Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Starting Lineup: 2/21/2006

Longtime Curly W readers may remember a feature from last season where we ran down what was going on in the Natosphere that week. New readers from the P.S. (post-Svrluga) era should know that this is what happens when we run out of original content of our own and just start promoting everyone else's work. It's like plagiarism but with a smile and a handshake!

Each week we'll cull the best content from the world of Nats blogging and serve it up fresh to you. These posts are must-read content for the discerning Nationals fan.

Here's this week's starting lineup:

Update: 7:27 PM: JammingEcono at Banks of the Anacostia digs up the dirt on the Ron Belliard extortion case. Go read the post, but when you find out the sordid details you might wish you didn't know. At any rate, you'll find out who the real Slim Shady is, and it's not Belliard.

Update: 6:20PM:
I can't believe I missed this, but Basil has a must-read post on Dmitri Young over at Federal Baseball. Basil rightly points out that Dmitri needs to let go of his issues from last year and focus on the second (and maybe last) chance he's being given to be a major league baseball player. I hope Young makes the team and becomes a clutch player off the bench. I have fond memories of him from my years following the Reds.

Basil also brilliantly sums up the good vibes coming out of Nats camp, despite the team's dismal prospects:

The team's a curiosity, and its staying power in our memories years from now will be in playful caricatures: Tall Jon Rauch, Fat Ray King, Who the Heck is Colby Lewis, etc. If we remember the '07 Nats fondly, chances are it will be because of attachment to likeable personalities, rather than appreciation of baseball skill. Following such a team can be a fun experience regardless of wins and losses, but only if the players allow it to be fun. I think one reason why the fanbase has taken to Acta, for instance, is because he looks like he's having fun out on the practice fields. He scoots around from player to player, developing collegial relationships and building advice; he is savoring his opportunity to manage a big league club, and so far the players seem to have taken to him.
A lot of the positive feeling coming out of Viera has everything to do with Manny Acta and his infectiously positive personality. He is already such a sharp contrast to the cantankerous and aloof Frank Robinson. It's very early in Acta's career, but chalk up another win for Stan Kasten in the quest to turn around this moribund franchise.

-Screech's Best Friend is on the scene at Nats spring training in Viera, Florida. He's talking with players and coaches and snapping lots of pictures. Don't miss the hilarious story of his chance encounter with John Patterson at Carrabba's. Stay tuned to Nats 320 as SBF and the African Queen will be in Viera all week.

-MissChatter was on the scene at Space Coast stadium as well and logs another of her "That's Nats" vodcasts. Why settle for reading a blog when you can watch a blog? MissChatter has some good footage of the Nats in action. This is a post worth watching!

I'm truly amazed at the level of access to players, coaches and reporters that she and SBF have been able to get in Viera. I find myself wondering if this accessibility will disappear once the Nationals franchise matures into a higher-profile MLB enterprise. Do you think Yankees fans get to shoot the shit with Jeter in Tampa? Probably not. I have to give a great deal of credit to Stan Kasten and Manny Acta for creating a culture of friendliness and welcoming toward fans. Great fans are one of the cornerstones of a great franchise, and there is no question that the Nats have a small, diehard fanbase that is getting larger each year.

-Capitol Punishment runs down "10 Burning Questions" for the Nats during Spring Training. This post succinctly runs down the myriad storylines to watch out of Nats' camp. Unlike last season, where all the attention was focused on Soriano, there are so many developments to watch that I've had a hard time sorting them all out. Chris's post expertly distills the action in Viera. Read this post.

-Capitol Punishment also shoots and scores in an excellent post about Washington Times reporter T(h)om Loverro's outrageous statement that "if you feel the need to ridicule Frank Robinson, you might want to check your soul. It's missing.". Loverro's post on the Times' pathetically-named "Chatter" blog was a spectacularly awful piece of hack writing. It's fantastic to read as Chris tees off on the reporter's outrageous statements about "the lack of respect by some Nationals fans on the net for (Robinson)." To paraphrase Motley Crue: "Frank, don't go away mad...just go away."

-Distinguished Senators piles on the anti-T(h)om bandwagon and reminds us that this isn't the first time that Loverro has taken a swipe at bloggers.

-Comcast SportsNet will be broadcasting a new TV show of particular interest to bloggers. "Washington Post Live will be a high-energy, interactive sports roundtable covering the stories, trends and topics in the news and on the minds of sports fans throughout the region." The show will prominently feature the DC Sports Bog's Dan Steinberg as well as a number of local sportswriters from the Washington Post. According to Steinberg, the show will be "all about the Internets" and will have "a regular feature to spotlight local sports bloggers." Awesome. Hey, at least MissChatter's been practicing.

-Barry Svrluga's blog from Viera is back this season. Barry is a terrific blogger, and I'm glad to see his blogspace back this season after a one-year, Olympic-induced hiatus.

-The Washington Times has a new-look, dedicated Nationals space on its web site. "Nats Home Plate" has some excellent features and was kind enough to link to The Curly W. Check it out.

