If you’ve been to a game at Nationals Park or regularly watched the Nationals on TV this year, there’s a good chance you’ve seen the sign on the rooftop railing of the building beyond the center field parking garage and Hampton Inn & Suites. If you’ve been to multiple games, you may have noticed that the sign has changed throughout the season.
“We want to be creative and find ways to interact with the neighborhood, and a big part of the neighborhood is the ballpark next door,” said Jon Carr, senior VP of development for Grosvenor, one of the companies that manages the First Residences building upon which the sign hangs.
“We thought we had a unique opportunity,” said Luke Koczela, a project manager for McCaffery Interests, which partnered with Grosvenor on development of the 325-unit residential property. “This would be seen by 40,000 people, 81 times this year coming to a game, so let’s shy away from the leasing language and just engage with the baseball community.”
The first sign went up in April, and instead of the standard “Lease Now” or “Open for Business,” it read, “HIT IT HERE, HARPER!” along with the distance — 976 feet — from home plate.
The green display caught the attention of the Nationals’ TV broadcasters, who questioned the accuracy of the measurement when Bryce Harper came to the plate in a game against the Mets.
“They need to re-measure that,” MASN color analyst F.P. Santangelo said. “That’s more than 976.”
“Has to be,” play-by-play man Bob Carpenter agreed. “It’s two blocks away!”
“That’s like 1,976, or 2,976,” Santangelo said.
Koczela tweeted Santangelo a screenshot of the measurement he took directly from Google Maps.
— Luke Koczela (@LukeKoczela) April 30, 2017
“We’re just trying to be interactive,” said Koczela, who, as a senior at Wilson High in 2008, played in the first D.C. Baseball Classic at Nationals Park against St. Albans. “After the first sign got noticed, we decided we need to keep this fresh, we need to engage, we want to sort of play along with whatever team’s in town and enjoy the feedback.”
When the Rangers came to D.C. for a three-game series in early June, the original Harper sign was replaced with a new sign that read, “HONDO COULD’VE HIT IT HERE, TOO!”
This has been replaced with a new banner that says "976' Hondo could've hit it here, too!" https://t.co/eAMA8KW1tC
— Jorge Castillo (@jorgeccastillo) June 9, 2017
The sign was a nod to former Washington Senators slugger Frank Howard, who was nicknamed “Hondo” and played 95 games for the Rangers after the Senators relocated from Washington to Arlington, Tex., after the 1971 season.
“We went through three or four versions of that,” Carr said. “We kind of also want it to be a little mysterious. Some are obvious, but not everyone knows that Howard’s nickname was ‘Hondo,’ and not everyone knows that he played for both teams. There’s some stuff that Luke thought of for later in the year that’s going to take a little more thought to figure out what we’re getting at. That’s part of the fun. It’s really not about monetizing anything. It’s about having fun with a great neighborhood and a great community.”
After the Rangers series, the Hondo sign was replaced with one featuring Carpenter’s familiar home run call, “SEE…YOU…LATER!” (And how’s this for attention to detail? The distance measurement was changed from 976 feet to 981 feet to reflect the placement of that number on the right side, as opposed to the left side, of the sign.)
When the Cubs arrived for a four-game series on Monday, Carr and Koczela unveiled yet another new and topical sign that poked fun at the defending World Series champion’s “W” flag: “W BELONGS IN WASHINGTON!”
A building across the street from the ballpark has this sign up – "W belongs in Washington"
— Sherree Burruss (@SherreeBurruss) June 26, 2017
“I sort of come up with these, and if Jon thinks they’re funny, they go up on the building,” said Koczela, who promised another new sign for the upcoming series against the Mets. “We’re getting to the point where our abilities are running out and we want input from the community. If people take a picture and tag it with their new idea, we’ll see which ones we like and get some fresh ideas and put those up on the building.”
Koczela and Carr encouraged fans to share their ideas for future signs by tweeting @LiveatF1RST.
Update: Here’s a look at the banner for the Mets series. “Bob & FP 2020.”