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Washington Nationals

Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 2, 2008 1:00 PM

Washington Post writer Barry Svrluga was online Wednesday, April 2 at 1 p.m. ET to take your questions and comments about how the Washington Nationals.

A transcript follows.

Svrluga covers the Nationals beat for The Post and writes the Nationals Journal blog for washingtonpost.com. He's also the author of "National Pastime: Sports, Politics, and the Return of Baseball to Washington, D.C."

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Barry Svrluga: Hey folks. A sunny Wednesday in Philadelphia, a game on tap tonight, and your Washington Nationals are undefeated and in first place.

Let that sink in a while. Only 160 to go.

Lots to deal with today. Thanks for stopping by. Let's get started.

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Washington, D.C.: Barry,

The first two games of the season have got me thinking -- are the Nats pulling a Costanza and doing the opposite of everything that comes naturally to them?

From the starters leaving with the lead to the blown leads by the bullpen to the offensive explosions in 2 separate innings -- everything just seems opposite.

At least Guzman made an error and Zimm had a game winning hit so there is some tie to the past.

Barry Svrluga: Ah, Bizarro World, Nats-style. That is indeed possible.

The bullpen, however, must hold its own. It would be a horrible development if the starting pitching was better than expected and the offense is actually improved, and then the bullpen lets them down.

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Washington, D.C.: Was Sunday night's game officially a sell-out? The box score in the paper had less than max attendance.

Barry Svrluga: Yes, I should have been more clear about this in the paper. The capacity of Nationals Park is listed at 41,888, but Major League Baseball marks attendance as tickets sold. There were a couple thousand comped tickets the other night. Thus, the official attendance was 39,000 and change.

However, every ticket made available to the public was sold.

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Reality: On Saturday, the lovely new video scoreboard at Nationals Park listed Dmitri Young as weighing 220 pounds. Where did the club come up with that number (maybe on the moon?) and who do they think they're fooling? For what it's worth, I'd rather see some more game data on the video screen than height/weight info, even if accurate.

Barry Svrluga: On the official roster at spring training, Young was listed at 291 pounds, which was his weight exiting last year. I was told that his weigh-in at spring training was 298 pounds, and that he would be listed as such there.

What happens frequently -- and this is bizarre -- is that guys give their weight when they're drafted/signed, and then those weights follow them throughout their careers. It's amazing how inaccurate they often are.

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Arlington, Va.: What is the latest on Wily Mo Pena? I have read that the Nats are surprised how quickly he is progressing but then they still talk about mid-April. Can you explain the DL rules and also talk about if Pena will have to do minor league rehab first?

Barry Svrluga: Indeed, the Nationals are encouraged by Pena's progress. He was supposed to start swinging a bat this week. The reality is that while the Nationals initially announced he would be out four weeks (after suffering the strained oblique muscle on March 12), they actually thought it could be as long as six weeks. So if he's ready in four, they'll be happy.

DL rules: There is no requirement that a guy goes to a rehabilitation assignment before being activated. Typically, the Nats do that with their guys. A position player can spend 20 days in the minors on rehab, a pitcher 30.

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Bethesda, MD: I can imagine you must be getting tired of this question, but ... what's the latest on Shawn Hill? In all the excitement of Opening Day, etc., I haven't heard how his outing on Saturday went. Is he scheduled to pitch in Florida tomorrow?

I really think his health will determine the quality of the Nats' starting rotation.

Barry Svrluga: I agree with you, Bethesda. I believe Hill's health is the key to the rotation as well.

Hill's three-inning outing in a minor league game in Florida went well the other day. He still has soreness, but the club is sticking with the he's-going-to-have-to-pitch-through-it approach. Hill seems fine with that, but if it gets worse -- and goes to a sharp pain -- he'll stop.

His next outing is scheduled for tomorrow in Viera. If that goes well, he'll pitch next week for Class A Potomac -- as long as it's warm up here. If it's too cool, he'll stay in Florida and throw there. The goal remains to have him pitch in the majors on April 13.

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Laurel, Md.: Who goes down when Wily Mo comes back?

