Washington Nationals: Go Natinals!

Will Leitch will be previewing/musing on every baseball team each weekday until the start of the season. You can pre-order his book and follow him on Twitter. Today: Washington Nationals.

Here's a crazy statistic via B-Pro's Jay Jaffe (subscription required): Last year's attendance at Nationals (Still Doesn't Have A Sponsor) Park, the team's second year at the new building with the goofy center field camera angle, was 6.5 percent lower than the final year's attendance at RFK Stadium. This is astounding. That stadium cost taxpayers $693 million, and they actually did a better job of selling tickets at the lopsided old airplane hangar. It must have been all the amenities at RFK.

Washington Nationals: Go Natinals!

Perhaps the eventual corporate sponsor can work in some sort of tie-in deal.

It's easy to forget now, but when the Expos turned into the Nationals and headed to DC, the thought was that this was going to be a potential juggernaut in the NL East. Certainly, MLB initially treated the Nationals as well as it treated the Expos poorly. (It even saved some love for the Orioles.) The combination of a re-energized organization with a fanbase supposedly desperate for baseball — it had been 34 years since the Senators left — was considered a threat to the rest of the NL East. All was set up for them.

It hasn't worked out that way, and the Nationals, with the help of Jim Bowden, have squandered all that goodwill and advantage. The stadium itself is unimpressive, blandly "new" and in an area of town that isn't exactly known for its foot traffic. The team has been disorganized, confused and run, really, in a way that's not all that dissimilar from the way the Expos were run at the end: like an organization that keeps waiting for someone to push the reset button. It's not happening this time. It feels like an interim franchise. But it isn't: They've got to make this work on their own now.

I'm as excited by Stephen Strasburg as anyone else is, but it is telling that when the Nationals earned the right to draft him, the general assumption was that the team would figure out a way to screw this up. The Nationals were the Clippers drafting Blake Griffin: Why should such a special talent have to play there? This is a long way from the initial plan, and that initial plan wasn't put together all that long ago.

That said: The Nationals did make it work with Strasburg, and other than the bewildering signing of the corpse of Pudge Rodriguez, their offseason moves have veered toward the sane. (Chien-Ming Wang is a perfect fit.) This is beneficial to baseball as a whole. The game needs Washington to compete with the Phillies and Mets and Braves. The game doesn't need another Kansas City, which is what the Nationals have been so far. In addition to Strasburg, Drew Storen and Ian Desmond (who I hope is happy with Penny and can stave off her villainous father) are on their way to the majors, and Jordan Zimmermann will be back by the end of the season as well. There is a rough skeleton of a team here. Still: Attendance should improve once Strasburg arrives, but it has yet to be proven that the supposed clamoring for a team in Washington is something that actually exists. I hope it's there. But if it's not, maybe they'll give Montreal another chance. At least they could spell the team name right on the front of the uniform over there.