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An Open Letter to Stan Kasten

Stan Kasten

President

Washington Nationals

RFK Stadium Gate F

2400 E. Capitol St. SE

Washington, DC 20003

 

Dear President Kasten,

I attended the first Washington Nationals game played in RFK, and since then I have attended about 35 more. (I hope to be up to 40 by the end of this year.) Seeing the Nats at RFK has been a wonderful experience for me, especially since I am one of those people who likes the neighborhood better before it's gentrified. (I was representing Silver Spring to the fullest before Foulger-Pratt laid down the chains in the middle of town, that's for sure.) RFK is rough around the edges, but the low, low prices you established make it one heck of an entertainment value, and the grilled hot dogs are almost always piping hot and tasty.

As I contemplate the significantly more expensive and less convenient (from a transportation perspective) fan experience that awaits me by Navy Yard Metro in 2008, though, I become apprehensive. I know that the new stadium will spoil me with presently unimaginable luxury in return for the additional cash outlays that will be necessary, so I will still attend games. But if the easily correctable annoyances of seeing a game at RFK — the ones that relate to the in-game entertainment, the scoreboard follies, the mascot — aren't corrected in the new digs, the marginal cost increase will become a bitter pill to swallow.

Not having watched a game with me, though, you may well be unaware of the specific practices to which I object. Thus this letter. They are outlined below.

We live in D.C., not "W." I'd almost be okay with you ignoring everything else in this letter if you rectified the massive error MLB made when they purchased the franchise and bedecked the headwear of the team with letters "W" aplenty. Besides being (at best) an unnecessarily polarizing letter 'round these parts until January 20, 2009, the legend also does not represent the way most people refer to the city in which the Nationals play, which is "D.C." Those two letters fit on a cap easily, and that's just where they should be. If someone refers to our nation's capital as "Washington," it's normally someone not from around here, and the reference is normally preceded by "I hate those lazy bureaucrats in." Run the team for the people who live here and might actually go to the games.

Get National Anthem singers who actually want to lead the crowd in song. The crop of warblers whom you have employed to perform our national song are a pretty sorry lot in general, especially because most of them seem to think that their job is to put some sort of individual spin on the sturdy drinking-song tune, as if we have not already heard every possible melisma, ornament, and agogic hesitation that could be deployed for the anthem. Not that our government makes this terrifically clear, but we are at war, which means more than ever that we should be provided opportunities to come together and stand by our flag. The national anthem should be sung so that the entire crowd can join in, and the stadium should encourage all the fans to raise their voices after they remove their hats.

By far the best anthem I have heard at RFK came from D.C. Washington on this year's Fourth of July game, so you should pay him to sing it every time until the other bozos get the picture. (Note: Placido Domingo is exempt from the above criticisms.)

Stop singing "God Bless America," period. Every single criticism I've just levied against the singers of our national anthem goes double for those who sing "God Bless America," which has the added disadvantage of being a terrible song. (Any time the second-most dramatic note in your song lands on the word "foam," something is wrong.) But more importantly, I feel a deep unease whenever the song is sung. I'm an atheist, yet a fervently patriotic one, and what's more, one with money to spend in your ballpark. Anything that gets me brooding on the massive public distrust of respectable folks like me who happen to believe in God results in a less enjoyable game experience for me and fewer impulse outlays on souvenirs in your gift shops. I doubt anyone seriously feels strongly at this point in favor of singing "God Bless America," but there are a bunch of folks who feel it's time to retire it in favor of simply singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and having a nice Sunday stretch. Irving Berlin's heirs have made enough money. 

Quit telling us all how to cheer. I vividly remember the one occasion on which I have heard the Nationals' fans actually erupt into spontaneous coordinated cheering - 2006, bottom of the seventh against the Mets, trailing by one run, with Soriano coming up with the bases loaded and two down. "SOR-I-A-NO!" clap clap clap-clap-clap we all cheered, again and again, as the Mets' reliever warmed up.

Why has there been only one such occasion? Because the rest of the time, the stadium PA won't let the fans come up with their own ideas on how to cheer. Between every pitch, we get organ riffs, the intro break from "Car Wash," that idiotic clapping song, anything but silence from which actual autonomous enthusiasm could emerge. I can't even begin to count the number of times I have begun to lead cheers only to have my efforts squashed by the same cliched junk coming over the PA. Just last Thursday, my cheer of "Je-sus!" clap-clap as Mr. Flores attempted to knock in some runners got rolled by some "We Will Rock You" extract.

People deprecate Nats fans as unknowledgeable and dispassionate, and it's an unwarranted slur. But they'll never be able to demonstrate otherwise if you people don't let up with the forced cheering and let the Nats fans themselves show and prove.

