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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The End of the Road?

Who says I can't find good news in bad times? I'm The Good News King.

Take last night for instance. LOTS of good news to be had:

*My friend Michael and I got up there early enough to enjoy a meal at Five Guys, the cheaper one outside the park. I need to stop doing that because it won't help my ever-expanding waistline. But dang it's good.

*The t-shirts are pretty cool. And a friend didn't want it, so I got an extra one for my wife. I have a nice collection of freebie t-shirts now. I'm too fat to actually wear them but my goal is to lose enough weight so's I can. I won't need to buy new clothes.

*I ran into my brother Jim and sister-in-law Carolyn and was able to have a brief visit with them. I ran into one of my students from the spring, Lizi, and was able to have a nice conversation with her. I ran into my friend Dave Nichols, who along with his wife Cheryl runs the Nats News Network (more on Dave later). It was like old home week.

*Traffic was cake. As noted, made it up there early. I was home before midnight - though there's a caveat to that one. I was in the car for the bottom of the ninth, though not yet to the interstate. Note to Charlie: I truly love you and Dave but a fly ball that doesn't make the warning track is not WAY BACK! WAY BACK! Way to give me a stress test there, pal.

*The thought-to-be-dead Nats showed a little life in the ninth, not that I saw it and not that it changed the outcome. But at least they rewarded those who stayed (and it didn't seem to be too many, judging from the crowd ahead of me out the gate).

Despite all that good news, I'm not sure how often I'll be back. Besides the t-shirts, I can do most everything above without going to the park. And the actual games and team are starting to flusterate me more than my health can stand.

It has little to do with the fact that Flippin Pizza on the upper concourse is always closed too flippin early. My previous visit, it wasn't open at all. Last night, it was closed by the sixth. Good thing those Five Guys burgers are filling.

My flusteration has more to do with what I'm continually watching. Michael, wise beyond his years, noted on the way to the car that it is well beyond time to expect to see a really good, competitive team. The novelty of baseball being back is gone. The novelty of the new stadium is gone. It's no longer cute to suck every year.

And watching this team, I'm no longer convinced greatness is just a step or two away - unless your steps are ginormously large. I'm not really convinced this team is all that much closer than it was in 2006.

The 20-15 start was a mirage that, as it turns out, is only going to serve to muck up the Nats' draft position next year. Mark Zuckerman noted in his blog this week that the Nats have played at a 59-win pace since then. Hmmmm. Isn't that what the team won the past two years?

Are we SURE this team isn't going to lose 100 games again? Especially if you-know-who doesn't pitch again this year (and he probably shouldn't).

Right before we left, Michael and I spent some time chatting with the aforementioned Dave Nichols. Always a pleasure (more good news!), he knows his stuff. The aggravation I mentioned to him is that I could look out on the field as the Nats played defense and not be terribly certain about who would be out there next year.

Mark this much down: Ryan Zimmerman will be the third baseman. Pudge will be the catcher, but the team best be transitioning to Wilson Ramos.

Let's go around the rest of the diamond:

Do we know who is the 2011 first baseman? Not a clue. Dunn? Pena? Someone else? Second base? Not close to a clue. Espinosa? Is the team truly committed to Ian Desmond as the future shortstop?

Who's in left? You'd think Willingham. Are you sure? Will the team pony up what he's going to cost in arbitration or try to trade him? Is Nyjer the CF of the future? And who, pray tell, will settle in right? Has Roger Bernadina answered that question? (Jayson Werth is a free agent, just saying).

You can probably say five spots are certain: Pudge/Ramos, Zim, Desmond, Willingham, Morgan (though I'm still not sold). That's still a whole lot of question marks (1B, 2B, RF) going into year SEVEN. Too many.

While we're at it, are we SURE who is going to manage the team next year? Yeah, I know Rizzo said Jimmy Rigs would be back. If this fade continues, is that certain? I really like the guy and want him to succeed but he overmanages like no one I've ever seen. When you feel like you have to pinch-hit for your No. 5 hitter with the bases-loaded in the seventh, well, there's a problem somewhere (maybe with the No. 5 hitter). Of course the always important left-right matchups come into play. I'd like to burn that book.

Here's another unsolicited tip: When your bench includes a group of Mendoza Line failures like Kevin Mench (.083), Willie Harris (.177), Justin Maxwell (.102) and Wil Nieves (he's upgraded to .203!), you might want to stay the hell away from it as much as humanly possible.

More good news! Michael found our tickets on StubHub in the 300-level where we usually sit. 30 bones for two and one usually costs that much when you add in the ridiculous fees. So we each paid 20 for tickets and parking. Much more reasonable.

But there's gas to get up there and back and time when you live in Richmond. It's an investment I'm not sure I'm willing to make that much longer. I can still be a fan. Right here. I can still blog. Right here. I can just save myself a lot of time, money and aggravation by limiting my D.C. trips to visits with the family and staying away from Nats Park until the Nats give me a real reason to come back.

All that said, I'll probably be back on Saturday. It is bobblehead night, you know? This is a freaking sickness and there's no known cure. Not even heavy doses of bad baseball year after year after year seem to do the trick.


Dave Nichols said...

good chatting with you last night as always. there are reasons to be hopeful, like Zimmerman, Desmond and Espinosa with Norris and Harper behind them on the hitting side. and hopefully a healthy Strasburg and Zimmermann leading the pitching staff.

besides, the best use one anyone's time is three hours at the ballpark.

See you Saturday! :-)

Cheryl Nichols said...

Mike - You crack me up. No doubt you'll be back Saturday and at least a couple of times in September. :) It is hard to stay away. Sorry that I missed you last night, but I was shooting in the well. See you Saturday!

MikeHarris said...

I saw you down there but was too far away to throw something in your direction.

Yeah, I can't imagine I won't be back - but sometimes it just DRIVES ME NUTS!

bdrube said...

"It's no longer cute to suck every year." - a very telling comment. If the Nats are only drawing 17-18K fans a game to see THE CUBS (there were 30K in the park when I saw the Nats-Cubs laste year), it is all the proof you need that most of the fanbase agrees with that sentiment.

I was very complimentry of ownership for going over slot on four draft picks this year, signing Maya and successfully landing Harper. Unfortunately, they seem to have learned their lesson about three years too late that winning or at least being competetive is absolutely vital to building a fanbase for a team in a new city. Compare the Nats to the Baltimore Ravens, who were competetive by their fourth season in Crabtown, won the Superbowl in their fifth and evicted the Orioles from atop the sporting pecking order there and now OWN that town.

Does it really matter at this point if the Nats actually lose 100, or merely 95? As you pointed out, they have been playing like a 100 loss team since mid-May and their lack of attendance is reflective of that.

Now that they finally seem to have righted the player development ship, it will be a race to see if they can become competetive before Zimmerman's fre agency year in 2013.