- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 12, 2017

MIAMI — Next year brings Washington’s chance.

The 89th All-Star Game will be held at Nationals Park in 2018, a chance for the city and team to show how it established it has become since baseball returned to the District in 2005.

Preparation began before this season’s All-Star break and was ramped up during three days in Miami. A trove of Nationals officials followed along during the All-Star festivities in Marlins Park. Major League Baseball mandates that the future host of the event attends the All-Star festivities the season before in order to prepare.

There were lessons to be learned in Miami.

Attendance for Sunday’s Futures Game was poor even by Miami standards (the Marlins are 28th in attendance this season). A large crowd watched the Home Run Derby, but Marlins Park was not filled. The main event finally packed them in. Tuesday night’s All-Star Game was announced as a sellout. Most of the crowd remained even when the game was in extra innings, still trudging along at 11:15 p.m. on a Tuesday night, leading to a very late exit for thousands.

Events outside the park were sparsely attended. Players arriving on the red carpet was a production more for cameras than those in person. Trying to tie in a local cultural event, MLB even put on a All-Star Zumba gathering in downtown Miami.

One thing the Nationals expect to work in their favor is the amount of foot traffic around the park, plus a Metro system that can deliver fans to the stadium’s doorstep. In Miami, a metro rider would need to find their way to Culmer Station, then board a shuttle to the park.

Metro refused to stay open late in the fall of 2016 during the MLB playoffs because of SafeTrack. For the 2018 All-Star Game, and other major events, Metro will need to receive “sufficient notice” of a request to stay open later. It has recently said it was willing to do so, should it receive a request and $100,000 per hour up front from the event organizer to stay open. The event organizer will get any part of its deposit back that is covered by riders’ fares. Metro said it will not stay open later than 1 a.m. for special events.

Development around Nationals Park has moved with a fervor since it opened in 2008. Not far east is a new pod of restaurants and bars. More work is being done across Potomac Avenue. However, the dirt-producing and dust-driving cement plant behind the homeplate gate remains an eyesore. More development will be complete by the middle of next season.

Washington sent five players to the All-Star Game this season. Recent history suggests it has multiple candidates to make an appearance in their home park. Not the least of which is Bryce Harper, who has committed to participating in the Home Run Derby if he is an All-Star next season. An added wrinkle for Harper at the game could be his looming free agency. The topic has been discussed for multiple seasons, including this one. Harper again said in Miami that he does not look too far into the future and suggested that people’s interest in his expected cash windfall is “human nature.” As for the prospect of the game in the District next year, he’s excited.

“I think it’s going to be a lot of fun,” Harper said. “I think D.C. is going to be a great town to host it in. Be able to be in a place like that and see the nation’s capital, what a great ballpark we play in every single day. Lot of the guys are going to be able to come to that park and have some fun.”

It will be interesting to see if Ryan Zimmerman can join him. Zimmerman’s rebound this season landed him in Miami. Playing in the All-Star Game in his home park would a significant moment for the organization’s backbone. He went through all the bad and now enjoys the good.

“I think it’s great for the city that gets to host it,” Zimmerman said. “It’s awesome for the rest of the country and the world to see your stadium and your city, get to put on a show and showcase what your city has for baseball. I’m looking forward to it.

“Obviously, I think everyone would be excited to have it. The last five years as we’ve grown and become a pretty good team, the fan base has continued to grow with us. I think it makes that much better when the fans for the home team are great. You get so many fans that travel to see their guys and represent their team. It’s just kind of a fun collection of the fan bases there mixed with everyone else. I think D.C. is the kind of city that also enjoys special events.”

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