Prior to the Mets opening a new series it's fun to get some perspective from the other team, and the best way to do that is to speak with that team's fans. For the Nationals I was fortunate enough to get some questions answered by the lovely ladies of We've Got Heart, Kristen and Stephanie.
What are your impressions of Lastings Milledge after his first season in Washington? What has surprised you about him, and in what areas does he need to improve?
Overall, we're impressed. We'd feel more comfortable with him in a corner spot, rather than centerfield. His defensive abilities have improved throughout the season, but every fly ball has the potential to be an adventure. He doesn't seem to have the best baseball instincts - in the outfield or on the base paths. But his bat and his speed have been impressive. He's kind of a free spirit. At off the field events and even interacting with fans around the park, his personality sparkles. He brings a lot of energy to this (often lethargic) team.
The Nats have had a tough go of it this season. How do you fix the team, and how soon could they be reasonably competitive?
We'll take the Eeyore approach. The most important thing they can do this off season is shake up the front office. Get rid of Jim Bowden, allow Stan Kasten to be more involved with baseball decision-making and promote Assistant GM Mike Rizzo. We have improved our farm system over the past few years, but it's time for some fresh thinking and Bowden has done nothing to cultivate fan support. The Nats may very well lose 100 games, they played embarrassing baseball through most of the season and they failed to sign their first round draft pick. Someone needs to be held accountable.
As far as specific fixes, we believe it's too early to open the checkbook for expensive free agents. We're still several years away from fielding a competitive team. The most glaring need: a power bat that can play first base. The next most glaring need: preparing to pay up after landing Strasburg next summer.
As a fan of a lower payroll team, what are your feelings on the economic inequities in baseball? Will teams like the Nats always struggle to compete with deep-pocketed teams like the Mets, Cubs and Dodgers?
Yes. They will. But what Kasten was able to do with the Braves gives me great hope that lower market teams can compete in this game if they do it correctly. It's kind of interesting to watch a team start from nothing (a former franchise and history of baseball in DC, but essentially nothing). How do you keep fans interested and ask for their patience while building a franchise that can eventually win games? The allure of the new park is fading quickly. I would bet season ticket renewals drop to alarming numbers. You may have seen the reports about TV and Radio ratings being abysmal.
I think you can build a successful franchise and ask for patience, but you have to do just as much to build a fan base that allows you to keep spending and investing in the right pieces. They have to work harder on that too. You can only ask fans to be patient when they trust that those in charge can get the job done. With Bowden at the helm, patience is very difficult for some fans.
Who would you sooner give back to the Mets (and why): Manny Acta or Jesus Flores?
That's hard because we love them both. Let's go with Manny Acta. We think Flores is going to become a real star. He has all the ability in the world and a great work ethic. He's just special. Much of Bowden's bad relationship with fans started when he signed Lo Duca and Estrada and allowed them to block Flores from a job that should have been his all along.
Manny Acta is also an important piece of this franchise. We only picked him here because we'd like him to show more emotion. Argue a call every now and then. Get angry once in awhile. Discipline a player (Elijah Dukes) when he gets into a screaming match with you in a televised game or acts like a 12 year old on the field. I get the feeling his hands are tied sometimes and I have no idea what goes on behind closed doors, but fans would be happy to see him get a little emotional once in awhile.
Thoughts on the first season at Nationals Park: What do you love about it? What would you change?
It's nice but it's not perfect. We love that it's shiny and new. We love the scoreboard. We just don't think it has any real defining character. It's kind of cold. It's no PNC Park. It's no Camden Yards. It's no Citi Field. That's pretty disappointing since they had the time and money to do it right, but it is what it is. We realize they were trying to blend it in with DC's architecture and give it the feel of a monument. It's nice....it's just not as spectacular as we had hoped.
We say this as you guys get ready to say goodbye to Shea... We couldn't wait to get out of RFK Stadium. But we miss it more than you could ever imagine. New stadiums are full of all these gimmicks to keep people entertained. We kind of miss the basics.
Thanks, ladies. You can read my responses to their questions at We've Got Heart.