What if they played a baseball game and nobody came?
That theory might be tested by the Nats this year, short-squeezed by last year’s disappointment, this year’s uncertainty, a horrible economy that has the Washington lobbying/industrial complex cutting back on ticket purchases, and a palpable level of fan indifference after a string of mediocre-at-best seasons.
I wasn’t expecting a huge crowd, but I was expecting a reasonable one with the O’s in town for the last pre-season game of this year. I assumed some O’s fans would drift down for novelty’s sake and that, on a reasonably warm and pretty April Saturday, a crop of fans just would come out just for the heck of it. As you can see, I was wrong; I’d estimate that perhaps 10,000 to 15,000 actual people showed up.
You can still buy plenty of tickets to the home opener. I actually bought a pair of club seats from StubHub that were below list price. I’ve already talked to a couple of people in my current season ticket group who say this is the last year for them — if nothing else, the fact that they keep getting furloughed as journalists is killing their disposable income — and I imagine they are far from alone.
To top it all, the Nats are owned by real estate developers. I somehow doubt they have a lot of disposable income to kick around these days.
And so, 2009 might be the key year for the Nats as a franchise. Even if they have a winning record, they are likely to struggle at the box office. And if they get anywhere near the 2008 debacle, we might head toward Senators territory of indifference. And trust me: If this team blows up, Washington will never again see a major league baseball franchise.