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Baseball

Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 28, 2008 3:00 PM

Washington Post sports columnist Thomas Boswell was online Friday, March 28 at 3 p.m. ET to take your questions and comments about the opening of Nationals Park and what to expect from the Washington Nationals this season.

The transcript follows.

Discussion Archives

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Fairfax, Va.: Boz -- great column today. Since I was lucky enough to score tix for Sunday night for me and my son, you've got me very interested in going early and exploring the new park before the game. But with the president (and likely many other dignitaries there), have you heard whether or not security will be so tight that we won't be able to wander around and check out all the views and amenities of the park before the game?

Tom Boswell: Come early for many reasons, including security for the President. However, walking the upper deck should not be influenced by security. Presidents don't sit in the Gallery.

As I suspect I'll mention in a column soon, there's only one correct way to visit the park the FIRST time. If you come by Metro or are dropped on M St by the RFK shuttle, then enter in leftfield but do NOT walk down to a field box or bleacher seat. DO walk up the ramps in the leftfield corner. At the top, at the upper deck Gallery level, at exactly the height of the top of the foul pole, is an amazing viewing platform, big enough for a few hundred people, that has almost a 270-degree vista. Makes the Capital Dome feel so close it's silly. If you haven't been there, you haven't really been to the park. THEN, walk around the Concourse at the upper deck (Gallery) level. Really gives a sense of the sweep of the park. Then go DOWN the ramps on the first base side to whatever deck you're sitting in. Unless, of course, you're in the upper deck.

Also, since everybody's going to be doing the First Time Tour, there are two other Must Dos, imo. Walk around the whole lower concourse. Lots of color, energy, memorabilia, food and, except for a few sections behind home plate, you can see the field all the way around. The '90's retro parks didn't have this feature. I think the Giants were the first to figure out that, if you kept the seating around 42,000, not 48,000-50,000, you could have a structurally sound park with an open-view lower concourse. REALLY makes it a pleasure to wander the park.

Finally, I suspect that the single feature of this park that will have the most lasting impact, and get the most praise, is the exterior architecture. Granted, the exterior ofa ballpark is not No. 1-2-or-3 on the list of most important virtues. But it matters and Nationals Park is a huge breaktotst Makes the Capital feel so closehrough __the first "transparent" park, as HOK architect Joe Spears called it in a Post chat yesterday. The thing really does glow from inside. You can "see through" the park in so many places. As you cross the F Douglass Bridge at night, it's going to be a shock, and a pleasure to a lot of people. I assumed that the South Capital Street side was the only "magic lantern" aspect of the structure. But behind home plate, with the 75-yard-long, three-story-high glass-ceiling restaurant at the mezzanine level, you can see from the bridge through the dinning room and right out to the centerfield stands!

Top three ballpark exteriors in MLB. 1) Yankee Stadium from the Expressway (Fabulous Facades and "Game tonight") 2) Camden Yards: So stunning as you approach that it gave birth to the red-brick retro look, both inside and outside parks. 3) Nationals Park. It's a breakthrough. Also, the South Capital Street "knife's edge" look __taken from I.M. Pei and the East Wing of the National Gallery__ is truly special in my book. They nailed that part of the park.

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Pre-Opening Day Optimism Is In Bloom: Bos, as you well know, there's no better day than Opening Day. Everybody's a contender, even the O's! Without seeing a single pitch, I'm actually feeling good about the Nats, if only because they're making what seem to be smart decisions. They picked up some everyday players who could help for a year or two until the prospects show up and they didn't cost much. The starting pitching's still thin but not awful, and there's help from the farm in the near future. And the bullpen's great and the bench is better. More importantly, the manager looks like he's knows what he's doing and the farm system's filling up with prospects. Eighty-one wins this year and then who knows? Your thoughts?

Tom Boswell: Teams in new parks since '92 __14 of them__ have a bizarre history of dramatic and unpredictable results. The "average" is an improvement of +2 games. However, seven teams went up an average of 14 games! And six teams went down an avergae of 13 games!! The tendency is to have a fabulous or awful season.

So, it might be smart to predict that the Nats, who won 73 last year, will win more than 83 games or less than 63! Yikes, that's a tough call. They look slightly improved to me. But getting Shawn Hill healthy and, perhaps, finding a place for Lannan in the rotation, could be a big help. Everybody is impressed with Lannan. It just isn't his "turn" yet, much as Justin Maxwell isn't seasoned enough __no AAA__ to get a shot in the outfield until Milledge and Dukes (who are actually younger) have a fair shot to prove themselves.