-Finally, here at The Curly W, Ben Folsom has a great look at the end result of the big story from last year's Spring Training. A year after he nearly touched off an epic battle between MLB and the player's union by refusing to be moved to left field, Alfonso Soriano acknowledges that the position switch "made (him) more valuable as a player." $136 million dollars makes the medicine go down, doesn't it, Alfonso?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Happiness Means Never Saying You're Sori


Wonder what else J-Bowde was right about

Ahh, so left field was the place for Alfonso Soriano. It seems like so long ago that Sori showed up to spring training with only a fielder's glove and basically told the team to eat it, I play second. Yada yada through the 2006 seasons and Sori was a 40-40 man (he finished 2006 with 46 home runs and 41 stolen bases) after a storm over Jim Bowden's competence in trade talks and then commanded the largest free agent contract in the offseason, 136 million dollars over eight years, to go to the Cubs.

In today's Washington Post, Dave Sheinen reports that Sori was unhappy with the Nationals and J-Bowde at the time and unhappy at how the whole deal played out but that in the end it was the right move because it got him millions of dollars.

Now I know Sori was a prize going into 2006, with a ten million dollar contract last season but Jose Vidro was a three-time All-Star (last time: 2003) and had been with the franchise for 14 years. I know that don't amount to a hill of beans to Nationals fans who saw Jose as a liability but J-Bowde announced Sori as an outfielder after acquiring him and there was no way Sori was coming in as the savior at second. Having said that, after Jose the 2B cadre of Marlon Anderson, Bernie Castro, Damian Jackson and Brendan Harris did not exactly make me recall Ryne Sandberg (cue inevitable Cubs reference).

The best part of this piece though is not reading about how Sori now feels better able to help his new team or how excited he is about the season, because the Cubs have questions at second base this season and there may have been an opportunity there for him but now with the contract in place, why would Sori worry about second and not hang out in the outfield? Rather, Sori is so grateful that J-Bowde forcing him into the outfield

...helped me get this contract. He made me more valuable as a player.
How valuable? 136 million dollars.

The Curly W is pleased to announce its first new feature for the 2007 season, I'm So Sori, a weekly look at the life and times of Chicago Cub Alfonso Soriano.



Alfonso Soriano and Cubs GM Jim Hendry at Alfonso's signing on November 20, 2006: AP photo via MLB.com

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Thomas Jefferson: The Man Behind the Mask

I agree with Ryan: spring training, especially this pitchers-and-catchers only part, is boring. So boring, in fact, that the big news out of RFK stadium yesterday was that the Nats are soliciting fans to don 45-pound president costumes and race around the ballpark in August. Excellent!

I've always enjoyed the president races, and I was thrilled when Abe, Tom, George and Teddy made it off the JumboTron and into real three-dimensional racing splendor. Racing presidents are just the kind of bread and circus-style distractions that we need to distract us from the fact that 1: It's the third inning and Rauch is already pitching and 2: The "2 and 0" numbers on the scoreboard are the number of errors committed by the Nats and their opponent, respectively. The presidents give us something to cheer for when all other hope has been lost. As long as the presidents have been racing I have always rooted exclusively for Thomas Jefferson. My motivations for doing so are deep-seated, with roots in my very origins.

You see, my mother has always had a very strong scholarly interest in our nation's third president. Mom is an avid amateur 18th century American history scholar, and Jefferson is far and away her favorite figure from that era. As kids, my sister and I were constantly immersed in all things Jefferson. I've been to Monticello, Jefferson's Charlottesville, VA home, dozens upon dozens of times. My parents' home in Cincinnati is filled with every book written on the man, and his portraits and quotes adorn the walls. A small shrine to Jefferson, complete with a bronze bust and two paintings, graces the entry foyer.

But it doesn't stop there. Oh no. If it has to do with Thomas Jefferson, my mom owns it. Miniature TJ action figure? Check. Declaration of Independence mouse pad? Got that. Jefferson Beanie Baby? Affirmative. Framed collection of nickels and 2-dollar bills? Yep. Not pictured: talking Jefferson doll, scale model of Monticello, Jefferson brand whiskey bottle, Jefferson brand Virginia wine bottle, numerous smaller pewter busts and various and sundry portraits. My middle name? You guessed it, Jefferson. I'm serious.

So you see, Thomas Jefferson has always been a great part of my life, and there's just no question for me when it comes to who to root for during the Nats President Race.I got to thinking: what would Jefferson, a founding father and the author of the Declaration of Independence, think about a 10-foot tall grotesque of himself racing around an arena for the amusement of the masses? I decided to ask Mom, the expert:

"I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt what he would have thought, because this man would not celebrate his birthday and would not even tell the country what day it was...he didn't want it to be about him, he wanted it to be about the country."
Okay, so Jefferson probably would not have approved of being part of such a spectactle, but hey, that's the price of fame. But in a way, the racing presidents are about our country, inasmuch as we've been fortunate enough to have leaders that we're willing to cheer, instead of burn, in effigy. Who are the Iraqis going to have in their president race? Probably not that Saddam guy! Can you imagine the Brits racing Henry VII, Elizabeth I and others 'round the jolly ol' pitch? Neither can I, and that's what makes Amurica great!

