The Washington Nationals “Paint the Town Red”

By Carla Peay
Updated: July 23, 2006

A Curly W flowerbed at a stadium entrance

A Curly W flowerbed at a stadium entrance

WASHINGTON — The papers officially making real estate developer Ted Lerner and his partners the new owners of the Washington Nationals weren’t signed until the eighth inning of Friday night’s game, but the new owners, as well as incoming team president Stan Kasten, made their presence felt this weekend at RFK Stadium.

A marketing campaign called “Paint the Town Red” kicked off the Washington Nationals weekend series with the Chicago Cubs this past weekend. The campaign, billed as a grand re-opening weekend for RFK Stadium, was designed to give the fans a more positive, fan friendly experience.

With a last place team on the field, a rebuilding plan that will likely take years, and a new stadium still two years away, the new owners decided to do something that would have an immediate impact, something that would show the fans that improvement is on the horizon for the Nationals and the game day experience at RFK.

The Chuck Brown Band performs at RFK on Saturday

The Chuck Brown Band performs at RFK on Saturday

On hand to perform and entertain the fans before the before the games this weekend were the U.S. Army Chorus and Trumpets on Friday, the Chuck Brown Band on Saturday, and the Pat McGee Band on Sunday. Incoming team president Stan Kasten seemed pleased with the weekend’s results.

“It’s been awesome”, Kasten said before Sunday’s game. “We have a lot of fans out there who are very happy, and that’s how we judge things. We got the nuts and bolts right, the blocking and tackling part of this. And the crowds we’ve had this weekend seem to bear that out”.

This past weekend at RFK featured interactive family and kid-friendly activities, including an inflatable obstacle course, bounce house and giant slide, along with a speed pitch, a batting cage, swing stations and a dunk tank.

The grounds and stadium have undergone a massive clean up effort, and some new landscaping, including a curly W flowerbed at one of the entrances.

Members of the Lerner family, Kasten, manager Frank Robinson and several players were outside to greet fans as they entered the stadium, shaking hands, signing autographs, and posing for pictures.

Several improvements have also been made to the Nationals clubhouse, including new couches, new carpeting, and flat screen televisions. With their new digs at least a year to two years away, many Nationals players appreciate the face lift their tiny clubhouse has gotten, along with all the other fan friendly improvements.

Pitcher Livan Hernandez greets fans at the gate

Pitcher Livan Hernandez greets fans at the gate

“It’s good”, said catcher Brian Schneider, whose meet-and-greet session was on Sunday. “They didn’t have to do this. They didn’t have to go out and put the money into this stadium knowing that they’re already putting money into a new stadium. For them to do this speaks volumes for their character”.

“We as players appreciate it, we know the fans appreciate it because all the reports have been great from them. It’s been a new experience for them and a better experience for them coming to the ballpark. We know we can’t expect 35,000 every night, but it’s nice right now. Hopefully it will last as long as possible”.

“I like it. It’s pretty cool,” said closer Chad Cordero, who did his meet-and-greet session on Friday. “It’s showing us that they’re really committed to this franchise and really committed to the fans by all the stuff that they’re giving away and all the nice things that they’re doing for the fans”.

“It’s a real good start for them (the new owners) and we’re all happy with the stuff that they did for us in the clubhouse to try and make it feel more comfortable for us”.

“I got to shake a bunch of hands and meet a bunch of real cool, real nice people. It was fun. I think they were kind of surprised that I was out there. A lot of people just came over to shake my hand and just say ‘good job’”.

But perhaps even more important than getting a little up close and personal time with the Nationals players was – what else – the food. Sensitive to complaints about long lines and limited choices, the owners added several new and locally popular food vendors to provide this weekend’s crowds with multitude of new culinary options.

There were also the daily red giveaways; a hat on Friday, a tee-shirt on Saturday, and a towel on Sunday. The fans responded to the re-opening well, with crowds of over 30,000 each day, for a total weekend draw of over 104,000.

“It’s nice to finally have owners in town who want to see the team do well”, said Carl Becker, a Virginia native who has a partial season ticket package.

“I come to about ten games a year. I was here yesterday and I’m back today. It was fun to see the players. We saw Frank Robinson and shook hands and all. It was nice”.

Another Virginia fan, Alice Howes added, “I think the atmosphere today is really exciting. I grew up being a Detroit Tigers fan, but I moved to D.C. and there was no baseball for so long. It’s really exciting to have them here. We’re happy”.

The new owners also plan to establish a strong presence in the community. Toward that end, they are launching what they call a more “aggressive” community relations program, including increased player appearances around the city.

Special announcements are said to be forthcoming about projects sponsored by the team’s charitable arm, the Washington Nationals Foundation. The Lerner’s have also hit fans where they like it most, next to their stomachs, and that’s in their wallets.

A total of 2000 tickets will be available at discounted prices until the end of the season.

Oh, and by the way, the Nationals swept Cubs in the three-game series.