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Section 102, DC: The prices for concessions at the new stadium seem a little steep. $10 for Nachos?!?! $7.50 for a beer? These have to be the highest in the league. So:

1. Who has the highest/lowest prices for concessions?

And

2. Are these prices set in stone or has management just set this as a beginning point to see what the customers would be willing to spend and eventually lower/raise prices?

(PS - I predict the Visiting Bullpen will be one of the toughest places for the opposition to warm up this year...at least 20 games of the year. Just call it a hunch.)

Tom Boswell: That's one of the few things I haven't studied yet to compare to other parks. I'll get on it. 10% of every ticket and 12% of concessions go to the District to pay the ballpark bonds. Still, sane concession prices are a major fairness concern.

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This could be one of the many things.......: Mr. Povich would have loved to see. Care to speculate on what Shirley would say about this weekend?

Tom Boswell: I was wondering about that this morning. Then I realized that one of the most special aspects of a fine writer is that you DON'T know what he would say. (And the writer often doesn't know until it comes out of the fingers onto the keyboard.)

Their are pictures of Shirley all over the press box, including one of him from '51 when he is reading hard copy (on paper) and has a yardstick in his back pocket. In those days, the type was "set" in a plate and if you wrote a stroy that was too long you literally had to yank the type out of the plate and throw it in the trash to "trim" the story. Believe it or not, they still did that in my early years and I'd measure stories and pull out type.

Of course, everybody in the business has Shirley on their minds this weekend. Even when he died a decade ago, after 75 years writing for the Post, he certainly hadn't given up any of his fire about getting a team or his indignation that the Nation's Capital had done without a team for so long. To him, any town without baseball was the bushes.

He might say: "At last, Washington is no longer Chattanooga." (Spelling?)

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Delmar, New York: I'm a Mets fan and have followed Lastings Milledge since the Mets drafted him. I know that fans of any team tend to overrate their prospects, and when the trade was made with the Nationals all we heard in New York was that Milledge had little value and the Mets got the best deal they could. However, as baseball publications began to come out this winter, Baseball Prospectus, et al, they invariably had good things to say about Milledge and said the Nationals made a great deal. I know Milledge had a good spring (at least going by statistics) I wonder what your take is on Milledge. Is it my imagination or did the prevailing view about him change after the trade?

Tom Boswell: My only contribution would be to comment on what the Mets got in Schneider and Church. Schneider may well improve the whole pitching staff and he is a quiet leader. Church always fussed about RFK hurting his stats, but he actually hit the same on the road and at RFK, so he probably won't improve away from Washington. But he's a solid fourth outfielder.

Milledge hit .328 in Florida. The ball screams through the infield and he has gap-to-gap extra-base power. BUT you have to see how the league works him over the first time around __AND the second time.

Florida wind makes most outfielders look bad. I saw several games in Viera and Milledge looked adequate in center but, perhaps, a corner outfielder long term.

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Springfield, Va.: Thoughts on John Patterson's release?

Tom Boswell: When I saw his forearm after his first major surgery, last spring, I guess, I gasped. He'd lost much of his basic musculature. Gone from "Wow, bet that guy is a baseball pitcher" to just a normal guy. He didn't seem aware of the change. I doubted he'd get his fastball back unless he somehow rebuilt the whole forearm. Then, this spring, he had another four-inch scar on the forearm. Great interview, really nice guy, but not universally popular in the locker room because he looked like a star and didn't fit the team's blue collar play-hurt mold. Hope he makes it back in Texas. But I doubt it. And I've doubted it for a year.

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Arlington, Va.: Any tips for getting last-second seats to this weekend's games, without scalping?

Tom Boswell: Hopeless, as far as I know. However, Game 2 on April 7 is opposite the Final Four. I think that will be the "least large" crowd of the year. So, if you don't mind missing or taping the hoops, that's probably the best chance of the whole season to get the best selecgtion of tix.

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Section 214: Where would you rank Nationals stadium compared to the other ballparks? Is it in the top 10? What's your favorite feature of the ballpark?