Mom went on to say: "I think he would have liked the idea that there was a team called the Nationals in Washington, D.C. because he was for anything that brought more glory to the country." I like the idea of the Nationals in D.C., too, but they won't be bringing anyone much glory in 2007. But as Stan Kasten is fond of saying, Washington may be the most important city in the world, and it's important that our capital have a representative in our erstwhile National Pastime. Now about that whole representative in Congress thing...

I asked Mom if Jefferson himself ever had anything to say about sports. Now, baseball wasn't around during Jefferson's lifetime (1743-1826) (or was it?), so we can't know what he would have thought about the game. But he did have this to say about sports:
"Give about two of them {hours}, every day, to exercise; for health must not be sacrificed to learning. A strong body makes the mind strong. Asto the species of exercise, I advise the gun. While this gives a moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise, and independence to the mind. Games played with the ball, and others of that nature, are too violent for the body, and stamp no character on the mind. Let your gun, therefore, be the constant companion of your walks." (Letter from Thomas Jefferson to nephew Peter Carr prior to his matriculation at the College of William and Mary, 1785.)
Despite baseball being a "ball game," I think Jefferson would have appreciated the cerebral nature of baseball, with its reliance on stats and geometric strategy over brute force or raw physical talent.

Anyway, we Nats fans in 2007 owe Thomas Jefferson a huge debt of gratitude. As if it weren't enough that he was instrumental in our independence and doubled the size of our country, Jefferson founded the University of Virginia in 1819. 188 years later, we have UVA phenom and Nats star third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. Destiny, baby, destiny. So the next time you're enjoying a President Race at RFK, think about all that this great man has given us, past and present, and cheer a little louder for the one, the only, Thomas Jefferson.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Viera Guest Posters Wanted


At long last, pitchers and catchers report to Space Coast Stadium today and the Nats 2007 Spring Training has officially begun.

Are you heading down to Viera for Nats Spring Training this year? The Curly W editors are looking for a few good Curly W readers/lurkers to send us dispatches from Viera via email. What kind of dispatches? Anything! Sights, sounds, smells, ribald tales of risque encounters in Motel 6s. Okay, well maybe not that.

We're looking for firsthand accounts of practices, games and anything else of note that you may encounter at Spring Training. We'll post them up on the blog, giving you full credit and thus the international national local microcosmic stardom that has always eluded you.

If you're headed to Viera and can help us out, please email us at thecurlyw at gmail dot com.

Happy Spring Training!

Monday, February 12, 2007

Why Not Just Raise the City?


This just strikes me as spending good money on a bad project

As part of the new stadium district revitilization plan, the District of Columbia is going to make massive renovations to the Frederick Douglass Bridge aka South Capitol Street Bridge, the 58-year old swing span over the Anacostia in the District. For Washingtonians, this is a busy artery in and out of town, giving commuters access to Interstate 295, the eastside north-south thoroughfare through the city. It so happens that the Nationals' new stadium site is right to the east of South Capitol Street just before the Anacostia crossing.

You can see the area by entering this criteria into Google Maps: 1721 s capitol st sw washington dc (it's a random address that shows the area). That big open area above and to the right of the green arrow is the new stadium site. Toggle over to Satellite view and zoom in if you want to look around.

The bridge takes off ground level almost a quarter mile before the river, and two streets, P Street and Potomac Avenue (really three because Q Street intersects Potomac Avenue right at the bridge) go under it. This page at JD Land gives you a good idea of how bad urban highway-ey the area is right now, and how scary it might look at night for a drunken baseball fan looking for his car. The plan is to make the approach to the river on the ground level, and generally more business- and pedestrian-friendly.

There are three problems with this whole thing. I have ordered them in descending order from big to stupid to what the fuck.

The big problem is that this is just a ridiculous undertaking. I followed the whole stadium saga and I never heard about the bridge work, which certainly doesn't mean it was never reported. There was a great deal of talk about 'revitalization' of the area, a la Chinatown with MCI Verizon Center, but I never heard nothing bout no 27 million dollars for lowerin no bridge.

I don't know what makes the city think it can do this for any amount of money in any reasonable timeframe, much less the next year and a half until the stadium opens. If you look at this convenient Washington Post graphic here, you will see 800 feet of the bridge is to be removed and almost 600 feet is to be lowered. Along with demolishing the first section, they will have to clear it, re-grade, pave and install the fan-friendly infrastructure, all the while keeping a major in-out artery open.