Encourage us to develop our own cheering methods. Some people apparently come to the ballpark expecting whisper-quiet in which to contemplate the goings-on on the emerald diamond, and consequently do nothing to disturb the hush. Me, I'm pretty much yelling the entire game, whether normal stuff like "Let's go Zim!", slightly less normal stuff like "Let's go Austin Powers!" (for Kearns), or bizarre stuff like "Hey, Church! Give us a reading from the Book of Doubles!" And I know some other people have spirit and like to show it as well — hell, I've heard it.

Why not dedicate an upper-deck section to folks who commit to come to the game and cheer their fool heads off? The group could organize cheers and build networks via the Internet, you'd probably sell out that one section every game, and the beer vendors would have a guaranteed lucrative run they could make about twenty times a game. It would be like a soccer cheering section, except that the fans would be cheering a game that's interesting to watch. And it would really give the quieter fans an example to follow if they ever decide to come out of their shells and root, root, root for the home team.

Stop playing commendatory songs after every moderately difficult defensive play. When Nook Logan jogs into right-center to catch a soft liner and "That's The Way (I Like It)" comes on the PA, there are only two possible explanation:

  1. The person directing the playing of songs has no idea what constitutes a difficult defensive play
  2. We are operating in the same universe in which third-graders get medals for participating in soccer leagues, regardless of their actual accomplishments therein

Neither explanation exactly bathes the Nats operatives in reflected glory. This practice also raises the question: What will you do when there is an actual outstanding defensive play? From what I've seen, apart from providing the replay, remarkably little — more ammunition for those who still contend that Washington isn't a baseball town.

Stop using other teams' signature means to pump up the crowd. You know where that "Day-O" thing comes from as well as I do: It comes from the Yankees. I am a Nationals fan. Why would I want to do something that Yankees fans do? "Sweet Caroline" is a Fenway thing. The Nats don't play in Fenway, and I don't root for the Red Sox. Get it off the PA. 

Play go-go music. You used to have "Bustin' Loose" in the regular rotation, but seem to have abandoned it entirely for 2007. Let's look at the circumstances in which this decision was made:

  • Baseball is concerned about whether it reaches black people, especially in urban areas
  • D.C. is the most heavily black city in America, or damn close
  • Go-go is both unique to D.C. and something that its black population especially enjoys
  • Regardless of whether people actually know about it, go-go is super awesome

Not only should "Bustin' Loose" be reinstated, but you should get Rare Essence to record "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and play that version twice a week at the seventh-inning stretch. Hey — maybe it could create a new tradition, one that we wouldn't have stolen from another city! Think of that!

Show replays of close/controversial plays. If I'm sitting in the 18th row of the 500 level, I'm pretty interested in a better view of whether Nook Logan was actually safe at second on that steal. Denying me that view just makes me boo the umpires more. And if the replay indicates that the umpire was wrong, the republic will not fall — we'll just boo a whole bunch. They umps had better be used to it at this point.

Depopulate Screech. Every time I see that chicken-looking thing shaking its pornographically distended belly to some pedestrian dance song, I am tempted to call the Maryland Department of Agriculture and report clinical signs of a low pathogenic avian influenza infection in a local piece of poultry. He doesn't look like an eagle, he doesn't do anything cool, he's a horrible mascot.

Cashier Clint. For all I know, Clint is a charming, easygoing, down-to-earth guy in real life, but his on-Jumbotron persona is braying, self-satisfied fraternity-boy incarnate — sort of like a human instantiation of the Abercrombie and Fitch ethos, but not even particularly attractive as men go. This is the most powerful city in the world. We can do better.

Reward those who ride Metro. It is not only the designated drivers who protect us from drunken drivers — people who drink like thirsty fishes but have the good sense to take Metro do just as much to prevent all of us from coming into range of a judgment-impaired moron operating a 4000-pound steel missile. Every time you honor the "Designated Driver of the Game," you should also honor the "Designated Sloshed Metro Rider of the Game."

And here are some points that are so obvious they shouldn't require further discussion:

  • On the scoreboard, show the player's date of birth, not his major-league debut, which is merely a proxy for the date of birth.
  • Make Austin Kearns get an at-bat song that doesn't stink.
  • Replace the PNC Bank Guess the PIN thing with something that's actually entertaining.
  • Buy T-shirt guns that can actually get up into the skyward reaches of the upper deck.
  • Sell half-smokes at enough stands that trying to find one isn't a magical treasure hunt that eats up two innings' worth of actual game.

I like the Nats a lot, and I'd like watching them play even better if you'd just get all this stuff straight. I know you can, especially in the new physical plant. Also, it would help if we had some middle-of-the-lineup power, 'cause I doubt Dmitri is going to hit .330 next year. So get on that too.

Sincerely yours,

Andrew Lindemann Malone

 

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