Asked & Answered: Mark D. Lerner answers fan questions
By Mark D. Lerner
Vice Chairman & Principal Owner of the Washington Nationals
Thanks so much for submitting your questions this past week. I always enjoy hearing from fans, and have always said we have the best fans in baseball! I plan on sharing on our social channels throughout the offseason, so I hope this will be the first of many conversations!
Let’s get right to your questions:
Why haven’t you cut Jonathan Papelbon yet? His act was embarrassing to a Nats fan. I will not attend or watch a game until he is no longer on the roster.
I knew this would be the first question, so let me tell you what our thinking is right now. This continues to be a tough one. The incident between Jonathan and Bryce Harper was an unfortunate and unacceptable blow-up between two very passionate players. Luckily, they put it behind them almost immediately. It was probably easier for them to do that because they know each other in a larger context: as teammates who both want to win. I know both players would love to have that unfortunate moment back. We have asked Mike Rizzo to determine what roster best puts us in a position to win a World Series. He will certainly do that based on talent, and what’s best for our clubhouse moving forward.
What are you going to do now that Jordan Zimmermann is gone and you might lose Doug Fister? Is Tanner Roark back in rotation? Or Lucas Giolito ready?
We are always looking to improve our starting rotation. The good news is that we have some strong young arms in our farm system that may prove that they are ready to crack the roster as starters. We also have stockpiled enough young talent all around that we have players other teams may want to trade in return for a pitcher or two. I think we are going to have a very interesting and competitive Spring Training in 2016.
Mr. Lerner –
Per Twitter, I am asking a question that my season ticket partner and I have had for years. Is the Curly-W clock in right/center going to get hands again? The clock was such a nice and what seems to be a relatively cheap feature. Also, what about the Curly W in the center field grass? I have read that the answer was due to it damaging the lawn but I am not sure I buy that. I had even put a Curly W in my backyard and tweeted it for encouragement.🙂 We have concert stages that leave marks.
I love the clock, too, but there has been an ongoing maintenance issue and I’m sorry to say it looks like it’s impossible to fix. I’ve been told the parts are just not available. It’s actually a pretty complicated issue, believe it or not, and we’re looking at designs to replace it with something else, no later than the All-Star Game in 2018.
As for the field, I think fans loved seeing the Curly W the same as I did, but players complained about the erratic bounce the ball made off the edges of the design so, of course, the groundskeepers stopped cutting it into the grass. Can’t argue with that.
Thank you for taking my question, Mark…It seems as though a strategic error was made last season with the failure to add the necessary pieces to make the playoffs. Mike Rizzo mentioned at the trade deadline that budget constraints were a factor in the decision not to add talent, other than Papelbon, who played at no cost. I can only assume that Scherzer’s $210MM salary had a lot to do with limiting the available budget, and you have his salary on the books for another 13 years. What is being done to allocate the necessary funds to on-field talent this year to avoid a repeat of last season? Thank you.
We will never go crazy on spending for spending’s sake, but I think we have a proven history of smart spending on talent we believe will help us win now and in the future. That really is our test at this point. We are constantly looking for ways to get better, and we ask Mike Rizzo and his staff to make honest assessments about the value of the talent available.
Will the Lerner family be willing to sign high profile free agent(s) this season?
I think the fans know we will never be shy about spending money and will never rule anything out. These types of investments — and they are truly that — are large-scale decisions that have to be taken on a case-by-case basis. But to close yourself off from any of those investments with a blanket statement wouldn’t be prudent, or in the best interest of the team. We have great trust in our baseball operations department and the guidance they provide, and we won’t close any doors.
The Nats refreshed the team’s uniforms several years ago. I personally feel the set has been a success for the most part, but also could be improved in some ways. How do you feel about them? Do you see any enhancements/additions in the future, or are you content with this set?
