March 31, 2007

Are we taking steps backward at RFK?

Watson and I attended the Exhibition game today, and I have some thoughts here around the fan experience.

First, for those who didn't check it out, Hard Times Cafe is gone from the food court, replaced by a lesser hot dog vendor. The chili cheese dog I ordered came with Cheez Whiz as the cheese topping. The hot dog was also not nearly as big and tasty. This is a big step backward. Watson was disappointed by the removal of the Burrito Brothers location. That is now standard RFK fare.

A trip to the team store didn't reveal much in the way of new stuff -- and good luck solving the jersey problem. :) I'm pretty sure Wilkerson is getting another year on the Nats with me.

The other big note from me -- pay attention to the graphics on the scoreboard. The background is the "under construction" stadium. Even in our last year at RFK, we're focused on 2008 already -- even in the graphics.

I'm with Brandon on this -- let's focus on making THIS year a fun experience at the ballpark, and stop making everything about 2008.

March 30, 2007

Vegas odds

Most others in the Natosphere are focused on Boz's article about how bad we are but how good we'll be.

Me, I'm focused on the Vegas odds contained within. 68-94? Just three more losses than last year. I'm going to Vegas next month -- I may have to put some money down. I'm starting to think that might be possible.

And less than 24 hours from a return to RFK.

March 29, 2007

Dave, Watson and Nate Take On: 2007 Nationals Progdown Blognostication Credibility Challenge

We here at NTP are always up for a challenge to provide opinions when we know little to nothing.

BallWonk, we're up for your ....

And to do so, we've brought back our "Take On" format, so you get three times the stupidity for the price of one. In order of responses in the email thread amongst the NTP staff....

  1. Nationals season record. 79-83
  2. Nationals NL East division place and games back (if any). Last Place, 14 games back.
  3. Date on which Nick Johnson first appears in a Nationals game. May 15th
  4. Date on which Nick Johnson suffers season-ending injury. He makes it without
  5. Nationals team leader in pitching starts, with number of starts. Bergmann with 26 starts
  6. Total number of starting pitchers used. 14
  7. Number of ejections for Manny Acta. 2
  8. Guzman's batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging average. .296, .314, .370
  9. Nationals home runs at RFK. 68
  10. Paid attendance for the July 21 game against Colorado at RFK (our only Fox national broadcast of 2007). 21,496 (I mean, it's a game with the NATS and the ROCKIES -- no one will be interested).

  1. Nationals season record. 68-94 (BTW Dave, there’s 162 games, not 160.)
  2. Nationals NL East division place and games back (if any). Last Place, 25 games back.
  3. Date on which Nick Johnson first appears in a Nationals game. May 29th
  4. Date on which Nick Johnson suffers season-ending injury. He makes it through
  5. Nationals team leader in pitching starts, with number of starts. Patterson with 27 starts
  6. Total number of starting pitchers used. 11
  7. Number of ejections for Manny Acta. 4
  8. Guzman's batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging average. .255, .298, .374
  9. Nationals home runs at RFK. 74
  10. Paid attendance for the July 21 game against Colorado at RFK (our only Fox national broadcast of 2007). 27,234

  1. Nationals season record. 72-90
  2. Nationals NL East division place and games back (if any). 4th place, 19 games back.
  3. Date on which Nick Johnson first appears in a Nationals game. July 13th
  4. Date on which Nick Johnson suffers season-ending injury. July 21st, before a national TV audience
  5. Nationals team leader in pitching starts, with number of starts. Jerome Williams, 29 starts
  6. Total number of starting pitchers used. 9
  7. Number of ejections for Manny Acta. 3
  8. Guzman's batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging average. .270, .310, .385
  9. Nationals home runs at RFK. 63
  10. Paid attendance for the July 21 game against Colorado at RFK (our only Fox national broadcast of 2007). 24,928

Now BallWonk, we're expecting you to keep score here.

March 28, 2007

Jersey stupidity, part 2

This is almost becoming an epic. Not only should I be working and not blogging, I shouldn't have done this effort today. Let's do both.

I stopped by Modells between client visits today. To their credit, they have a very impressive collection of Nats merchandise (lots of hats, shirts, boxers, etc), and so I was hopeful this might be the answer to the jersey question. Oh, was I wrong.

They do have a lot of jerseys, in terms of quantity of units of clothing hanging on the rack. They are available in three basic varieties -- the Home, the Away, and the red alternate (with the DC lettering). None of the new blue BP/Spring Training collection.

