August 22, 2012

ON MONDAY, the Nationals played a thrilling 13-inning game against their division rival the Atlanta Braves. Well past midnight, after 56 minutes of rain delay and 4 hours 27 minutes of baseball, the Nationals emerged from the battle victorious on a Chad Tracy walk-off single. Unfortunately, many Nats fans had to miss the game’s dramatic conclusion in order to catch the last Metro train departing from the Navy Yard station. That misfortune is the fault of the Nationals organization and should be corrected.

The Nationals could make an agreement with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) to keep trains running past normal operating hours. To do this, they would have to put down a $29,500 deposit, which covers the cost of operating Metro’s 86 stations for an additional hour. Then, if it appears that a game will run late — in the case of a rain delay, for instance — the Nationals could contact Metro to exercise that agreement at any point before 11 p.m.

Making such an agreement sounds far more reasonable than the chaotic scene Monday night: ushers and scoreboard messages alerting fans that the last train was to depart at 11:20 and hundreds of the more than 21,000 fans exiting the ballpark with the game far from over. The Nationals have offered no explanation for the lack of a contract with WMATA to hedge against fiascoes like Monday’s; maybe team officials think there’s too little fan interest for the cost. On the one occasion that Metro did operate late — for a Sunday-night matchup against the Philadelphia Phillies on May 6 — only 445 fans used Metrorail in the extra hour of service, costing the team more than $60 per passenger.

The Nats ought to take another look. The 11:20 exodus from Monday’s game seems to indicate strong fan interest in later Metro service.

The Nationals could maintain a perpetual contract with WMATA at little risk. If the team does not exercise the extra-hour option with Metro, ­WMATA would reimburse the deposit. A game might go into extra innings too late to alert Metro. But delays might at times be foreseeable, as they were Monday, in which case providing fans a way to stick with the home team seems a small price to pay for an increasingly enthusiastic fan base.

As the Nationals march toward the playoffs, they are bound to play many more exciting games like their recent matchup with the Braves. To the extent possible, ticket-holding fans ought to be in Nationals Park seats, not Metro seats, for the game-winning hits.