As for the section to be lowered, what, are they going to truss the whole thing in temporary suspension, torch out the sections of vertical, lower it and weld? I have no idea how the logistics of something like this can even work but it's a 58-year old bridge. You tell me if you think 27 million dollars and 15 months is what this project will take. The idea that the city that accepted 20 million on credit from Congress for stadium-related Metro renovations but made the 611 million dollar stadium deal before getting a signature on the 20 mil can manage a capital project like lowering a working swing span brige 20 feet in time with the opening of the new stadium is insane.

At this point, I'd like to remind all District residents and Nationals fans that DC Mayor Adrian Fenty was stridently against the stadium plan, but now as mayor is saddled with having to supervise the implemenation of the plan as an honest player. Fun.

Curly W aside: Mayor Fenty, a star I have had the pleasure of watching rise in DC politics since I moved here as an independent adult over a decade ago, will heretofore be known as Mayor Lamont Cranston for his uncanny resemblance to The Shadow, and not the crappy Alec Baldwin Shadow from the movies, the Howard Chaykin comic book revival from the 80s. Hat tip to Why I Hate DC blog here and here.

The stupid problem is that this is an ancient bridge that needs to be replaced. It was finished in 1949 and since I moved here as an independent adult in 1995, the Frederick Douglass Bridge has been a topic for renewal in the District. It rarely opens (seven times in 2005) and it needs to be replaced, but I've never really read about a serious effort to replace it...

...before researching this piece that is. I found the South Capitol Street Bridge Project website here. In February 2005, the District government initiated a study on how to deal with a bridge that is at the

point of being structurally deficient and functionally inefficient.
Ok then. So this study ended in June of last year, and I do not rememeber reading about the results. The site, in District government fashion, conveniently does not feature conclusions. I did see this here though:
The new bridge alignment places the bridge downstream of the existing bridge...The South Capitol Street Bridge Corridor is located in the Coastal Plain Physiographic Province. Locally, the bridge site is characterized by the Pamlico formation of recent Pleistocene Age. It is entirely fluvial and estuarine and consists chiefly of sand, gravel, and silt, with organic silts.
Ok, at this point I need lifetime Eagles fan, season ticket holder and Curly R reader/lurker Wilbert Montgomery, a professional archaeologist, to comment on WTF this stuff all means.

John Kelly reported in November 2006 (op. cit. previous WaPo link) that estimates for a new bridge vary from 285 to 392 million dollars and can't start before 2011.

The what the fuck problem is that this is just not a pedestrian-friendly area. This part of the District feeds drivers in and out of town at a high rate of speed, and I just do not see how the transit needs of this artery to the city overall can match up with the desire to make this area friendly to pedestrian foot traffic and cool chain businesses like Johnny Rockets and Cheesecake Factory. A traffic circle at Potomac Avenue at the western base of the bridge? There's just no way 70,000 vehicles a day works in this plan.

Spending 10 percent of the cost of a new bridge now to meet a deadline that didn't exist when the original replacement timeline was created for a need that suits principally private interests. The stadium charley-foxtrot just got bigger. A lot bigger.



Top image is a detail of the graphic from the Washington Post here.

Photo of the South Capitol Street Bridge: Washington Post photo from 1949 from here.

The Shadow from here. I read this comic in high school and have all four original issues in this miniseries, but they're all in my parents' basement.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Hearing the Voices


I think he gets it

So Barry Svrluga's piece Tuesday on Nationals bloggers is the talk of the Natosphere right now. He interviewed Brandon, who appears in the piece, and expressed some interest in interviewing me, but it's just as well that he did not need the other Curly W voice for the piece since it allows me to retain some semblance of objectivity in commenting on it.

In the first place, it's a good piece and I have no way of knowing how many or whether other newspapers, through reporting or editorial functions, are out there engaging their local (and by 'local' I obviously mean 'topical') blogging communities but my guess is not very many, and most of them are adopting what could either be characterized as an ostrich in the sand or an ignore them and they'll go away posture, depending on your perspective. The Washington Post has always proven pretty progressive in it's approach to online media and let's face it, we link up to WaPo stories more than the Washington Times or MLB.com or other tradmed outlets in part because of WaPo's cool Technorati links on big stories. If I link up to a story there and it gets tagged by the Post's crawler, random incoming Post readers will see our name and link, so there is already some symbiosis.

In full disclosure, I wrote a take on Alan Sipress' January 11 Washington Post article on bloggers in the Scooter Libby trial courtroom that came out before Barry's piece on Nats bloggers, but after I knew that he was reaching out to Nats bloggers for a story. I was not pleased with what I perceived as the angle of Alan's piece, essentially that "bloggers" aren't inclined to hew toward journalistic standards which is a gross overstatement in that blogging is like TV, it's just a medium and besides "newspapers" aren't all sterling examples of journalistic enterprise.