Here's what was particularly amusing. Your player selections:

  • Armas
  • Guillen
  • Wilkerson (both authentic and replica!)
  • Guzman -- and wow, did they have a lot!
  • Majewski
  • Vidro

For the record, there was not a SINGLE Zimmerman jersey available. In fact, there was not a single jersey available for a player that actually PLAYS for the Nats. Not a one. The helpful store clerk remarked on the fact that they were hoping to get some Zimmerman jerseys, and agreed with my assessment that there really weren't any good choices.

Now, you can get each of the jerseys without a player name. I picked up the red alternate jersey, with no player, for a mere $20 on sale. I'll be wearing it to the Exhibition game on Saturday.

I'm going to shop the team store in RFK on Saturday. This is getting actually amusing, and something of a quest. The customized "The Plan" jersey idea will run me $250. I'm giving it some serious thought.

March 24, 2007

The jersey problem

So I have a really stupid problem.

I'm actually not the first person to have this problem. Unlike Miss Chatter (and more power to her), however, I feel obligated to make a change.

Nate, Watson and I went into the 2005 season committed to the whole deal -- we were going to be fans, and do it right. So we all went out and bought jerseys. Nate wears Guzman (are you surprised by the inventor of Guzmania?), Watson wears Johnson, and I bought Wilkerson. Yeah, I lose on this one, don't I?

Nate suffered through 2005 with his boy Gooz, and then patiently sat through 2006 anticipating 2007 and 2008. I say the whole Gooz abides bits are really so he can get more mileage out of the damn jersey.

Watson gets the straight and level path with Johnson -- he's always there, at least. Even with injury now, you see Nick in workouts, and you know he's a going to be with the team.

I made the decision partly into the 2006 season that I was going to get another jersey. The issue really was two fold: 1) who to get a jersey for and 2) would the team change the jerseys for the 2007 season as a way to make some cash and be able to make another round of changes in 2008. With that logic, I held off buying last season, under the guise of the grace period, by ruling of Watson and Nate. Since I really only have to worry about embarrassing them, they gave me a pass.

I almost pulled the trigger on the red alternate jersey last year, but being as there weren't players available on it, I held off.

So here we are going into 2007. I have to make a firm decision this week on what the hell to do, especially for Opening Day. I feel, as a fan, that I just can't show up in the Wilkerson jersey. That has the be retired for a while.

If you puruse the Nats website, you find a really, really short (or lame) set of options. In fact, let's take a quick look. If ordering online, your options are Chad Cordero (a good choice), or Livan!!. For those who haven't been watching, Livan doesn't even play for our team anymore!

I need to swing over to Modell's and see what they have, but their website offers little hope. Besides the same two I listed, I could mimic Watson and go with Nick Johnson, available only in the home variety, unlike Livan, who you can get in Home and Away.

If you look at BP, appreantly, we have only one option -- Zimm. Nate observed to me that this is truely the safe choice, but I feel is really somewhat lame. I'm making a half-assed attempt to be a distinguishing fan, not a 12 year old picking the easy choice.

Does this leave me to choose Cordero? If I do, will I end up wearing the jersey of a Colorado Rockie within the season?

I'm half tempted to get a personalized jersey that says "The Plan" or "Draft Pick" or something along those lines. Of course, it wouldn't be ready for Opening Day, and I'd be wearing my Wilkerson jersey.

What is a fan to do this season?

March 18, 2007

City based branding

I can't speak for Nate's silence -- I think work has him swept up -- and I know Watson is focused like a laser on March Madness and won't emerge until someone comes out of that particular cage victorious, but my own lack of attention to most things Nats for the past two weeks has entirely been travel related. Three cities in two weeks, with only a few days at home. I'm really not sure what time zone my body thinks it is. I do enjoy those Nats text alerts from MLB -- I at least feel part of the continuous losing even when I'm not home to enjoy it.

I'm back from LA, and have decided I actively dislike that city. I also understand why.

Remember that friend of yours who didn't bathe often? The one who gets somewhat "crusty"? They likely had dreadlocks or bad sideburns or grew a nasty, matted beard. That person?

Imagine a city like that -- the city itself, not just the people. (Although the people are also a lot like that). The city feels like it lets itself go -- just growing hair in odd places, not bothering to bathe itself. I was not particularly impressed. (Don't get me wrong -- sections of our fine 'burg have much the same problem. I just couldn't find sections I really liked in LA -- so everywhere had a bad shave.)

I was very much struck by one thing, however. Just about everywhere I looked, I ended up seeing LA/Anaheim Angels ads. And these ads were not for season tickets, players, or even games. They were just "branding" ads, where the team logo is just placed around town. I took a (admittedly bad) picture to show what I mean.

These things were all over town -- bus stops, billboards, all the way from Anaheim into Hollywood. Every few minutes, I saw one of these.