It’s funny, now anywhere I travel I run into folks wearing Nationals team merchandise – Curly W caps, jerseys, T-shirts. I think we have developed a pretty popular logo and brand. We are open to alternate designs down the line, but currently we are sticking with what is proving to be popular.
Can we have the interlocking “DC” return as a home/away alternate and is it possible to sell the uniforms and caps with the interlocking “DC” logo in the team store?
We are open to alternate designs, but don’t have any current plans to change the uniforms next season. I’ll share your request for the interlocking DC logo to be made available in our stores with the retail team!
I was born in D.C., raised in Prince George’s County, MD. I still live in P.G. till this day. I, like most D.C. area baseball fans, were forced to follow the Baltimore Orioles until we finally brought a team back here to our metro area. It’s frustrating to see the Baltimore Orioles post up billboards in P.G. County (BW Parkway right at the D.C. border, and 301) as if to claim the area as their own territory simply because it’s in the state of MD. P.G. County is a part of the D.C. area, as is Montgomery County, and has no connection to the Baltimore area other than it happens to be in the same state. My question is- What are you doing to continue establishing your territory on the MD side of the D.C. metro area? It just feels like we get less attention than the VA side of the DC area. There should be a lot more presence here. This is all Nats country. O’s country stops in Howard and Anne Arundel counties.
As a fan who grew up in the Maryland suburbs, I know how strong our fanbase is there. Believe me, we are going to keep growing our brand throughout Maryland and the entire DMV. We are working to develop innovative ways to reach and keep those fans. Keep your eyes open and I think you will see some additional presence through our community relations and marketing.
Any big changes/new developments you are working on at Nationals Park?
We’re always working on enhancing the fan experience – from concessions to giveaways to seating options. Last season we created the private clubs within the ballpark, K Street boxes and Club 24, unveiled the Lansinoh Lounge for nursing mothers and hosted Jose Andres’ Pepe food truck – to name just a few. We have some great things being developed during the offseason, but I wouldn’t want to ruin the surprise!
What’s being done about security at Nats Park. I want to feel safe at the ballpark. The security staff seems as though they don’t take their job seriously.
I disagree with your assessment. Our security is second to none. Most of the comments I’ve gotten about security – both from the perspective of friendliness as well as professionalism – have been very positive. If you have specific instances, you should alert the organization immediately using the in-park text messaging system. Our staff is very well-trained and we are vigilant about providing the best and most effective public security possible, as well as the best game-day experience.
Seriously, you should have interviewed me for the skipper job! What women do you have in your team execution group? You need us! I am available if price is right!! #womentowinworldseries
I am proud that the Washington Nationals have one of the best records in professional sports when it comes to hiring. We currently have more women working in executive positions in our front office than not only any other in Major League Baseball, but than any other team in professional sports in America. I do think we will begin to see more women breaking into baseball operations departments throughout baseball, and we will see women assuming high ranking jobs on the field.
Can you share your feelings regarding last season? The thank you letter to fans at the end of the season said “Our desire to do better – to be better – burns stronger than ever.” What do you view as the biggest issue that contributed to the disappointing season?
Our family’s goal is to bring a World Series back to Washington. We strive to be a playoff-caliber team every year. We were disappointed that we weren’t able to be that last season. But we are moving forward to next season and are excited to usher in the Dusty Baker era. We have put into place several other significant changes, too, from hiring a new coaching staff to restructuring our medical team and we’re hopeful that the 2016 season will be a great one.
Why won’t the Nationals pay to have Metro run late for evening games?
We’ve consistently said that as a world-class city – and the Nation’s Capital – D.C. needs to have a world-class public transportation system and that includes an extended hours schedule like every other major American city. Currently our fans contribute millions of dollars and thousands of hours a year to WMATA traveling to and from games during our 81 home games. That usage should be reflected in extended hours.
The construction scheduled for the new spring training facility is very ambitious. How confident are you that you will be able to meet the goal to open in time for 2017? And what is the plan if it can’t happen in time?
