It’s been three weeks since Metro-riding fans were stranded after a rain-delayed 13-inning game at Nationals Park, highlighting the Washington Nationals’s refusal to pony up the approximately $30,000 deposit required to keep trains running late.
Since then, the issue has stayed mostly out of the news, but discussions have continued behind the scenes. And in a NewsChannel 8 interview Monday, D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) suggested the bosses at Major League Baseball, rather than the Nationals and owner Ted Lerner, are behind the impasse.
“From the Nationals’ point of view, it’s more Major League Baseball,” Evans said, citing discussions with team officials. “Major League Baseball has made it clear that in no city in the country does the team have to pick up the tab for games that go beyond.”
The league, Evans added, “is quite concerned about a precedent being set in this city that will carry out [to other cities]. ... Major League Baseball plays a bigger role in the background than people understand, and I think that’s something we have to work on.”
Pat Courtney, a spokesman for Major League Baseball, said there’s “not a policy per se” regarding how teams deal with transit costs. “We just never have faced with situation like this before,” he said. Without detailing the role the league has played in the issue, Courtney said the Nationals are “seeking a solution” to the issue.
A Nationals spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday. I will update when I hear back; note the Nationals have been largely mum on the Metro controversy to date.
Evans said he, too, is “working to come up with a solution” and suggested that Metro should just eat the cost of an extra hour or two of service — changing a long-standing policy that sports teams and organizers of other large events pay for extra service.
In other words: Avoiding the precedent MLB is supposedly worried about — or is it the Nationals who are worried? — would mean overturning the precedent of having sports teams and event organizers pay for service extensions rather than taxpayers and farepayers.
There is, of course, plenty of precedent for Major League Baseball and its teams seeking taxpayer subsidies to run their business: Look no farther than Nationals Park, built largely with the proceeds of tax-supported bonds after painstaking negotiations between city officials and MLB itself.
UPDATE, 4:55 P.M.: The Nationals offer this statement, which addresses none of the specific concerns noted above: “There are a number of parties involved in these discussions and we are looking into all options, which is typical of any organization that is beginning to plan for a potentially large event that can positively impact the city.”
Note that the statement refers to a “potentially large event that can positively impact the city,” which would seem to refer to playoff games, which tend to start an hour later than regular-season night games. That, you can read as an admission that the Nats are not even considering paying for late-night service during the regular season.
Evans’s remarks and background conversations indicate that Nationals executives are desperate for some public relations cover on the Metro issue. The last thing the Nats need right now is a reminder of Lerner’s cheapskate tendencies distracting from the team’s feel-good surge toward the playoffs.
But until the team goes on the record saying, “We’d love to pay for late-night Metro service, but Major League Baseball says no,” you can’t absolve the Nats.