I recognize that the Angels have a branding problem, and desperately want to be associated with LA rather than Anaheim. This is likely driving the branding campaign around town.

This does parallel our situation in DC, however. Don't the Nats desperately want to be associated much more closely with the city than they are? Aren't they building brand awareness in the city, and considering the state of player development, should be focused on the "Nationals" brand rather than specific player (besides, perhaps, Zim)? If your ad campaign is focused around "buy season tickets so you get good seats at the new ballpark", focus on team + city.

As Nats bloggers, we're focused on the team on a pretty consistent basis. We're thus not your regular DC citizen. Is there any branding in the city to any serious extent? The radio ads are back, but so far I haven't seen that much else. My quick research tells me that White and Partners are doing this year's campaigns, and they may have some of the right ideas in doing marketing, but this seems to me to be something that needs to be much more ongoing.

If the Nats aren't going to spend money on players this year (which seems to be the implementation of "The Plan"), how about they spend some money on connecting with the city? Make the fan experience fantastic, and spend some real effort to connect with the city. If that works, you'll start to get momentum with the campaign just about the time they are worth watching on the field.

March 3, 2007


The best news of the day happened off the field. Congratulations to Brian Schneider on the birth of his first child. By all accounts, mother and daughter are doing great. So it turns out handling four new starters will be the easy part of Brian's 2007.

It's not good to lose to the Orioles. Ever. It's just not a habit we want this team to cultivate. Other things that are not good: having Joel Hanrahan pitch in meaningful game situations. Whew, good thing we figured that out now. Whether Stan, Jim and Manny envisioned Joel as a potential starter or a long reliever, I just can't think of many situations where an ERA of 135 (yes, that's one hundred and thirty five) will be of much use. Still, it's unfair to read too much into one spring outing, no matter how utterly, completely abyssmal.

That's what these Spring Training games are for. And we certainly should expect the Nationals to have far more chaff than wheat when the separating gets underway in earnest. With that in mind, here's a very preliminary WAG at the Nats 2007 Opening Day 25-man roster:
  • C Brian Schneider - New daddy will have his hands full with this pitching.
  • 1B Larry Broadway - If the team is serious, Broadway will be the Opening Day 1B.
  • 2B Felipe Lopez - If he can't lead off and play 2B, the options aren't pretty.
  • 3B Ryan Zimmerman - Pre-season favorite for Team MVP, token All-Star, etc.
  • SS Cristian Guzman - GUZMANIA is neither man nor idea, it's a force of nature.
  • LF Ryan Church - Maybe this is his year? Like Broadway, he's earned a shot.
  • CF Nook Logan - His flycatcher defense? Breathtaking. His flyswatter offense? Nauseating.
  • RF Austin Kearns - Right fielder by the grace of God; slugger by default.
  • IF Ronnie Belliard - Insurance against Guzman's injury or Lopez's failure to adjust.
  • C Robert Fick - Versatile vet and good clubhouse guy, as long as he never has to start.
  • OF Chris Snelling - Out of options. He stays or we lose him on waivers.
  • IF D'Angelo Jiminez - Better him than Macias, Womack or Batista.
  • C Jesus Flores - He stays or we give him back to the Mets. Ergo, he stays.
  • John Patterson - Closest we've got to a sure thing.
  • Jerome Williams - Young, undeniably talented, only real prospect in the bunch.
  • Tim Redding - If he can put in 200 innings and keep the ERA around 4.50 he's a steal.
  • Shawn Hill - A full season like his 2006 audition would be a bonus.
  • Jason Simontacchi - Somebody has to start the season as the 5th starter. Why not him?
  • Billy Traber - He's left-handed and he can "start." He'll stick.
  • Saul Rivera - Maybe, maybe not. But someone has to fill the slot.
  • Ryan Wagner - If he improves he could go from middle reliever to setup guy to closer.
  • Ray King - Rubber-armed lefty. Besides, every bullpen needs a jolly fat man.
  • Jon Rauch - Bullpen anchor will be expected to take the pressure off Ayala.
  • Luis Ayala - Hopefully he starts the season on the DL. If not, he'll be very limited.
  • Chad Cordero - He's The Chief. Until he gets traded.
There are a few assumptions at work here. The first is that Nick Johnson and "Irish Mike" O'Connor will start the season on the DL. The second is that they'll be joined by Alex Escobar, "rehabbing" his current injuries. Third, I expect Nook Logan and Larry Broadway to start the season in the bigs. How long they stay there is another question. Finally, Manny's 7-man bullpen will include at least one swingman like Billy Traber, capable of spot-starting if needed. And he will be needed.

