New Ballpark Didn't Mean Big Attendance

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 25, 2008

Today, the Washington Nationals play their final home game of the season; it's fan appreciation night. In conjunction, the franchise will likely clinch an undesired distinction, finishing with the poorest cumulative attendance for any team in the first year of a new ballpark in the post-Camden Yards era.

Going into tonight's game, the Nationals have drawn 2,320,400 into Nationals Park. Unless at least 34,859 come out to the ballpark tonight -- and entering yesterday, they were averaging 29,077 per game, 20th in baseball -- they will fall shy of the 2003 Cincinnati Reds, who inaugurated their ballpark with 2,355,259. Since 1992, when Oriole Park at Camden Yards opened -- redefining both the design and potential of new ballparks -- 17 teams have started the season in new venues.

Washington's attendance figure owes itself, primarily, to a poor on-field product and a foundering economy. But it also raises questions about the strength of the market. Team president Stan Kasten yesterday dismissed the attendance, compared with those in other first-year stadiums, as "the answer to a trivia question," and added, "I think given where our record is, I've been thrilled with our attendance."

"You know," Kasten said, "I'm philosophical about this in general. I believe that deep in my heart that our job is to put the product on the field, and this market has confirmed for me over and over again that when we do that -- when I do that: get the product right -- they will be supporting us actively. I feel as strong now as I did the day I came here."

Ex-Senator Vernon Dies at 90

Former Washington Senators all-star player and manager Mickey Vernon died yesterday, at 90, after suffering a stroke last week. Vernon's 20-year big league career included 14 with the Senators, for whom he won two American League batting titles, in 1946 (.353) and 1953 (.337). The seven-time all-star had a .286 average and 2,495 hits. He managed the expansion Senators in 1961, 1962 and part of 1963. Last month, Vernon was one of 10 players whose careers began before 1943 to be included on a Veterans Committee ballot for a possible Hall of Fame induction in 2009.

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