- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 26, 2009

Faced with declining interest and an uncertain economy, the Washington Nationals decided to lower prices on more than 3,000 season tickets for 2010 while keeping prices on all other nonpremium seats at their current levels.

The Nationals also will convert portions of five sections in the Presidents and Diamond clubs into nonpremium seating areas, conceding the difficulty they’ve had in selling the most expensive seats at Nationals Park. Some tickets that had cost $300 the past two seasons will now be available for $75 a game.

“We thought there was demand for expanded seating down here without all the amenities,” president Stan Kasten said. “We thought we could do that and help utilize the space. We’ll see. If this isn’t the right mix, we can always adjust. We’re starting with a small number. If there is a demand, we’ll try right away to meet it.”

Most of the price decreases will be in the outfield, with all lower-deck seats between the foul poles going for $20 in full-season plans.

There won’t be many other changes to the ballpark in its third year, though the two rows of reserved seats in front of the Red Loft bar will be taken out and replaced by drink rails open to any fans, much like those already in center field.

After averaging slightly more than 29,000 fans a game in 2008, the Nationals entered Friday night’s game averaging 22,567, 24th among the 30 major league clubs.

“It’s the same thing I always say: We get the tickets we deserve,” Kasten said. “As I’ve always said since I’ve been here, this is a great market for sports fans. The fact that we’re going to have between 1.7 and 1.8 million tickets sold in the second consecutive 100-loss season, that’s tremendous support and just confirms everything I’ve thought about this market since I came here.

“This is going to be huge once we get our job done on the field, which we haven’t done yet. But once we do, this is going to be fantastic.”

Praise for Cox

Jim Riggleman’s first major league managing job came late in the 1992 season when he took over a struggling San Diego club. One of the first people to pull him aside and offer words of wisdom was Bobby Cox, then in his third season managing the Atlanta Braves.

“He was a very successful manager. He was going to the playoffs. And he spent some time with me, gave me a little advice and then proceeded to beat us about 8-0 that night,” the Nationals’ interim manager recalled Friday. “But it was appreciated and not forgotten.”

Cox, who announced earlier this week he will retire after the 2010 season - his 21st consecutive and 25th overall with the Braves - remains one of the most popular managers in the game, especially among his peers.

“I could go on and on about Bobby Cox,” Riggleman said. “There’s not enough time for me here to explain the respect I have for Bobby and what he’s accomplished and just the class act that he is.”