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The Nationals have highly recognizable players who should bring fans to the park.
The Redskins just wrapped up another lousy season -- did you know they've averaged a pathetic 6.8 wins over the last 20 years?! -- and don't appear on the verge of a major turnaround anytime soon. The Capitals had high hopes a couple of months ago but have already fired their coach and until a recent four-game winning streak ranked 11th in the 15-team Eastern Conference. And the Wizards ... well, the lockout could never have ended and their win total would remain the same.
Ah, but there is one glimmer of hope amid this vast wasteland of sporting ineptitude. Yes, your Washington Nationals stand poised to take this town by storm in 2012 with a legitimate shot at success that heretofore was not within the realm of reason.
The question is: Does anyone outside of the Nationals' loyal fan base realize it?
You get the sense most don't. All the chatter around town right now focuses on the Redskins, Caps and Wizards. Now, obviously there's going to be more attention given to teams that are in-season or just finished their season. But that doesn't mean the Nationals can't try to squeeze their way into the conversation.
And not by touting racing presidents or ballpark bars or community outreach. That stuff is nice and all and perhaps helps bring some more casual fans to South Capitol Street. But none of that attracts folks as much as a winning ballclub does.
Anytime Stan Kasten was asked about low attendance figures, the former club president used to say: "We'll get the attendance we deserve." In other words: Once we start winning, they'll show up.
Kasten is right about that. You can have the nicest ballpark in the world and offer as many promotions and distractions as you like. You still won't draw as many fans as you would if your team was winning on a regular basis.
But it doesn't hurt to sell the public on the idea that your franchise is ready to win at last, instead of simply waiting for it to actually happen.
Plain and simple, it's time for the Nationals to start marketing the baseball being played inside their ballpark, not the carnival sideshow.
How do you do that? Start by embracing the fact you've got several highly recognizable stars on your roster in Stephen Strasburg, Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth and (soon enough) Bryce Harper. Then start touting the other core, young players who diehard fans already know but the general masses do not. Jordan Zimmermann. Gio Gonzalez. Michael Morse. Wilson Ramos. Danny Espinosa. Drew Storen.
Those guys' faces should be plastered all over the District right now, on buses and Metro platforms, on television and radio and in print and online.
Yes, it's only the first week of January, Opening Day remains three months away and single-game tickets won't go on sale for quite some time. But now is the time to start getting the public acquainted with the roster of talented players who are going to attempt to produce the first winning season by a Washington baseball club since 1969 (not to mention the first postseason appearance since 1933).
The dead of winter is a perfect time to sell baseball. As the temperatures start plummeting around town and everyone bundles up for the dreariness that awaits us, what better image to tout than a sun-splashed ballfield and the crack of the bat? It warms the heart just to think about such a scene.
This Nationals organization has never been particularly adept at marketing itself. It always seems to be a day late and selling the wrong message. Why stage a fan fest on a weekday afternoon right before Opening Day when fans are already geared up for baseball, as opposed to an otherwise dead weekend in January when you have the opportunity to get people excited well in advance of the first pitch ever being thrown?
Make no mistake, a golden opportunity is presenting itself to the Nationals right now. Just as the rest of the local sports scene wallows in failure, the best assemblage of baseball talent this town has seen in at least four decades is gearing up for a potential breakthrough season.
Hardcore Nats fans already know this. It's time for the rest of Washington to find out as well.