- The Washington Times - Monday, May 8, 2006

There was plenty of buzz around RFK Stadium all week. The good kind that comes with a major announcement like the naming of a new owner.

Deep in the bowels of the soon-to-be replaced ballpark, though, there was a different kind of buzz circulating. The kind that comes from an organization full of employees who are worried about losing their jobs.

With the Lerner family and Stan Kasten preparing to take control of the Washington Nationals, few club employees can sleep easy knowing their jobs are secure. That includes just about everyone in the building, from the front office to the manager’s office to public address announcer’s … well, he doesn’t have an office. He sits at the far end of the press box.

But you get the idea.

Rarely do ownership changes not result in changes throughout the franchise. It doesn’t always happen overnight, but it usually does happen. Owners want to have their own people running the show, not people they inherited from the previous tenants.

So it stands to reason the Lerner/Kasten group, which is forking over $450 million for this investment, is going to want to have a say when it comes to employment decisions.

And that makes for plenty of sleepless nights around these parts — and not only from the Nationals employees known by most fans. There are hundreds of people no one ever has heard of who have been working for this club since day one. Without them, this franchise wouldn’t have been able to put on a single game at RFK.

Now, it would be fair to say that not all of those people deserve to be retained by the new owners. Though they have faced all sorts of challenges that have hampered their performance, plenty could have done a better job.

Far too many possess far too little baseball experience, and it shows. The Lerners have spoken about the need to improve the customer experience, and that includes everything from the people on the phone selling tickets to the guys running the scoreboard and PA system to the vendors selling hot dogs.

Fans were willing to give a free pass last season because it was the Nationals’ first in town, and it became an ordeal just to put on a game every night. But with a full offseason to get things right, precious few changes seem to have been made. Much about the RFK experience still feels like Year No. 1, and that’s a problem.

Kasten knows a thing or two about putting on a good show. He did it for more than a decade in Atlanta, and he won’t have much tolerance for anyone who doesn’t get the job done in Washington.

Given the manner in which the ownership change will take place — in midseason, with a smorgasbord of major issues that still need resolving — the new bosses probably won’t get around to hirings and firings for some time. So Nationals employees with uncertain fates know they have some time to prove their worth.

Of course, that means even more sleepless nights for a group of people who were thrown together into trying circumstances and now may find themselves thrown out in unison by a new owner that demands nothing short of excellence.

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