Barry, besides being a Dukie and hopefully taking the Blew Devils' slide hard, is a career journalist. WaPo sports editor Emilio Garcia-Ruiz had his eyes on Barry even before Emilio came to the WaPo, and when Barry had a chance to move away from Maryland basketball to cover the Nationals' inaugural season in 2005 he went with it and capitalized on the experience by turning it into a book. He's married to another WaPo journalist so all told it's fair to say that he pretty well represents the establishment. That he has an entertaining style is merely a bonus for anyone that reads his work.

Frankly to write that much, to be on deadline that often, to have to say something about every game, it is no wonder that Barry has become something of a folk hero amongst the Nationals bloggers. According to this author's interview on his book National Pastime, Barry will be the Nats beat writer through this season then move on, so enjoy it while you can.

What in my mind separates Barry's piece from Alan Sipress' piece is that Barry appears to understand that other voices are additive to the conversation on a topic and Alan wants to lump all independent media into some journalistic void. After leading with Chris from Capitol Punishment, Barry quotes Brandon on our central philosophy of writing on the internet: it's about sharing a viewpoint. As Barry goes down the list, he mentions a number of Nats blogs and what they generally write about or what they've accomplished, but he makes no comment as to whether these outlets are in any way objective, sourced well or writed good. Because that's not his job. Should one's opinion of Nats blogs generally be informed by the quality, coverage or language of any one particular Nats blog? I don't think so but that's really your opinion.

It also is evidence to Brandon and me that slowly, no doubt led by the smart editors and writers, the tradmed is going to have to deal with the rise of independent media. It's incontrovertible fact that newspaper circulations are going down and the profit model for online media like washingtonpost.com is still somewhat of a tenuous proposition, and if I was in the boardroom of the WaPo I'd be jumping up and down screaming that we need to incorporate the aggregation model in conjunction with the generation model. WaPo meet Digg. It's wire services all over again.

There will always be a need for original content, because you can control it, but if all this new media is now out there anyway, available for free or at little expense, why can't it all work together? Yes you have to accept some reduced editorial control, but the blogs that you can work with, you can work with. Give us the eyeballs and we'll do with them as we will, and we'll give you the content at lower cost.

For baseball fans though, just enjoy the variety.



Image of Barry Svrluga & wife Susan Kinzie nabbed from William Yurasko here. It appears to be a photo of the print edition of this Washingtonian article from March 25, 2005.

8 Nats Spring Training Games on MASN

Last year most of us could barely watch any regular season games on MASN. This year, MASN is bringing us all the regular season games plus eight spring training games. In addition, the new pre and postgame show, Nats Xtra, will air for 30 minutes before and after three of the last games in March. According to the press release sent to the Curly W by MASN spokesman Todd "Komcast Killa" Webster, the following games will be available on Comcast this March:

  • Saturday, March 3, 1:05 pm - Orioles-Nationals, Viera, FL
  • Thursday, March 8, 1:05 pm - Astros-Nationals, Viera, FL
  • Friday, March 9, 1:05 pm - Nationals-Orioles, Ft. Lauderdale, FL
  • Monday, March 12, 1:05 pm - Mets-Nationals, Viera, FL
  • Wednesday, March 21, 7:05 pm - Braves-Nationals, Viera, FL
  • Tuesday, March 27, 7:05 pm - Mets-Nationals, Viera, FL
  • Friday, March 30, 2:05 pm - Nationals-Orioles, Norfolk, VA
  • Saturday, March 31, 1:05 pm - Orioles-Nationals, Washington, DC
Note the preponderance of Nats-Orioles games on this schedule. MASN is also broadcasting three additional Orioles games this spring, but gets to save money by airing four contests between Baltimore and Washington. Crafty! Anyway, it'll be nice to have something to watch while the usual ACC suspects are battling it out in the Final Four.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

New Stadium, Old Times

As we prepare to say goodbye to RFK stadium after this season, it's good to be reminded that everything that is old was once new. Reader Mark Judge sent me a photo of his grandfather, Washington Senators great Joe Judge, touring the then-new D.C. Stadium in 1962 (right, click image for closer view). The photo is from the now-defunct Washington Star, which, among people who read this blog, only Farid and Screech's Best Friend are likely to have ever read.

Judge played for an incredible 20 seasons between 1915 and 1934, and was a Senator for 18 of them. He was a teammate of Walter Johnson and was the first baseman on the only Washington team to ever win a World Series in 1924. The Senators beat the New York Giants in seven games that year and would return to the Series in 1925, only to lose to the Pittsburgh Pirates, again in seven games.




Here's a picture of Roger Peckinpaugh, Bucky Harris and Joe Judge at an old-timers' game in the 1950's. The three men, at shortstop, second base and first base, respectively, along with third baseman Ossie Bluege set a then-major-league record 182 double plays in 1923. Can you imagine Zimmerman, Guzman, Lopez and Johnson turning that many in 2007?