Is it a great team? By no means. Is it even a competitive team? That's arguable. But I don't see it as the worst team in baseball either. Then again, I've been drinking.

March 2, 2007

We've Got Game!

Dodgers 12, Nationals 7

Sure, it was a loss. And no, it wasn't close. But we ought to start getting adjusted to that, dontchathink? More importantly, it was Nationals Baseball! It's really sort of embarrassing how happy I was to hear Charlie and Dave 2.0 call that first pitch. I had to time my lunch break so I'd be in the car to catch WaPo radio. (My office has some bias against streaming media that I've never bothered to fully investigate.)

So what can one spring training game tell you? Absolutely nothing. But that would make this a short post. And I don't do short posts. So let us extrapolate wildly from tiny available samples.
  • Shawn Hill didn't embarass himself. Avoiding embarrassing 3-inning, 8-run outings is going to be key for the Nats starters this season. So good for Shawn. He makes the starting rotation.

  • D'Angelo Jiminez makes Cristian Guzman look like Ozzie Smith. He handled the bat well, but might as well have taken it into the field with him for all the good his glove did. We'll stash D'Angelo in Columbus and call him Utility Infielder Plan B should something go terribly wrong with Ronnie Belliard.

  • Manny Acta should consider electronic monitoring bracelets on outfielders who attempt to take the extra base. Do you see a crusty old Hall of Famer in the dugout? Do you hear snoring? No? Then this isn't Frank Robinson's team any more. Play smart on the bases.

  • Kearns-Church-Snelling. Say it with me people. Kearns-Church-Snelling. This is the Nationals best outfield. You know it. I know it. Let's hope Manny figures it out. If you must keep Nook, he'll be a fine pinch bunter/pinch runner/defensive sub... off the bench.

  • Larry Broadway doesn't have to be great, he just has to not hit into inning-ending DPs.

  • 22-year old relievers have minor league options for a reason. Use them.

March 1, 2007

A Flaming Pile of . . . Fun???

Ghost Rider

Matt Watson – 2 out of 5 Stars

It’s been awhile since I wrote a movie review. I could have reviewed Letters from Iwo Jima or Smokin’ Aces but instead I decided to wait until we saw Ghost Rider. I shouldn’t have waited.

Ghost Rider is the story of Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage), son of a motorcycle daredevil that as a teenager signs his soul over to the devil. In exchange for his Johnny’s wish, the Devil makes Johnny a ghost rider, one of the devil's bounty hunters. When the time comes it will be up to Johnny to find and repatriate demons that have escaped from Hell.

The movie started out promisingly enough. Director Mark Steven Johnson sets up the action quickly and our introduction to Peter Fonda as the Devil is a great scene that’s tinged with little references to Easy Rider. He even manages to get in a quick nod to bluesman Robert Johnson and his famous crossroads tale. Unfortunately, once we catch up to Johnny as an Adult, its all high gear and there’s no time for niceties.

We find out that Johnny has continued in his father’s daredevil footsteps and is a modern day Evel Knievel. Each jump is more perilous than the last because in the back of his mind Johnny knows he’s under the protection of the devil. Each stunt is an almost an attempt at suicide. His latest stunt is jumping a football field and that feat brings him back home to Texas and into contact with his childhood sweetheart Roxanne (Eva Mendes). She’s all grown up and works as the on scene reporter for a local TV station. Johnny abandoned her once and before he can make things right with her the Devil comes to collect on Johnny’s debt. It seems the Devil’s son, Blackheart (Wes Bentley), is trying to steal the throne of darkness from dad and its Johnny’s job to stop him. Oh yeah, and this is when Johnny turns into a flaming skeleton. That’s right, a skeleton. Yep, he’s on fire. Once you get past that the effects are well done. Ghost Rider is pretty menacing and his skeleton motorcycle is badass. Unfortunately that’s about it. His powers aren’t very cool and he talks in a mono-syllabic whine that it completely distracting.

I know I’m not painting a pretty picture here, and that’s on purpose. From a film perspective the movie is pretty bad. But I have to say, I enjoyed myself. Ghost Rider is the kind of picture that you just have to let go to enjoy. The actors have nothing to work with, the effects are over the top, the plot is non-existent, and the whole thing is terrible. Except that it’s a lot of fun. Eva Mendes looks great, Nic Cage gets to be Nic Cage, Sam Elliot does his thing as the older, wiser mentor, and we get to see a flaming skeleton ride around town on a Harley from hell. What’s not to like? When I saw the trailer for this movie I thought “that looks awful but I want to see it anyway”. I was right, it was awful but I’m glad I saw it.