Tom Boswell: Everybody will go nuts on this topic. I may avoid it in the column because everybody's opinions are so entrenched, passionate AND different. But, after giving it a ridiculous amount of thought, I think you CAN group the parks into Great, Excellent, Good and Other. This is the golden age of ballparks __18 news ones opened in the last 17 years with four more on the way so the standards are astronomically high.

The Best Seven: (Old) Fenway, Wrigley, Yankee Stadium, Dodger Stadium. (New) AT&T Park (S.F.), PNC Park (Pittsburgh) and Orioles Park.

The Excellent Seven: (in no order): Seattle, San Diego, St. Louis, Cleveladn, Colordao, Philadelphia and Washington. I find myself placing Nationals Park 11-12-13 with a chance to sneak into the bottom of the top 10 is things go well the next few years with developing the neighborhood, fixing the parking, curing the Florida Rock blight, etc.

Believe me, holding out the possibility of Top 10 in this era is very high praise. Since 1991, how many things has America done better than build ballaprks? (Yes, I'm being ironic...or something) .

The Best of the Rest (No order): Kansas City (used to be higher), Houston and Cincinnati (both lots fun, but theme parkish). That's 17 REALLY outstsnading parks.

Then, for me, there is a significant drop off down to Detroit, Angels, Atlanta, Milwaukee, Texas.

Unless I forgot one, the rest are way, way behind. But the Mets, Twins and Marlins are getting new parks and Tampa Bay might. Oh, and the Yankees, of course, are duplicating Yankee Stadium next door for $1-billion. I rode by/over it a few months ago. Hope they don't mess it up trying to make it a totally pretentious (instead of merely mostly pretentious) Taj Mahal of baseball.

I'm sure I'll be sorry I posted this. Nobody's list of "best ballparks" is the same two days in a row.

To illustrate how tough it is to make the Top 10 these days, Safeco Field in Seattle has (upper deck) views of Mt. Ranier, Puget Sound, the Space Needle and downtown Seattle. And it was ridiculously more expensive than the DC park in todfay's dollars. But, because it's a retractable dome __a pox, a pox__ we get to be snide and dream that Nats Park will one day rank as high or higher.

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Washington, D.C.: How long will it take before the "Plan" begins to pay dividends?

Tom Boswell: It's paying dividends in the minors now with the Nationals system moving up from 30th to 9th in one year in Baseball America. This may be the last year when the Nats have "tryouts" for discount players with injuries or limited playing time (Pena) or major baggage (Dukes). You know, trying to "steal a star" on the cheap.

This week I asked a member of the other major D.C. ownership group that didn't get the team if they would have started buying free agents by now. "No, we'd have done it the same way," said the source. I was surprised. It would have been easy to take a cheap shot. Or simply have a different view.

The Lerners say they have put $50 million into the stadium. I don't have reason to doubt them. THAT was their "free agent" money for the last couple of years __invest it in the long-term "factory." But thjat's over. Next off season, if appropriate free agents are available __the right "fit"__ it's time to get serious.

However, the more confidence a team has in its pipeline, the more destructive it can be to block the development of top talents, especially piktchers.

BUT the Nats are probably going to need at least one starting middle infielder next season. If they can't trade for a front-line infielder, they probably need to go out and buy one.

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Sec. 320: Loved your line about Fed Ex being "an insult to all the senses."

Do you think the dimensions set up better for lefties or righty hitters? Just looking from the construction cameras, sure seems like a lot more room in LF alley than in RF.

Tom Boswell: I'm at the park now, in the sky-high press box, and the Nats will take their first BP at 6 p.m. The first real info! The almost universal guess is that LF is pretty big and right center __with the 14-foot-wall__ is quite reachable. If the prevailing breezes tend to swirl in from left and out to right, it might not be quite what the Nats hoped __a somewhat lopsided park with a "porch" in RF. However, my guess, after quite a few (non-summer) days out here is that the wind won't be much of a factor. However, over the years, the more large building that go up on or near Half Street, the more chance of different wind conditions.

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Silver Spring, Md.: As a Mets fan in D.C., I am very glad that Nationals fans aren't paying attention to the team. They are more concerned with whether Five Guys will serve food instead of the five guys in the rotation!

Tom Boswell: Love it.

How'd the Mets do against the Nats rag-tag rotation late last September? Didn't the Nats, more than any team, help the Mets become part of baseball history?