This is going to be such a wonderful complex for our team, our fans, and the Palm Beach community. We’re really excited for this new chapter for our organization and are happy to have such wonderful partners in the Astros organization. The new facility will feature Major League-size practice fields, minor league-size practice fields, batting cages and pitching mounds. The stadium itself will significantly improve the fan experience with 6,400 ticketed seats and 1,250 ticketed berm seats, as well as suites, party decks, concession stands, team store, a picnic area and outfield attractions. The Palm Beach location also has lots of flights to and from D.C. and features expanded hotel and restaurant options. It is an aggressive timetable. Our organization, and the Astros and our contractors are very aware of what needs to be done. The local governments and our new neighbors have been great and are engaged in working to meet the deadline to open our doors to fans for 2017’s spring training.
Why do you believe Dusty Baker is the right man for the job?
There was unnecessary confusion and misinformation during the hiring process because of so many false reports. We were thrilled to bring Dusty on board. He is a fantastic addition to the team and we are incredibly excited to see what he will bring to the clubhouse. He brings nearly 50 years of professional baseball experience with him – he is among the winningest managers in baseball history. He has deep postseason experience, both as a manager and as a player – and has produced seven postseason teams, including five division championships. He’ll help create a clubhouse focused on winning and he’s a lot of fun to be around. We think players and fans will really connect with him.
Many people have pointed out that MLB has had very few African-American managers. What are your thoughts on how baseball can become more diverse at all levels?
Diversity at all levels helps make the game better. We support MLB’s efforts to enhance diversity within the management ranks and believe it is important. We’re proud to have Dusty. Dusty is the best person to be our manager right now. Period. Of course, we are also proud that our most recent coaching hires have made us more diverse.
I see that NatsFest has been expanded to two days and now has a winter theme. Why did you make these changes and how will NatsFest be different this year?
We think everyone will really enjoy the new and improved WinterFest experience! Two days – December 12 and 13 from 11:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the DC Convention Center – with new winter-themed games and photos with Santa – and old favorites like the Kids Press Conference, Player Story Times and autograph sessions. Dusty Baker will be attending, as well as players. Tickets are available at nationals.com/NatsWinterfest – $30 for adults and $20 for children 12 and under. Tickets can also be purchased at the door for $35 for adults and $22 for children 12 and under.
We heard from fans that the one-day only model was difficult given how busy families are during the holiday season. Expanding to two days gives our fans more options. We also looked at the calendar and realized that given the timing, it made sense to incorporate a winter theme along with fan favorites from previous years.
Your manager just made dismissive comments about allegations of domestic violence allegedly perpetrated by a former player of his. My question: what are you planning on doing about it, knowing that silence or a vague non-apology is not acceptable?
The Nationals and MLB take domestic violence very seriously. We support the policies the league has put into place regarding this issue. Dusty gave the eulogy less than a year ago at Darryl Hamilton’s funeral, whose death was tragically a result of domestic violence. He has personal experience with domestic violence, and seen the repercussions of it to those very close to him. He was in no way condoning or trivializing the allegations. Dusty was sharing his personal impressions of Chapman based on his experience managing him for the Reds, and commenting on the man he knew then. He has clarified that his hope was that Chapman, the Chapman he knew, had not committed the reported acts of violence.
The Nats had great success and overwhelming crowd participation when Take On Me was played during the 7th-inning stretch. Now, it seems it’s hard to get much involvement and participation has dwindled. Why is Take On Me no longer played and will you ever bring it back to the 7th-inning stretch?
Thanks for this question. We’ve heard from many fans that they would like a larger variety of songs incorporated into the game experience, so we’ve experimented with different things. We’re working on what will be played next season and appreciate your feedback!
Given Wednesday’s announcement by MLB regarding proposed netting guidelines, what sections will be impacted at Nationals Park?
We take the health and safety of our fans very seriously. We’ve been told by MLB that our current netting meets the standards proposed this week.