Saturday, April 29, 2006

Whoever buys the Washington Nationals will pay $450 million for the right to, in essence, be a minor league owner this season.

If a new owner indeed is announced in the next few days, he would take over the club sometime in June. There is little he would be able to do about the product on the field by then. He could make deals at the July trading deadline, which, if the Nationals are out of postseason contention, should be used to dump talent for much-needed prospects.

If the club does that, the product on the field would become even worse than it is today.

What the new owners can do is improve the ballpark experience for fans, generate interest and create reasons to come to the ballpark other than the game.

And, because of the dispute between Comcast and MASN, they’ll have to do so without the help of the television broadcast of Nationals games.

That pretty much will make the new owner a minor league owner for the rest of the season. When you own a minor league team, you have no say in the talent on the field. The owners of minor league franchises spend their time coming up with promotions to draw fans, and whoever buys the Nats may be doing the same thing for the remainder of this season.

Fireworks are a staple for minor league owners. But because the residents around RFK Stadium balk at any signs of life, the Nats’ new owners won’t be able to use explosives (a ban that apparently has been extended to the team’s bats).

So I have two words for the new owner: Myron Noodleman.

Myron Noodleman is the Jerry Lewis of minor league baseball. He travels to about 80 minor league ballparks a year, performing skits between innings with players, umpires and fans. According to his promotional material, “Myron Noodleman has to be seen to be believed! Hilarious routines during breaks in the action to great off-the-cuff comedy in the stands that lets the fans enjoy not just a great game, but a great experience as a whole.”

That may be the best anyone can hope for at RFK this summer — a great experience.

There’s also the Dynamite Lady, who puts herself inside a box and blows herself up.

Then there is BirdZerk, a mascot character who would put Screech to shame. BirdZerk’s stock in trade, according to his Web site, is “pulling off hijinks with the players and coaches, harassing the umpires and officials, or funnin’ with the crowd. The lovable prankster’s zany antics always leave them laughing and begging for more.”

Nationals fans will be begging for something.

There are a number of legendary minor league promotions the Nationals owner could trot out to keep the masses happy.

There once was a Mike Veeck promotion by the Charleston RiverDogs called “Silent Night.” The goal: Play the quietest game in history. For the first five innings, there was no talking. Fans wore duct tape over their mouths and held up signs to communicate. Ushers were replaced by librarians and golf marshals holding up signs that read “Quiet, please.”

The Nats were well on their way to a Silent Night during their last stand at lifeless RFK Stadium.

The Nashua Pride have had some innovative promotions, including one in 2004 with a Washington flavor: Richard Nixon Bobblehead Night in commemoration of the 32nd anniversary of the Watergate break-in. Anyone named Woodward or Bernstein got in free.

You could do a Washington scandal bobblehead series, which raises all sorts of possibilities.

The Fort Myers Miracle once held George Costanza Night in honor of the “Seinfeld” character’s knack for doing the opposite of what would be considered normal. Fans, instead of paying to park, were paid to park. The scoreboard ran backward, going from the ninth inning to the first.

Then there are the Indianapolis Indians, who recently sponsored “Double Your Salary Day.” One fan who took the afternoon off to go to the ballpark would get either $500 or $1,000, depending on what he made on a typical day.

In Washington, they could call it Jack Abramoff Day.

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