Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Nationals. A Curious Mix Of Pleasantry, Damp and Highway Robbery.

I hope the Washington Nationals enjoyed my first visit to their ballpark, because there likely won't be another. The ballpark was nice, the people were even nicer, for the most part, but I don't think I'll be in any hurry to gamble on whether or not I get to see a game for my money in the future.

Bluntly put, my interest in Major League baseball as a sport could be ranked as "microscopic" or perhaps "somewhere around non-existent, possibly stretching into actual repulsion". Baseball is about as exciting to me on television as watching paint dry, and accidentally catching some Sports Center highlights once a year or so is enough for me. (Lest you think I'm simply not a sports fan at all , let me point out how I have made sure my last two new cars have been University of Kentucky blue, because... CATS. I'll micro-analyze college basketball all day long with you. I even entertain some college football fandom when I feel like it. And the NBA finally has enough former UK players that it's worth watching if only for the nostalgia factor. I own multiple pairs of UK-themed Nike Tempo Shorts, for crying out loud.)

The lone exception is getting to see a game in person. I'll happily go out to a ballpark for a minor or major league game when the opportunity presents itself, because then it at least ranks as an experience. Give me some overpriced concession nachos and hot dogs, maybe some Dippin' Dots, and I'm content to watch some baseball with people who could actually call themselves baseball fans with a straight face even though I will watch C-SPAN over baseball on television. On a recent conference trip to the D.C. area, I was one of a group of four who tried to take in a Nats game. Since one of the guys is actually a rabid baseball fan and there was a possibility of rain, he talked the rest of us into springing for decent seats under cover. (Spoiler: We should have bought the $12 cheap seats. We would have seen exactly the same amount of baseball, but felt a whole lot less screwed over.) We arrived plenty early, took in some of the stadium and a tiny bit of batting practice as the actual fan took some photos. The employees were without fail friendly and chatty, even while being oddly territorial about where you could and could not go with your ticket. (To be clear, I get why, say, private club areas are restricted. But is there really that much chaos and anarchy unleashed by someone with a $12 ticket going up to the enclosed but still public area near the $64 First Base Club seats to pay three times what a Philly cheesesteak and bottle of water costs anywhere else?)

Long story shorter, it opened up and poured before the game ever started. Wind blew. There was lightning. Instead of passing the stadium by, it intensified. We saw one poor guy lose both his beer and his cell phone in a spill on the slick deck between concession stands. They called the game not terribly long after it was originally slated to begin and announced the park was closing in about 20 minutes. Great. So what does a person who is from another state do when the chances of you being around for another game are nil? Cue scavenger hunt for answers.

We get sent to Guest Services. Guest Services has no clue what the policy is and sends people to the ticket windows. The ticket windows outside in the rain. And the occasional lightning. And here's where the conflicting stories start up. Some of the employees milling around claimed you could only trade the tickets in for another game and either use them or Stubhub them. Some claimed you could mail your tickets in with a copy of your ID for a refund. Some ticket window agents were actually taking time to write said address down and hand it to ticket holders. Self-proclaimed box office manager comes along and angrily contradicts the story about mailing your tickets in. (Well, lady, not to tell you how to do your job, but maybe clue your employees in to that fact, then?) Some of the more annoyed out of towners are threatening to dispute the charge with their credit card company.

By now, I'm pointing out that if only the ballpark had some revolutionary technology to inform guests of their options in the event of  a rain cancellation, one that displayed it visibly, perhaps, one that could be reused in the event this happens again... Oh wait! We have that! It's called signs!

In all seriousness, Nationals... have you considered the power of the written word? You have expensive technology out the wazoo in that park. You have ads that turn into mirrors when you approach them in your freaking fan shop. You could have cut the annoyance, frustration and occasional anger of fans waiting in the ticket window line to at least half with three stand up sandwich boards and a marker. Also, maybe settle on a single, consistent policy?

In the event a regulation game as defined by Major League Baseball is not played due to weather, Act of God, or any other reason, then guests should retain their tickets until rescheduling information and ticketing policies for that game are announced. Tickets for the originally scheduled game may serve as rain checks and/or provide admission to the rescheduled game. Ticket holders are advised to check the Washington Nationals website at, local newspapers, or Nationals media affiliates for rescheduling information and ticketing policies. Policies vary based on the situation.

This paragraph from your website might as well read "We are making it up as we please. And not informing the employees. Out of towners, you're probably hosed. Maybe not. But probably. Check the website, which doesn't have any information, or the local newspapers you don't subscribe to for information on just how hosed." Eventually, the actual fan used his ticket on another game the same week and took care of exchanging the rest of the tickets for the July 6 game against the Cubs. We've put the three of them on Stubhub since we're, you know, not flying back to D.C. for a ballgame. So, basically, we may have paid $64 for a self-guided stadium tour, 2 minutes of batting practice, some chatting with employees, the opportunity to buy the $1 Good Humor ice cream bars (which were melted), and 30 minutes of conflicting stories about what to do with unused tickets. And a thrilling thunderstorm, I suppose.

Oh, and to add semi-amusing insult to injury, MLB takes another $1.50 per ticket for the privilege of trying to recoup part of your investment by selling them on Stubhub.

Guess I'll go with the $12 ticket from now on. It's almost cheaper than the cheesesteak and seems more disposable in the event of a rainout.

Or maybe I'll stick to watching A League Of Their Own.