Barry Svrluga: Could be a moot point if Elijah Dukes isn't healthy yet. Chris Schroder would likely be the guy to go down. But they also have to make a space for Shawn Hill, too. So there's going to be some interesting developments/choices if/when the team gets healthier over the next couple weeks.

It's amazing how often we're reminded, "It'll work itself out." Wouldn't exactly be shocking for more injuries to pop up between now and then.

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Arlington, Va.: Barry, is there any reason we shouldn't be furious that the announced attendance for Opening Night was some 2,500 people short of the new park's 41,888-seat capacity, yet there were no tickets to be had? There were plenty of sections that had large patches of empty seats--section 407 was more than half empty all game, the outfield gallery was maybe three-quarters full, there were lots of empties in the sections under the scoreboard, etc. I have the distinct feeling that for some reason the Nats either decided not to make thousands of seats available, or held back too many seats for last-minute season ticket sales and had no backup plan in place when they didn't have enough takers. If either one of those is true, I think it's a disgrace--there was definitely more than enough demand for tickets to fill every seat, and it makes me even less happy to see the media talk about the "capacity crowd of 39,389." Any thoughts?

Barry Svrluga: Explained above. This is why I frequently write "an announced crowd of 25,228" or whatever in my game stories, because it is, in fact, not the number of people that came through the turnstiles. Given all the dignitaries/friends of Lerners/various hangers-on that were there on Sunday, 2,500 comped tix doesn't seem strange to me.

As for the empty seats: I think you're going to see lots of that, even on sell-outs (if there are any more this year). The way the park is set up, it allows for all those views of the field while leaning on railings in the outfield and/or in the club sections. I think you'll see more fans on the move/watching from bars/etc., and therefore not occupying their seats.

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Manassas, Va.: Any news on the Chief? Did he throw today?

Barry Svrluga: No news yet. He will likely play catch when we get to the ballpark in the next hour or so. I'll update on Nationals Journal later.

This is, however, a major concern. The bullpen can't be the strength of the club if its anchor goes down.

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Washignton, D.C.: Barry,

Did you have to spend the entire game in the press box or did you get to check out some areas of the stadium during the actual game? I am most curious about the restaurant in the outfield that didn't seem like a restaurant at all.

Barry Svrluga: Unfortunately, other than pregame on the field, I had to hang out in the press box the whole game. I have, however, walked around the park quite a bit -- went through the Presidents Club, etc. I haven't yet been to the restaurant/bar in center yet.

I'll give a full run-down the first time I go as a paying customer.

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Pitching Rotation: Based on the 4-man rotation, can you tell us who is scheduled to pitch in the coming week, particularly the upcoming homestand against the Marlins?

Barry Svrluga: Sure. Tim Redding tonight against the Phillies, Jason Bergmann in the series finale tomorrow. Odalis Perez comes back Friday in St. Louis, with Matt Chico on Saturday afternoon. Redding comes back on three days' rest to finish the Cardinals' series, and Bergmann does the same on Monday against the Marlins at Nationals park. With the off day Tuesday, it would then go (all on normal rest) Perez Wednesday, Chico Thursday, Redding Friday, Bergmann Saturday and Shawn Hill Sunday (last three against Atlanta).

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Arlington, Va.: Speaking of anchors, has there been any talk of Hanarhananharn closing?

Barry Svrluga: There were some people in the front office -- following his three-inning, eight-strikeout performance against the Braves in spring training -- that said if he continued to throw that way, he could close. But he has not been at 97 mph since then, settling back into his normal 91-93. He can be effective at that velocity, no doubt, but it's not the eye-popping dominance of that one night.

So I'd say it'd be Rauch for now, and Ayala would then be the next choice if Cordero is out for a long time.

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Washington, D.C.: With Dukes and Pena on the DL, why did the Nationals decide to let Harris play in left instead of calling up Maxwell. Maxwell has a lot of potential and it showed during the Spring games. With the bullpen and Cordero going down, do u think it makes more sense for someone like Ayala to close instead of Rauch? Rauch is usually stronger later in the season.

