Nats Could Use Some Designated Sitters in Those Pricey Seats

By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 3, 2008

Down here, in the royalty seats at Nationals Park, you're close enough to see the muscles flexing on slugger Wily Mo Pena's cordwood forearms. Down here, you're close enough to hear the pop that a 93-mph fastball makes when it slams into a catcher's mitt. There's even an intoxicating smell down here. Eau du Turf, anyone?

Down here in the Lexus Presidential section (official sponsored name), in fact, some of the fans are closer to the batter's box than the pitcher is.

So how come hardly anyone is sitting down here?

The question has been kicked around ever since the Nationals opened their sparkling new ballpark on the Anacostia to a full house a little more than a month ago. In that time, the team has sold tickets for roughly 75 percent of the seats for a given game. Except, typically, in the section that holds the best seats in the house.

The other night, in a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Nationals might as well have draped the infield tarp across most of the 500 cushy seats directly behind home plate. The section was no more than one-third full, with not a soul in sight in dozens of rows.

The big hole where the people are supposed to be looks strange enough when glimpsed from less-privileged vantage points within the stadium, but it looks downright dowdy on television. Because many of those vacant seats appear in the background of every pitch shown on TV, home viewers could easily conclude that no one's in attendance, even when there are thousands of enthusiastic fans in the rest of the park (as there were against the Pirates that night).

"We're trying to show the action on the field, but there's no way around showing that piece of the stands," says Todd Webster, a spokesman for the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN), which carries Nationals and Orioles games. "There's nothing you can do about it short of hiring George Lucas or Steven Spielberg" to dress up the background with a computer-generated crowd.

Officially, at least, the Nationals say there's no problem. Team spokeswoman Chartese Burnett says some of the exclusive seats are spoken for, but people just haven't bothered to claim them. "We've always had a very large no-show number," she says. "That's just been a tradition here. We've also typically had a very late-arriving crowd, just as we did at RFK," the team's home in its first three seasons in Washington.

But that explanation leaves out some key details; Burnett declined, for example, to say how many season tickets have been sold in the section. Nor would she divulge how many of the seats are usually sold on a single-game basis.

There is, in any case, a much simpler explanation for the 41,888-seat park's vast wasteland.

"They're expensive tickets," declares Beth Ladd, a fan from Alexandria who was one of the lucky dozens of people sitting in the Presidential seats for the Pirates game Thursday night.

A season ticket to the Presidential section is $300 per game. A single ticket runs $325 (and $335 for "premium" Saturday games). You want the front row? That'll be $400, please.

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