- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 24, 2011

Nestled into a nook on the banks of the Anacostia River, Nationals Park is the place to be for any fan who wants to see the organization in its present form.

But if you take a side trip to Prince George’s Stadium in Bowie the next three days, you’ll likely get a look at what excites Nationals fans more than anything else.

The future.

When the Harrisburg Senators - the Nationals’ Double-A affiliate - take to the field against the Bowie Baysox on Monday night for the first of a three-game set, the Nationals’ powerful prodigy, Bryce Harper, will trot out to the diamond just like he would in any other game. Yet since this diamond is only 20 miles from Nationals Park, this series takes on greater dimensions.

For Nationals fans, it will represent the opportunity to peek into the window of the future. Harper is the No. 1 prospect in the minor leagues, and with that comes the hype that has left die-hards in D.C. eager to see the hard-nosed hitter who has been relatively secluded since being drafted last year.

“I think the people that have tickets for the game, they’ve circled it on their calendar,” said Baysox general manager Brian Shallcross. “They want to see what the hype is about.”

The Baysox draw 3,818 fans per game. For this series, team officials have said they’re expecting a 25 percent increase in attendance, which translates to just under a thousand extra fans.

“For us it’s kind of exciting because it’s someone who has already been deemed a future star; that’s what minor league baseball is about to begin with,” said Charlene Fewer, the Baysox’ director of ticketing operations. “Someone like this, this is someone people are excited about now, this is the future that is coming up; for us, it’s an amazing opportunity to have him come play here.”

So much of an opportunity that the front office has set up special ticket plans for the series and, for those who buy them, special privileges. With the purchase of the Future of the Beltway ticket package, fans get reserved seats for all three games of the series plus the opportunity to enter the stadium early to attend batting practice.

In the major leagues, batting practice represents little more for fans than the chance to watch players warm up for that day’s game. In the minors, where stadiums are smaller and access is less restrictive, it presents an opportunity to rub shoulders with the players.

“One of the things with minor league baseball is we tend to be more fan friendly, there’s more accessibility in a minor league stadium,” said Fewer. “You can get much closer to these players than you ever could in a major league park.”

Of course, once you get past batting practice and the hype with Harper, there’s also a baseball game to be played. Bowie is in second place in the Eastern League behind the Senators, so the matchup has extra meaning as well.

“With the hype of Bryce Harper on the Senators and in the Nationals’ organization, it definitely takes the series to the next level,” said Brandan Kaiser, the Baysox’ director of marketing. “We love our players, the Baysox players, but we like seeing good talent come in from opposing teams as well.”

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