Next week, Jews worldwide will ask: Why is this night different from all other nights? I’ve been asking that question at my seder table for years now, but this year, I will add the question: Why does this year’s Opening Day feel different from all other Opening Days? And I can’t answer that question, but it feels different, right? I’ve been to every season home opener since 2013, but this one feels different.
It has been almost a year since the Lerner family announced they would explore a sale of the franchise; nothing happened during the offseason with the sale; General Manager Mike Rizzo and Manager Dave Martinez are in the final year of their contracts. Even the diehard fans, the ones who show up no matter what, are bothered by a lack of transparency on how the club will be run moving forward and who will run the team, and also how the prices of the tickets, food items at the stadium and lack of other promotions don’t match the product that will be put on the field during the season.
The big difference between the previous rebuilds and this year is that there are no young players on the team, or prospects in the system, that are particularly exciting to the casual fan. Yes, there are some very good young players. But do any of them remind you of Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Juan Soto, or Trea Turner?
Don’t get me wrong; I am so excited to see some new faces lineup on the first base side this year from the likes of CJ Abrams, Keibert Ruiz, Josiah Gray, and McGenize Gore. I also look forward to seeing players in the Nationals minor leagues perform over the season, such as Jackson Rutledge, Brady House, and countless others. However, a piece of connected tissue is missing this year, and I can’t figure out exactly what that is.
Interestingly, the Nationals Communications and Media Relations department has put up significant barriers for non-mainstream media outlets to cover the team and help expand the team’s reach and its “positive outlook.”
For example, in a recent Twitter exchange, I saw that TalkNats had been removed following the Nationals PR Twitter handle and since sought reinstatement. For a team looking towards the future and struggling to get fans in the stadium, the front office surely doesn’t want to help themselves. Inviting non-mainstream media outlets to attend press conferences, bringing back blogger days at Nats Park, and out-of-the-box thinking from the Nationals PR team would help the team move in the right direction. For a front office that wants to look towards the future, they are still holding on to the past.
It’s not just me; according to a recent Washington Post article, fans across the region have the same feelings about the team: “As the team’s record worsened in recent years, the price of many seats steadily increased, though the cost of most season plans did stay the same from 2022 to 2023. Still, a ‘significant number’ of season plan holders did not renew, according to two people familiar with the situation, and attendance is expected to dip considerably. A team spokeswoman declined to provide year-to-year specifics for season plan holders. But full-season plan holders are counted in the paid attendance of every game, and Washington’s lowest attendance of 2022 was 9,261 for the first leg of a doubleheader in mid-April.”
I recently talked to one of my neighbors about the upcoming season, and he told me that he dropped his season tickets this year and will watch all the games at home because it has become too expensive to attend what he called “A triple-A game.” He said, “inflation is not only killing me at the grocery store, but it feels like inflation is now hitting me at the ballpark too.”
According to Baseball Reference, the Washington Nationals finished 2022 with a paid attendance of 2,026,401, their lowest paid attendance number since 2011, not counting years with pandemic restrictions. That ranked 17th in the majors and fourth in the National League East.
What will be the number this year? Don’t worry; you will still see my son and me at this year’s Opening Day because it’s baseball and the Washington Nationals, and that is what my family does during the Spring, no matter what. I hope to see you there also!