I'm not usually one for baseball nostalgia, but I'm always kind of fascinated by how long the game has been around and how many generations of men have played it. I enjoyed learning more about Joe Judge and those Senators teams of long ago. The 32-year hiatus of Washington baseball left a giant gap in the legends of the D.C. diamond. I'm glad to be here for the beginning of some new legends. Thanks to Mark Judge for sharing the pictures of his grandfather Joe. If you'd like to learn more about Joe Judge and the 1924 World Champion Washington Senators, check out Mark's book Damn Senators: My Grandfather and the Story of Washington's Only World Championship.

If any other readers have old pictures or materials from the Senators (or even the Nationals) days, send 'em on in! It's good to keep the history alive.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Post-ed!


Nats Bloggers Get 15 Seconds of Fame

I was having an IM conversation with MissChatter last week about the changing relationship of blogs and the mainstream media when - **DING** - an email appeared in my inbox. It was from the Washington Post's Barry Svrluga, who wanted to interview me for a story he was writing on Nationals blogs. I burst out laughing; the synchronicity of it all was too much. I spoke to Svrluga on the phone the next day for about 10 minutes and had the opportunity to answer some great questions. Barry's story ran in today's sports section; you can check it out here.

I'm glad that Svrluga wrote a story about Nationals blogs because I think it's a compelling one. To the uninitiated, 15 blogs about a two-year-old team may sound like overkill but that couldn't be further from the truth. Each of the blogs follows the team from a completely different perspective, creating a rich tapestry of coverage. As I mentioned to Svrluga (the quote didn't make the article), there is some absolutely brilliant writing on many of the Nats blogs, and they're worth the twenty minutes or so it takes to skim them each day.

If you're popping over from the Post, check out some of the links in the "Natosphere" section of the sidebar. If you're a Nats fan, bookmark them or pop them in the ol' newsreader and enjoy them with your morning coffee or on your lunch hour.

I'm also thrilled that team executives are reading the blogs. To me, it says that they are interested in the thoughts of at least their most vocal fans. So many sports ownership groups are demonized for ignoring the fans, and it's clear that Stan Kasten and his team are bucking this trend.

Ben and I started writing about the Nationals to follow my favorite team more closely, and it's grown into an incredibly fulfilling hobby. Thanks so much for reading!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Hold On to Your Wallets

2007 has just started and already it seems that people in Washington can't wait for it to be over. 2008 is the year that everyone is talking about. Next year will feature an epic showdown of a presidential election and the opening of the new Nats ballpark on the Anacostia. Stan Kasten and the Nats' marketing apparatus have certainly been making a lot of noise about 2008. In fact, the team's primary sales pitch for 2007 season tickets has been that fans can secure their "priority" for season tickets in the new park.

I'll admit to having bought into this logic, in a way. I have gone to about 20 games each of the last two seasons so this year I figured that I might as well enjoy a meager discount on the price of each ticket and get a small leg up on 2008. The more I think about 2008, though, the more I wonder if I'll be able to afford these tickets in the new ballpark. Everyone knows that cities and teams build new ballparks to generate truckloads of cash. New facilities offer more amenities to premium customers at premium prices, and the Nats new park will be no different.

Not content to wait until 2008 to learn the fate of my season ticket prices, I decided to cull some numbers on ticket price increases in the first year of each new stadium since Camden Yards opened for business in 1992. Now I'm not one to usually go all Spreadsheet on my readers, but the table I've put together offers a look at what our wallets could be in for next year.

The table compares the team average ticket price and percentage increase for the first year in a new ballpark against the league average price and increase that same year:

2004
YearLeague AvgIncreaseTeamTeam AvgIncrease
2006$22.215.36%Cardinals
$29.7812.09%

$19.823.90%Phillies$26.0851.26%
2004

Padres$21.4131.94%
2003$19.013.43%Reds$18.1290.30%
2001$17.644.94%Brewers$16.3239.25%
2001

Pirates$19.5165.34%
2000$16.8112.10%Astros$20.0350.60%
2000

Tigers$24.83103.00%
1999$15.009.90%Mariners$19.0127.20%
1997$12.399.40%Braves$17.1831.50%
1994$10.608.90%Rangers$12.0735.20%
1994

Indians$12.0638.60%
1992$9.413.00%Orioles$9.6513.80%
AVERAGE
6.77%
$18.9345.39%

*All numbers retrieved from the Team Marketing Report's Fan Cost Index.

Whoa. The price of a ticket in a new ballpark has increased by 45% over the previous season's average price for the last fifteen years. If we extend that projection out to the Nats, we get an average ticket price of $30.36 in the new stadium, up from $20.88 in 2006. Smarty-pants readers will note that the drastic increases foisted upon Tigers and Reds fans skew the averages for such a small sample set. When I took out those outliers I found that the average new ballpark ticket price was $18.46, still a 36% increase over the previous year.

Of course, these are just averages, and there are many other factors that will influence actual ticket prices in the new stadium. As I researched this post I came across several articles that suggested that seat scarcity was a significant driver of the dramatic increase in new stadium ticket prices. I headed to Ballparks.com to crunch the numbers on this hypothesis to see how significant the drop in capacity has been for each of the thirteen new stadiums I examined. I'm too lazy to code up another table, but the average capacity of the old stadiums was 55,652 while the average capacity of their successors is 44,272. This represents a net change of 11,380 fewer seats per stadium in new ballparks.

