Monday, May 5


JEFF PASSAN, YAHOO SPORTS Since packing Nationals Park on Opening Day and watching Ryan Zimmerman christen it with a game-ending home run, fans have been curiously absent. On Sunday, the Nationals' announced paid attendance was 30,564, just above the 41,222-seat stadium's average of 29,686 that ranks in the bottom half of baseball.

"Our attendance has been terrific," [Stan] Kasten said. "Whether people are sitting in those seats or not, more and more are coming in."

Kasten is either an optimist, a great fa├žade builder or a man with a plan he doesn't want to share - or, perhaps, all three. Because his public stance on the new stadium falling short of anticipated attendance is surprisingly calm, even when small pieces of evidence stack into one worrisome situation.

The Nationals' season-ticket base, though up from 15,000 last season to 18,000, remains significantly short of the 22,500 sold during their first season in 2005 after moving from Montreal. They're almost guaranteed to finish with the worst attendance in all numbers - total, average and percentage - for a new stadium since Cincinnati opened Great American Ball Park in 2003. In Washington's low point, the second game in Nationals Park actually had worse attendance than the second game at decrepit RFK Stadium last year.

"Sounds like you're a lot more concerned about this than me," Kasten said.

Perhaps so, though Kasten can't ignore the games on television where it looks as though the Nationals are playing to a crowd of ushers. The President seats, positioned behind home plate, go for more than $300 apiece, and they're selling like underwear at a nudist colony. Every pitch, the view is the same: hitter, catcher, umpire and about 25 of their unoccupied blue friends. . .

Part of Washington's allure, when Major League Baseball planned the move from Montreal, involved the potential fan base. Smart, fanatical and, best of all, with loads of disposable income.

Then Jack Abramoff tried to buy off all of Washington. New lobbying laws soon followed, and now the maximum gift given to a lawmaker cannot exceed $50. Which means all the Presidential tickets - $325 for single-game ones, $335 on Saturday and $400 for the front row, all more than the best seat at Yankee Stadium, which goes for $250 - that should have gone from lobbyist to Congressman to hard-working staffer no longer exist, and the market won't get any hotter unless the Nationals do, too.

"That's a factor," Kasten said. "The economy is a factor. Where we are in our development cycle in our team is a factor. I don't think (we're going to lower ticket prices). Not really. It's not something we're anticipating.

"It's clear to me that when we turn the corner as a team, they'll come.". . .


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