Barry Svrluga: Manny Acta said the Nationals indeed discussed bringing up Maxwell to fill in the Pena/Dukes spot. I think, however, the fact that they called up a reliever shows that they're concerned about Cordero's health. If they need offense, the Nationals will not be afraid to go get Maxwell. They were very impressed with his spring.

Right now, I'd go with Rauch as the closer. But as I just said, there's no reason they couldn't throw Ayala -- whose velocity is about back to where it was pre-surgery -- into the role if Rauch falters.

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Winter Park, Fla.: Barry,

When will John Lannan get a call back up to the bigs? He was the Nats best pitchers this spring and honestly, after attending a lot of spring training games and watching him pitch, I can't believe he was left off of the roster.

Barry Svrluga: If Shawn Hill isn't ready to pitch on April 13, you can bet Lannan will be the man. He really impressed with his stuff and poise, and he basically lost out to Matt Chico because Chico had a bit more experience (31 starts last year). But Washington won't hesitate to call up Lannan if/when they need a starter.

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Section 215: Barry - After two games at home (Saturday and Sunday) who do you like to win this season? George, Tom, Abe, or the longshot Teddy?

Lets Go CAPS! Lets Go NATS!

Barry Svrluga: Gotta go with George, don't you? First year of the ballpark? First president?

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Alexandria, Va.: Barry,

I get the sense that the Nats have had enough of being thought of as the pesky little team that could. They get lots of respect in that regard but this year they simply want to be thought of as good, at least on the offensive end. Is this accurate?

Barry Svrluga: Yes, that's accurate. Jim Bowden said on Opening Night, "The goal used to be to compete. Now, it's to win." Whether that's realistic or not remains to be seen, but if you saw a jacked-up Ryan Zimmerman talking to Peter Gammons after his game-ending homer Sunday night, he said, "There's a lot of guys around here who are sick of being mediocre."

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Rockville, Md..: Well color me impressed! Can you say wire-to-wire? Ha! While that is highly unlikely, it seems we have avoided any nightmare scenario start like last season. The offense thus far hasn't resembled the little-league tee ball games of last summer. Realistically, can we be a .500 team?

Barry Svrluga: I think .500 is the most reasonable goal. I had 76-86 in my preseason prediction, and I still think that's more likely. A 2-0 start means a lot of things -- that the misery of last year's 1-8 start won't be repeated, that there are some fired-up players, that some more tickets might be sold. But the last Washington team to start 3-0 (which would happen with a win tonight) was the 1951 Senators. They finished 62-92.

Keep saying this to yourself: It's early. Reeeeeeealllly early.

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Cap Hill: What were the reviews of the stadium from your colleagues in the press box? I was watching the Pirates/Braves game on Monday and the Pittsburgh guys said they heard the park was nice but bring binoculars.

Barry Svrluga: You know, that's ridiculous. The press box is really high. But as far as the general public is concerned, who cares? The press does not generate revenue for the team (other than indirectly by writing stories about it). Luxury suites do generate money for the team, and lots of it. The idea that the press -- even the radio/TV announcers -- should get the primo seats is antiquated.

Would I like to be lower? Absolutely. Do I like parks like San Francisco and Houston, where the press boxes are very close to the action. No doubt. But I'm not living in some fantasy world. I want to be able to see the game and do my job. That's it.

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Washington, D.C.: Using the highly unscientific method of searching for blocks of 24 tickets on the team Web site, it appears as though tickets for the next few home games haven't exactly been flying off the shelves. This is a disappointment -- has the club expressed ANY concern over this?

Maybe I'm overreacting, but to me the story of the opener before the walk-off was the fact that seemingly 40 percent of the crowd had no interest in what was happening on the field and began to stream towards the exit in the 5th inning.

Barry Svrluga: I thought it was surprising how many people left early the other night. There are lots of potential reasons -- late start, school/work night, pretty chilly, not real baseball fans.

I think it'll be telling how many people show up next week. The Marlins have never been a draw in Washington -- or anywhere. I'd be surprised if Monday night's crowd is over 25,000.

