WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON-- --Eager to improve the game-day experience for Washington Nationals fans, the club's new owners plan to soon solicit fans' advice on what's working and what's not.
The owners had better be ready for an earful.
The Sun informally asked fans recently about their team and stadium and got a wide array of suggestions - some serious, some humorous, some pointed, some a bit far-fetched.
One fan said the scoreboard was too small and bland and should be upgraded.
Another fan said the RFK Stadium fences should be moved in - a proposition the club's pitchers hope is quickly squelched. "I think the fences are just fine the way they are," said left-hander Mike O'Connor, a Mount St. Joseph graduate.
A third fan said Nationals rooters should be counseled to stop making shouted references during the national anthem to the Orioles' nickname, the O's.
"That's one of the bushest things," said Barry Kemelhor, 53, of Rockville. "It's disrespectful. During the national anthem, you're supposed to be standing up with your hand over your heart."
Not to mention, Kemelhor said, RFK is Washington's stadium - not Baltimore's - and shouts of encouragement should be geared to the home club instead of the team up the road. The shouts of "Ooooooh" have been dissipating but have not completely disappeared.
Kemelhor and Matthew Maury, 54, of Bethesda, said they would advise the new owners to paint the lower-level seats a new color. The problem? The orange seats evoke the colors of the Orioles instead of the Nationals, who wear red, white and blue.
On May 18, Major League Baseball approved the $450 million sale of the Nationals to a group headed by Washington native Theodore N. Lerner, a shopping mall and office complex developer.
Lerner and his son, Mark, plan a grand "reopening" of RFK Stadium on July 21 to let fans know that they are committed to addressing their concerns.
Though the details haven't yet been announced, the club is expected to soon announce a procedure for fans to vent their frustrations, which have also included long concessions lines and less-than-bountiful food options. Season-ticket sales are down this season by some 20 percent compared with last year.
Interviewed before a recent game, fans seemed to understand the Lerners are operating under certain limitations. Built in 1961, RFK Stadium was given an $18.5 million face lift to accommodate the arrival of the Nationals - the former Montreal Expos - before last season. "We put a lot of lipstick on this old pig," says Nationals president Tony Tavares.
Even with the modernization, the 45-year-old stadium has relatively narrow, dank corridors. The closest thing to a luxury suite might be a mezzanine-level box where dignitaries sit. Visitors have to duck to get through the entryway, which is low because of the sunken press box floor above. The old carpeting - a garish green reminiscent of the early '70s - earned the box the nickname of "The Brady Bunch Suite."
Mary Thorne, 48, of Arlington, Va., said she understands the stadium is old. But that's no excuse, she said, for the lopsided seat in the lower level that makes it virtually impossible to sit comfortably watching a game.
"I know my husband would like them to fix it. We have a season ticket, so we have to sit in it every time," Thorne said.
Dave Gentry, 50, of Fairfax, Va., said he knows pitchers don't like his idea of moving the fences in. But Gentry said: "It would just be more interesting to the fans. Plus, if they brought in the fences enough, they could put more bleachers out there."
Players have complained that the outfield power alleys are too deep. Last season, the club moved the "380" signs on the outfield fences after doing measurements that showed the alleys were, in fact, about 15 feet longer. The surveys came after players and news organizations, including The Sun and The Washington Post, questioned whether the dimensions in right-center and left-center were what they were purported to be.
Nationals players were recently shown blueprints of the club's planned new stadium, scheduled to be completed by the 2008 season.
Relief pitcher Gary Majewski said he wouldn't mind seeing an improved clubhouse compared with the one at RFK.
"It [the current clubhouse] is big, but it's got a big pillar in it. So I say smaller pillars and put TVs around them," Majewski said.