 106.7 WJFK in DC. Show co-host Holden Kushner used his Twitter account to post Kasten’s responses. Kasten was asked about HIS team’s attendance problems during the interview, and he gave THIS response…

“When we do OUR job, they’ll (the fans) come out”.

Interesting. Kasten didn’t use “your” or “you’ll”, but instead chose to say “we” and “our” first.

This is absolutely one of the BIGGEST problems facing the Orioles organization right now.

In DC, the leadership of the organization is looking to work WITH the fans to fix the problems that have plagued their organization. They want to make appearances on non-rightsholding radio stations, they want to accept blame for the disconnect within the market, and they’re not angry that the fans have decided to stay away.

The leadership of the Orioles decided to raise ticket prices, charge ticket premiums, continue to lose, and then directly blame the fans for the decision to stay away.

I like to consider myself a problem solver. I’ve been in a relationship now for nearly 2 years with a very pretty girl, and we’re the same age. We often disagree on a number of things. When I have a problem with something she does, I try to address it immediately. Unfortunately, she sometimes responds by saying something like “I’m sorry you feel that way.” My immediate response to that is always the same thing-”Don’t ever apologize for my feelings. If you think you did something wrong, apologize for that. If you don’t think you did anything wrong, don’t apologize-just explain youself, and let’s work together to solve the problem.

Our disagreements are remarkably civil after that.

The Orioles have every opportunity to do exactly that. They clearly don’t want to apologize for 13 seasons of losing and becoming a civic embarrassment. The next option is to give an explanation and work together with fans (who feel wronged) to solve the problem.

That’s apparently what they’re doing in DC.

God it pains me to realize that even THEY have moved ahead of the Orioles and into the realm of responsible, competent baseball organizations.

Maybe the Orioles can learn from the standard set.

-G

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