Anyone who has studied economics knows that a reduction in supply will increase prices, but the "scarcity" argument fails to account for demand. Almost all of the stadiums that have been replaced were dual-purpose facilities designed for NFL and MLB use. All of the numbers that I examined were baseball capacity numbers, but the old stadiums featured a surplus of seats even when configured for baseball. My guess is that those old parks had nearly empty upper decks except for opening day or playoff sellouts. To accurately test the scarcity claim we'd need to compare the attendance capacity percentages for the old parks with the annual ticket price increases. Again, I'm too lazy to do this, and it's irrelevant anyway.

While it's true that there is a smaller supply of seats in new, baseball-only stadiums, this scarcity only drives demand in the immediate aftermath of a new park's debut. A new park may sell out for several seasons, but attendance settles back into average territory after a few years. Attendance capacity percentage in 2006 hovered between 60-55% in Texas, Cleveland and Baltimore, home to the "oldest" new stadiums. New parks may stir interest in the short run, but only successful, popular teams can maintain sustained demand for tickets.

Yes, everyone will want Nats tickets next year, and it will be tempting for Stan Kasten to jack up prices to the maximum level that demand will support. But the team is still trying to put down roots in Washington, so I'll be surprised if the Nats fail to offer an affordable, entry-level season ticket package. If I can get my foot in the door as a fan on a budget, I'm likely to stick around and upgrade my ticket package as my disposable income permits. I'm also fairly young at 29; if the Nats don't slam the door in my face they are likely to have my business as long as I live in the area.

Of course, whining about ticket prices is about as cliched as whining about player salaries. With each announced increase the media dutifully conducts man-on-the-street interviews with average Joes who complain that if ticket prices get any higher they will no longer attend sporting events. I dug up a hilarious WaPo article from 1997 featuring area sports fans bitching about prices for the then-new MCI Center and Jack Kent Cooke stadium. The average price of a Wizards ticket had just jumped 42% to $51.63, the average Redskins ticket was $55, and people were freaking out:

Paul Peterson's Redskins season tickets are so precious that he keeps them hidden in an underwear drawer. He and his wife have been going to games for about 30 years, but this year's price increase to $55 a ticket is giving him second thoughts.

"If they keep going up, I'd seriously consider saying, `Hey, we're not going to do it,' " said Peterson, 66.
Complaints like this can be heard all over town, usually as people are waiting in line at the stadium to hand over wads of cash for tickets. The last time I went to Fed Ex field the place was packed despite a price of $85 for the worst seat in the house. I bet Paul Peterson was at the game.

So I'm ready for the big price hike next year and I am ready to pony up for as many games as I can. I'm hopeful that the Nats will continue to offer an entry-level season ticket package like mine, but I'm not holding my breath. No matter what anyone says, the purpose of the new park is to milk cash from the swollen udders of the lobbyists, lawyers and corporate fat cats that waddle along the concourses of the Verizon Center and Fed Ex field. I respect that; it's the American way. I just hope there's enough pricing tiers so that all of us can continue to be a part of Nationals baseball.

The Monopoly Man is a trademark of the Hasbro Company.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Blurring the Lines? More Like Disturbing the Peace.


This is not me working on Curly W

There was a piece in the Washington Post last Thursday about how blogging is taking one step closer to legitimacy because there are bloggers in the courtroom covering the Irving Lewis 'Scooter' Libby trial. Forget power suits and lunch at The Palm, it's pajamas and pop-tarts, the bloggers are here! And they're taking your seat in the press pool!

It is an empty, backhanded piece, still more evidence that the traditional media (tradmed) doesn't understand blogging and what the tradmed does not understand it fears and what it fears it seeks to delegitimize. Don't believe it? Check out media reaction to Stephen Colbert's White House Correspondents Dinner performance back in May 2006. Here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

After pretending to laud the progress bloggers' presence at the Libby trial signifies, the piece reverts to tradmed form, reminding the reader that the difference between bloggers and tradmed journalists is that the tradmedia follows a "checks and balances process" that includes "verifying facts, seeking both sides of the story and subjecting an article to editing." And in case you missed this little rhetorical device, that comment about basic journalistic practices being "honored mostly in the breach" by blogs is not complimentary.

Bouncing innuendo, defamatory voices, "experiment of free expression," it's all there in the Post's take on blogs. The best is yet to come though: a veiled threat to anyone that would put their words in public without the veneer of an "approved" media outlet.

