Nationals fans wait for the gates to open for the home opener last year. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)
Columnist

There was an awkward moment at Christmas when My Lovely Wife opened a present from one of our daughters. It was a pack of fancy pencils, including one that claimed to be designed for filling in baseball scorecards.

What our daughter didn’t realize was that Ruth has gone off baseball. The mere mention of the game — and, more specifically, of the team she once loved, the Nationals — puts her in a foul mood.

Ruth has vowed to never watch the Nationals again.

What happened?

Our family has had a partial season ticket plan for the last five years — 20 games we share with another couple. When our kids were living at home, we had four seats. A few years ago, we cut that back to two. And then toward the end of last season we decided not to renew the plan at all.

Ruth has been traveling more for work, on dates that often conflict with our tickets. A lot of that travel comes in the fall. While I’ve attended every home playoff game, she hasn’t been to a single one — she’s always away on a business trip. We decided we’d still go to Nats Park, but on a game-by-game basis.

In September, Ruth noticed that her credit card had been charged for the first installment of our 2019 Nationals tickets. She was irritated. She didn’t remember renewing for the next season.

When she called the Nationals, they told her she had been renewed automatically. She could have canceled, but she’d missed the one-month window in which to do that.

She asked how the details of this window had been communicated to her. In emails and via a postcard that had been sent to her, she was told.

Ruth didn’t remember that. The Nationals send an avalanche of emails to fans; it’s easy for a postcard to get lost in the mail. The bottom line from the ticket office was that Ruth’s contract required her to pay. She could not cancel.

Ruth beat her head against the Nationals ticket office for a few months before authorizing her credit card company to pay the Nats, but the affection she had for the team is gone.

I decided to pick through the ashes and see what happened.

In July 2017, the team sent an email introducing its new “Nat for Life” program. In the fifth paragraph it mentioned a “no-hassle renewal process.” There was no description of what that process was.

The fine-print terms and conditions in the contract Ruth signed on Sept. 27, 2017, to become a Nat for Life did include the stipulation that the plan included an “automatic renewal feature.”

An email in August 2018 came with the subject line “Washington Nationals Membership Dues Notification.” In the third paragraph, it said, “As a Nat for Life Member, your account is automatically renewed for the 2019 season and your first payment will be charged to the default card on your account on September 1st, 2018.”

Jennifer Giglio of the Nationals told me the Nat for Life program was created for fans who don’t want to pay the entire ticket package in a lump sum and are tired of having to renew their plans annually.

“No one was forced to do this,” she said. “It was completely optional and completely in response to feedback.”

The bottom line here is that Ruth didn’t notice the language that outlined that the season ticket plan the Nats encouraged her to join was going from opt-in to opt-out. That’s on her.

Now, some of that language was a bit opaque. That’s on the Nats.

“I will give you that,” Giglio said. “ ‘Member Dues Notification’ probably was confusing. We need to be better about that.”

And I wish they’d been better in responding to Ruth. They didn’t answer a single complaint letter she sent. That’s not the way to treat a fan. (The Nationals’ Giglio said the team’s VP of ticket sales left Ruth voice-mail messages. Ruth is adamant she didn’t get any.)

Baseball is a business. Baseball will break your heart. Sometimes the former causes the latter.

I wrote last year about the pleasures of going to a baseball game alone. I think I’ll have plenty of opportunities to do that this season.

Furlough relief

In other Nationals season ticket news, the team announced last week that season ticket holders who work for agencies impacted by the partial shutdown can postpone their monthly payments until the federal government is back up and running.

Twitter: @johnkelly

For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/john-kelly.