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Arlington Nats Fan: Why not put Mackowiak in left? When Pena and Dukes are both healthy, his roster spots looks to be in jeopardy. Why not give him an opportunity to show what he has?

Barry Svrluga: Mackowiak had a poor spring, and some people from other teams were shocked to find out that the Nationals gave him a $1.5-million guaranteed contract. Harris had a low average, but he drew tons of walks. I believe Acta likes the speed Harris gives him.

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Section 315: Barry,

You've seen a lot of stadiums over the last few years. How do you think the Nats new stadium compares with others?

I've been to Citizens (Phils) and Great American Ballpark (Reds) and they seem similar.

Barry Svrluga: Someone who has also been to a lot of parks compared Nationals Park to Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park when I spoke with him the other night. I can see that, I guess, but I've always found that park to feel disjointed in a way that Nationals Park doesn't. There are some elements, to me, of Philadelphia, Atlanta and St. Louis at Nationals Park.

I need to give it a month or so to see how it settles in, but my initial feeling is that Nationals Park is better than I thought it would be, and might end up ranking up there with my favorites -- PNC Park in Pittsburgh and AT&T Park in San Francisco. (This is among new parks, mind you. Fenway and Wrigley have special places in a different ranking.)

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Maryland City: I think that a lot of people were walking around the park, so it looked like there were more empty seats than there were.

Any interst in signing Claudio Vargas?

Barry Svrluga: Don't believe so. Mets might take a more serious look at Vargas now that Pedro Martinez is out with a hamstring injury.

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Mt. Vernon, Va.: With the Braves about to end their affiliation/ownership of the Richmond club, any chance the Nats will move their AAA farm team to Richmond? Seems like it would create a nice opportunity to draw attendance and interest from further south in Virginia (since they're not going to be able to extend their marketing reach much further north -- O's and Phillies -- or west -- Pirates).

Barry Svrluga: The Nationals would absolutely have interest in Richmond as a market, but I'm told that the ballpark there would have to undergo major improvements in order for another Class AAA franchise to end up there. That equation is made more complicated by the fact that the Braves own their Class AAA franchise, and they're moving it out of Richmond down to Georgia. That means another franchise would have to move into Richmond and then affiliate itself with the Nationals.

Columbus seems almost certain to go to Cleveland next year. It's possible, then, that the Nationals could end up in Cleveland's old home, Buffalo, which has a very nice Class AAA park.

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Section 308: Clint seems to have cut down on his pointing. Lenny Harris work with him in the offseason?

Barry Svrluga: I sure hope someone worked with Clint in the offseason. He may have been told to tone it down for Opening Night. We'll see how he holds up.

Got a text from a friend Saturday afternoon, when I was in the pressbox prior to Nats-Orioles. "In team store. About eight people here, including Kasten and that idiot who's always on the big screen." Saved forever.

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Rockville, Md.: I sat in section 403 Sunday night. Yes, I only paid $10 for my seat, but it would have been nice if our row was cleaned following the game on Saturday. There were peanut shells and empty beer bottles on the floor, as well as footprints on the seats. Have you heard of any complaints from other fans regarding this issue?

Barry Svrluga: I haven't, but that doesn't mean it didn't happen. I'd be surprised if that didn't change in the very near future.

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Alexandria, Va.: How does the high-altitude press box at Nationals Park affect your ability to cover the game? Watching a tape of the ESPN coverage after returning from the home opener, it seemed as though I had a better view from the centerfield seats of what was happening on the field than the announcers did in the box.

Barry Svrluga: The announcers are really going to struggle with this. I've talked to both Charlie Slowes and Dave Jageler about this, and they're learning to read balls off the bat from up there (and they're even a level higher than we writers are). Jageler said the toughest one is a low liner/grounder. Just hard to tell whether it bounces or not.

As I said before, it's not ideal for me, but writers have the luxury of being able to watch replays. That, of course, puts the pressure on MASN to actually provide said replays, which is no guarantee.

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Manassas, Va.: Something I noticed when rewatching the tape of Zimmerman's homer on Sunday - his reaction rounding first base is much more emphatic than his 2006 Yankees walkoff. In 2006, it was almost like "Look what I did!" Sunday, it was more like "(Expletive) YEAH!!" I loved the contrast, and I like to think it's emblematic of his evolution as a leader on the team. I'd be curious to hear your thoughts.

