A Swing and Another Hit
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
The defining sounds of Opening Night on Sunday at Nationals Park were generally so traditional that the playlist could have been drawn up 50 years ago: roar of the crowd, crack of the bat, rhythmic clapping, sizzling hot dogs, booing, beer-hawking and, of course, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."
But there was also this: a hit parade pouring out of the glistening stadium's speakers.
Following a league-wide trend that began with the stadium-building boom of the 1990s, Nationals Park was pumped full of pop music from the moments the gates swung open just after 3:30 and Kelly Clarkson's power ballad "Since U Been Gone" boomed over the PA.
The hits (along with bits of recorded organ music) kept on coming for the next seven hours -- through batting practice, as the Nationals took the field for the first time, between at-bats and half-innings. And they continued after Ryan Zimmerman's ninth-inning walk-off home run won the game for Washington: The Nationals celebrated the dramatic ending to their home debut by blasting their new victory song, U2's "Beautiful Day," and following it with one of manager Manny Acta's favorites, the Toby Keith anthem "How Do You Like Me Now?"
Buy me some earplugs and Cracker Jacks, indeed!
Whereas baseball has long been known as a game of inches, it's also becoming a game of decibels as Major League Baseball teams and many of their minor-league affiliates attempt to broaden the sport's appeal by featuring more and more music and other forms of entertainment in their stadiums.
Nationals Park isn't exactly a giant iPod dock -- which is to say, it's not an NBA arena, where just about every nanosecond seems to be filled with noise -- but it's hardly a temple of solitude, either.
"It's somewhere in between," says John Guagliano, the team's vice president of marketing and the man in charge of overseeing music at the new ballpark. "We're all here to watch a baseball game, but we also have to keep our fans entertained. . . . As ticket prices go up, people's expectations go up."
So there's a high-definition video scoreboard towering above right field. An outpost of Ben's Chili Bowl on the concourse along the third-base line. A video-game arcade, batting cages, a karaoke stage and a Build-A-Bear Workshop behind the bleachers in center.
And all that music, from Fergie, Keith Urban and Fall Out Boy to Madonna, the Who and a who's who of disco stars. Also: a whole lot of Smash Mouth, whose radio-friendly 1999 hit, "All Star" -- the one that goes "Hey now, you're an all star/Get your game on, go play" -- was played no fewer than five times on Sunday.
"We try to stay away from extremes: nothing too loud or too soft, too mellow or hard-core," Guagliano says of the park's playlist. "Wedding-type music is probably the best way to describe it. It's music for everyone."
Which, of course, is the point. While operating Nationals Park as a quiet zone might be good for attracting the sort of baseball nerd who would like nothing more than to ponder sabermetrics and hit-and-run strategy in peace, it's not necessarily good business strategy for an organization that has 41,888 seats to fill 81 times each season.