- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 15, 2009

Be still, my heart: The Nationals have introduced “great value-packed incentives” for those deluded folks who sign up for 2010 season-ticket packages.

When I heard this, I barely could contain my excitement. Was the club guaranteeing an improved record next season? (Of course, that wouldn’t take much; a 60-102 campaign would represent improvement over its dismal ‘09.)

Maybe Stephen Strasburg, the Hall of Famer-to-be, will be rushed to the major leagues without wasting any time in the bushes.

Perhaps Frank Howard will miraculously shed 40 years and appear for a second term as the Capital Clouter.

Could it be that Bucky Harris will descend (or ascend?) from the next world as a reborn “Boy Wonder” and manage Washington to its first World Series championship since 1924, when he did it the first time around?

As it turns out, though, the incentives are minuscule at best. Each fan will receive up to $7 per ticket in “added value” that can be used to purchase food, drinks and team merchandise at Nationals Park.

In other words, if you chug-a-lug five beers during a 3 1/2-hour game, you’ll get one of the brews free. Plus at no extra cost, a headache and/or the hiccups.

Or if you shell out $299.99 for an “authentic, personalized” Ryan Zimmerman jersey, one letter of the word “NATIONALS” - hopefully, spelled correctly - might be free. Otherwise, walking around in a team uniform could cost you an arm and a leg.

As a public service, I did some quick calculations on your behalf. Let’s say you buy the most expensive ticket, one of those $150 box seats behind the plate that are embarrassingly empty for most games. That means you spend $12,150 over 81 games and receive $567 in what the club is calling “NatsBucks.” This seems like the worst baseball deal since the Reds traded Frank Robinson to the Orioles for Milt Pappas in 1965.

For more information, the team says fans should call 202/675-NATS. I guess 202/675-NUTS wasn’t available.

Really, though, I understand the club’s marketing strategy. During these perilous economic times, the idea of getting something for nothing is more attractive than ever. As opposed to usually getting nothing for something when you sit in the stands. After all, the Gnats were an unsnazzy 33-48 at home last season.

“The Nationals are always looking to continue providing the most affordable fan experience in Washington,” club president Stan Kasten said in a statement. “The added-value plans are a perfect holiday gift for the baseball fan in your life.”

Did anybody say, “Bah, humbug”?

Maybe the holiday Stan has in mind is April Fools’ Day. That would have been most appropriate last spring considering that the Nats lost their first seven games.

And what if the “baseball fan in your life” is no longer a baseball fan following 4 1/2 sickly seasons that conjure up memories of the expansion Senators at their worst? By now he or she might have turned to a more rewarding sports endeavor, like embracing the Capitals and ice hockey.

Last month the Nationals established a team speakers bureau that will make front office personnel available to pump up interest around the area. Unfortunately, such a campaign requires someone with the oratorical gifts of a Barack Obama. I’m pretty sure the president is otherwise occupied.

That leaves the burden on Kasten, who could find a positive note in, say, the Dark Ages. Which, come to think of it, pretty much describes the state of baseball in these parts.

You have to applaud the Lerners and their minions for working so hard to attract fervent fans. Now they should try the most proven method - putting a winner between the white lines.

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