Barry Svrluga: I think that's a good take. There was no mistaking what Zimmerman mouthed on his way to first base the other night, and it does show some confidence. He certainly has done it before, and it's stunning that he now has four game-ending HOMERS since June 2006. That doesn't count four other game-ending hits. Incredible.

I'll be interested to watch Zimmerman's development as a leader. He's not a big rah-rah guy in the clubhouse, and largely keeps to himself. But his combination of demeanor and ability could certainly set a tone.

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Silver Spring, Md.: "It's possible, then, that the Nationals could end up in Cleveland's old home, Buffalo, which has a very nice Class AAA park."

Nice symmetry there. Buffalo was once the AAA farm team of the Washington Senators.

Barry Svrluga: Indeed, that's nice.

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Washington, D.C.: You know what I loved about Opening Night? Every time I had a question, some that I even muttered under my breath, someone with the stadium noticed my confusion and offered to help. I don't care if there are kinks, it seems like they finally care. We'll figure the rest out.

Barry Svrluga: This seems to be one of the biggest improvements. I have heard nothing about the staff other than they were very friendly and tried to be helpful.

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Stafford, Va.: Barry:

Is DC considered a small market?

I just looked at the opening day payroll numbers and the NATS are 5th from the bottom.

The O's are $14 million higher and rebuilding.

The Blue Jays, Phillies and Braves are all around $100 million.

Hell we are spending less than KC!

Are these Lerners CHEAP?

Barry Svrluga: This will be the question going forward, but it's not the right question now. This was going to be a slow build. That's what they sold, and that's what they're doing. If there aren't significant increases in payroll in the very near future, then heads should roll. But for now, they're just doing what they said they would do -- concentrate on the minors, scouting, etc., even if that's frustrating to fans who want a winner now.

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Rockville, Md.: Barry,

I'm curious about your stance on baseball and politics. My wife and I watched the game Sunday night from home and while we both are Democrats, I wasn't sick to my stomach at the site of President Bush throwing out the first pitch. My wife was. I know much more about the tradition of the game than she does and I was just curious as to whether the infusion of the two bothered you at all at the game? Based on the mixed reaction of the crowd, I'd say it bothered at least half of them.

Barry Svrluga: I think it's appropriate for the President -- Republican, Democrate, Green Party, whatever -- to toss out the first pitch at such an event, particularly in Washington. I know there are people who have strong feelings about whether or not he should be booed, but I'll leave that discussion for others.

The Nationals, I believe, would have invited the sitting president -- whoever it was, from whatever party -- to throw out the first pitch Sunday night.

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Miami, Fla.: Which Nats position players are most likely to reach the majors mid-year? Who is likely to be the most marketable vet to bring something back at the trading deadline? Johnson if healthy?

Barry Svrluga: Yes, I'd say Nick Johnson -- if he continues to show his health -- would bring the most in return. He's got a year left on his contract at a reasonable rate ($5.5 million), and he looks right now like a 40-doubles, .400 OBP guy.

I'd say Justin Maxwell will see time in the majors again this year. Other than that, there's no one you'd really consider a true prospect that would show up -- unless Chris Marrero somehow rises all the way from Class A Potomac, which is his goal.

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Bill from Foxboro: If you think a video camera would help the team go undefeated, then I can put Kasten in touch with Matt Walsh.

Barry Svrluga: Not sure Bill and Matt Walsh are actually talking these days, are they?

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Ushers and Other Employees: Barry, do you know what training is in place for employees of Nats Park, both for their job duties and basic baseball knowledge? I've read many reviews of friendly, helpful employees. My experience was different (but still better than RFK), but that's forgiveable--they are learning their jobs. What was more annoying, to me, was how much the ushers were openly talking about their complete lack of knowledge of anything baseball. ("How many hours are on the baseball clock?"). It was almost as if they were proud of knowing nothing. Maybe they were just nervous.