Several media experts have been predicting a greater presence of bloggers in court -- as defendants. For instance, [Thomas] Kunkel, [Dean of UMD journalism school] who is also president of the American Journalism Review, said courts might soon draw the limits of what is acceptable by imposing hefty libel and defamation judgments on bloggers, many of whom do not realize their writings can have expensive legal consequences.
Blogging liability insurance? I'm all for expanding the alternative media, but give me a fucking break. Here is the message: careful what you write amateur because someone might decide to get litigious. The problem with that blockquote above? It's bullshit. And the first precedent came down for us just four days ago: Apple vs. the John Does that run AppleInsider and PowerPage.

For those that don't know, in December 2004, Apple filed a lawsuit against these two (gossip? rumor? technology? blog? news?) sites for reporting confidential and presumably leaked information about future products. Apple alleged that these sites were not covered by California journalism shield laws and should be forced to reveal their sources because they are not 'legitimate' news sites. The court disagreed, saying
We can think of no workable test or principle that would distinguish 'legitimate' from 'illegitimate' news," and that the the rumor sites appear "conceptually indistinguishable from publishing a newspaper, and we see no theoretical basis for treating it differently. (Links: the case, the verdict, the aftermath in which Apple pays the defendants' legal fees.)
That's really good news for people that discuss facts, issue opinion, use the First Amendment and stay away from making shit up and defaming other people.

What is my point? Here is my point. First, 'blogging' doesn't mean anything by itself, and neither does 'bloggers.' Blogging refers to an action and a medium, not an end, an intent or a product. Bloggers are writers. When you meet someone in a bar and ask them what they do and they say I'm a writer, you need at least some other piece of information to know what that means. A technical writer, a novelist and a medical transcriptionist are all writers.

Second, the end product may be contained within a web log, but only the editor knows the real message, and only the editor chooses how to reveal that message. That the writer and editor are the same person makes no difference. The Curly R and The Curly W happen to have a full paid staff including reporters, researchers, columnists, editors and publishers. That they are all me and Brandon and what we get paid for is not blogging is beside the point.

Why would you believe that not submitting my work to someone for review somehow invalidates it? Because some old dude in the biz didn't bless it? Have you ever read a small town newspaper? Talk about the WaPo and NYT needing some perspective.

Blogs self-select into categories or types, and subject matter is coincidental. Two blogs may share the same subject matter, and yet have nothing in common beyond that subject matter. Surprise, like newspapers. Ever read the New York Post? Since Rupert Murdoch reacquired it in 1993, it has little resembled anything approaching an objective news source, and yet is the 5th largest newspaper in the country.

So something the world of blogs is just coming to terms with is to what degree should blogs of different character but similar subject matter be lumped together? As the recent dustup in the Washington Nationals blogworld indicates to me, blog authors themselves have not yet figured out how to define the fault lines which tells me that the tradmed is still years away from understanding that a poorly written and unsourced journal, or the front-brain personal musings on some subject matter should not even appear in a serious discussion with a well-written, researched and sourced journal on the same subject matter. The terms we will use to define serious internet writing will be things like alternative media, niche media, affinity media, but note that they all include the term 'media.'

Which brings me back to the top of this piece. Bloggers are in the courthouse in the trial of the year, if not the decade. They are there, hearing the arguments, observing the jury's reaction and giving you the story. If you want to see what bloggers are writing about this trial, have a look here, and here. But do not be impressed that the tradmed is taking note of all this. They are afraid and they will attempt to enforce a nonexistent pecking order among blogs in an effort to dilute the impact of the most influential ones, until that time when they realize that serious blogs are part of the traditional media, and reach out to bring them into the conversation. It's called siege mentality.

This piece was cross-posted on The Curly R.



Peter Tork in bunny pajamas from here.

Kearns Collides with New Contract


Not the highlight of Austin's 2006

The Nationals have avoided arbitration with right fielder Austin Kearns by signing him to a three-year deal, with a club option on a fourth year. Barry Svrluga would not disclose the details of the deal. Bill Ladson was not available for comment.

I remember Austin's 2006 highlights this way: traded to Washington by Jim Bowden, who drafted Austin in Cincinnati, thereby disproving my theory that Jim can't remember anything that happened before two weeks ago, was sad about being traded away from his hometown team the Reds (Farid and MissChatter from last season on Austin's funk) , collided with Nick Johnson, breaking Nick's femur, which incidentally is the hardest bone in the body to break. Nick is coming along but may still miss the beginning of the 2007 season.

But it appears as though Austin actually had a career year last season. He had career highs in games played, home runs, RBI and doubles. I hope he can keep the injury bug away this season because he might be able to carry his weight.

I'll be interested in getting Brandon's take on this trade. Back in August, he said this about trading for Austin and Felipe Lopez:

I'd rather see [Jim Bowden] pursue guys he's had a long time to evaluate than take a chance on random players he's never heard of. If you were a manager at your job and you had to hire a bunch of positions, the first people you would recruit would be the best people from your old job, right?...Now, the issue of Bowden's competence in placing so much faith in Kearns and the like is another story...
Brandon, that other story starts now.



Austin Kearns and Nick Johnson. Disclaimer: photographed after they collided. Photo by Julie Jacobson / AP here