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Washington DC: when will they install that giant baseball behind the seats in left/center field? Also, what is that big gap that leads down to the field in the seats on the first base side of the stadium?

Tom Boswell: The giant ball was always a "place holder." In other words, maybe something enormous and tacky __a revolving LD display monstrosity to advertize something different every 10 seconds__ might have lived there. The Lerners want to start the park as clean and classy. Then if people demand "busy" and "colorful" and maybe a mascot diving into a beer stein, they can always oblige.

However, there is definitely a place above the Red Porch Restaurant for the Largest and Most Hideolus Object in Organized Baseball. I'm looking at it now, horrified by the possibilities. The Redskins would probably build a six-story high helmit with seating for the whole marching band, a stage for the Redskinettes and...hmmmm....lots of smoke...and...Oh, I forgot: NOISE!!!

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Washington, DC: Loved your column today. Can't wait to see the park. Do you know what time the Nats will take batting practice on Sunday? I'd like to be sure and get there early enough to see it.

Tom Boswell: Whatever time you are thinking of coming, arrive at least 30 minutes earlier. If you want to see BP, 5:45 wouldn't be too early. (The Nats hit SECOND, not first, for this one game.) Just dress for a football game __lots of layers. You will never regret missing the potential mess that could happen around 7 p.m.

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From one native Washingtonian to another: I LOVE BASEBALL!!!

And I'm so happy I can finally say that I love MY baseball team! In its own park! This feels like 2005 all over again.

Tom Boswell: I think the comparison to '05 will play out in terms of enthusiasm and attendance, as long as trhe team is remotely decent. That year the Nats average attendance was 33,729. Since '92, 13 new parks have opened at the beginning of a season and their average attendance has jumped +36.8%. If the Nats match that, they'd average 33,132 this season.

That's probably a fair "benchmark." On the other hand, the average first-year attendance of the last 14 parks to open has been 37,474. If the Nats come close to that, I'd be surprised. The park would have to be a huge hit.

Under 33,000, even with a weak economy, isn't so hot. Under 30,000 would as shockingly poor as the Tigers ('00), Pirates ('01) and Reds ('03), none of whom averaged more than 30,430.

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Salary cap comment: Tom,

Good morning.

I love baseball and hope the best for the Nationals. My gripe is that since there is no real salary cap in MLB, the Nationals (unless ownership really opens up the wallets) will only have a minor chance of reaching the playoffs.

Do you foresee MLB authorizing a true salary cap in the near future? One only has to look at the NFL and NBA to see what a salary cap does for balance and excitement in those leagues.

Tom Boswell: The Nationals economic base is certainly strong enough to support a contending team. Don't be fooled by raw attendance figures. Factor in the COST of tickets and the Total Gate.

For example, the Nats have $325 and $170 box seats and three types of suites with annual prices of $160,000, $300,000 and $400,000. With close to 50 suites sold at perhaps $250,000-a-suite, that's about $12-million in suite revenue alone. RFK had ZERO comparable suite revenue. That's the equivalent of selling 400,000 additional tickets at RFK at $30-a-ticket. So, when you look at the Nats crowds this year, remember that the general increase in ticket prices, plus the creation of high-dollar box seats and suites means that every Nationals Park crowd is the equivalent of almost 10,000 MORE people than in RFK.

If you see 30,000 at a game this year, the gross revenue is probably similar to a crowd of 40,000 last year at RFK. And, from memory, I think the Nats only had one or two crowds of 40,000 all of last year.

Half the teams in baseball can't dream of scaling tickets like that. Overall, Nats tickets are reasonable FOR A RICH MEGAMARKET. But, except for the Yankees, Red Sox and to some degree the Mets in their new stadium next year, the Nats have no excuse __based on revenues__ not to compete with any other team over long periods of time.

Plenty of teams would benefit from a salary cap. Not the Nationals. They prefer it just the way it is. They are, or will soon be, one of the 10-or-12 "rich guys."

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Montgomery County, Md.: Boz! So wonderful to have you back!

Dare I ask, how much booing will the president receive when he throws out the first pitch on Sunday night? I was very surprised to hear that he'd be attending the game, since he only appears in front of friendly audiences.

Tom Boswell: I'm surprised they didn't invite the Vice President to shoot the first pitch out of the air.

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Tom Boswell: Got to stop chatting here and talk to some ballpayers downstairs. This year, time really DOES begin on Opening day.

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