Barry Svrluga: It has been shocking to me, since the day the team came in 2005, how many people in the organization at all levels know or knew nothing about baseball. There are marketing people from hockey and the NBA, etc. It has shown in the game production and in other areas over the past few years.

But for ushers, etc., it seems most important that they know how to point you in certain directions and have accurate answers to your questions about the ballpark, not about the game.

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Sec. 314: My brother and his sons and my Mom are all big baseball and Nationals fans and they were there Sunday night, but the reality of school the next day and the cold weather were among the factors that had them, and many others leave early. The father and son next to me left for the same reason. 8 PM starts in March are not exactly fan friendly!

And I can only imagine how much worse it would have been for the rest of us pushing up Half Street to the Navy Yard station if everyone had stayed!

Barry Svrluga: All good points, and just as I suspected.

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D.C.: Do the Nats regret not bringing back Livan Hernandez this off-season? Looked pretty good on opening day for the Twins...

Barry Svrluga: No, they don't. They feel like the 10 pitchers they have in the rotations in the majors and Class AAA -- Perez, Chico, Redding, Bergmann, Hill, Lannan, Mock, Clippard, Balester and O'Connor -- better serve the organization now and in the future. GM Jim Bowden loves Hernandez, but not enough to bring him back and push one of those pitchers out of the way.

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Teddy theory: Barry - I've had this theory about Teddy's first win. He only wins when we are in first place, and only he wins while we are in first place.

Barry Svrluga: Ooh, I like that one. I hope someone is reading this.

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Section 416, with the sherpas: I was really disappointed in the President's Race on Sunday night. Of course Teddy wasn't going to win, but they could have made the goof better. He should have ran through the middle of the field or something similar to cause disqualification. This one was just silly!

Barry Svrluga: It'll be interesting to see whether the Teddy shtick gets old this year. I'm of the mind that the Milwaukee sausage race is actually funny because they're actually racing. Those giant things just look funny when they run. It looks too slapstick to me when the Prezzes are running into each other. When they just race, they're hysterical.

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Rockville, Md.: Has anyone alive, other than Ryan Zimmerman, ever hit a walk-off HR in a stadium opener?

Barry Svrluga: Yes, there were two others. This, courtesy of Elias Sports Bureau:

Ryan Zimmerman christened Nationals Park with a game-winning home run in the bottom of the ninth inning, giving the Nats a 3-2 victory over the Braves on opening night. It was the third walkoff home run in major-league history to be hit in the first MLB game played at a stadium. The first two were hit by Billy Bruton at Milwaukee County Stadium in 1953 and Dante Bichette at Coors Field in 1995.

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Washington, D.C.: Barry,

Two quickies on attendance:

1. Your best guess on average attendance this year, and

2. Your estimate about the attendance that the owners need to make this a competing franchise.

Best,

Great seats in Section 104

Barry Svrluga: My guess is they will fall short of averaging 30,000 per game this year. The season ticket base is only 17,000-18,000, so that's the base line. Kasten is proud of saying that the number puts them around 11th (I think) in the majors, and with a team without much expectations, that's good. But it's still down significantly from 22,500 in 2005, a year when they drew more than 2.7 million fans.

This is my favorite Kasten quote on attendance: "We'll get the attendance we deserve." That speaks to their responsibilities on the field and in-game experience.

I'd put them at 2.2-2.3 million this year, or 26,000-28,000 a game.

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Nick Johnson: Please don't let them trade him!!! That would be huge buzzkill.

Barry Svrluga: Believe me, I know. I've said it a million times, but I really think he transforms the lineup more than any player they have.

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Washington, D.C.: Any trade rumors you are hearing?

Barry Svrluga: The Tigers are very much in need of bullpen help, and they have sniffed around the Nationals in that regard for the better part of three years. They can't take Cordero now, given his health, but they will watch Rauch very closely.

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Barry Svrluga: Folks, once again, lots of unanswered questions. Hang on to them for next week, when we'll have the first chat from Nationals Park. For now, I'm headed out to Citizens Bank Park for Tim Redding vs. Cole Hamels. Enjoy it tonight, and have a great week.

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