In the earliest stages of the District’s ballpark planning process, those involved incorporated into those plans the likelihood of political VIPs from Congress to the executive branch taking in a ballgame. As a result, special luxury suites were designed for the use of those VIPs and to accommodate the security requirements of the Secret Service. Both Presidents Bush and Obama have taken in games at Nationals Park, with the suite set-up allowing for optimum protection and minimal disruption for fans at the ballpark.
This weekend’s series has probably been noted on the White House refrigerator for quite a while since Obama’s chosen team, the Chicago White Sox, are in town. It was a bonus that this respite from the oily realities of everyday life morphed into a chance to see Sports Illustrated cover boy Stephen Strasburg along with a sellout crowd. This late-breaking twist appears to have been seized by one of the administration’s image-fluffers, one who probably takes in his or her fair share of ballgames at Nationals Park and knows the lay of the land (or in this case, the stands).
The special suites and owner’s box from which the president watched the Philly-infused Opening Day debacle with KaLernerStan and Commissioner Selig are luxurious, spacious, and secure. However, they’re understandably well-removed from the rest of the stadium patrons. Whatever wonk dreamed up the president’s Friday night accommodations apparently did so with every intention to bring the chief executive down from the ivory tower and into close proximity with the people. The spot used to accomplish this was a luxury suite near the 3rd base side entrance to the Nationals’ Club section, one of the ordinary [sic] ones without the security optimizations traditionally used by the visiting political VIPs. The suite overhangs many rows of club seats, allowing those in the suite to be mere feet away from dozens of fans. In such a locale, the president can be seen and photographed in a casual setting while giving the image that “there wasn’t the stringent security for fans that usually accompanies a public appearance.”
As the box in question didn’t have the advanced security protocols associated with it, Nationals officials and Secret Service acted to secure the area as they saw fit. Unfortunately, it was at this point that the special (and apparently hastily-arranged) security surrounding Obama’s box began to have a significant and negative impact on the ballpark experience of hundreds of fans primed to watch Strasburg take on the White Sox. Thanks to Nationals message boards, we have a firsthand account of what occurred, per Nats fan FredieMac45:
“As I was going through a doorway that takes you into a hallway at Section 206 at about 6:30 p.m., they were stopping EVERYBODY and it was getting backed up. Approximately 300 or more of us fans were waiting but for what we didn’t know. After about 20 minutes these people were really getting [annoyed]. Then, as it passed 7:00 p.m. and the Star Spangled banner was playing, the fans were losing their minds. Then the 1st pitch came and went and we ALL were still standing waiting. I finally made it over to an usher where I pleaded with her to tell me if it was the president that was causing this. How much longer would this take? She did admit it was the president and told me that she could not tell how much longer it would be. Then the president showed up and decided he needed to shake hands with the fans like they were waiting to see HIM. At about 7:15-7:20 p.m., right about the time the Nats came up in the bottom of the 1st, they finally let us go to our seats. The entire time there was a man standing “guard” of the door with a smirk on his face that was [ticking] off everybody. This situation is just ridiculous and should not happen. We waited way too long and I along with many others felt [unloved]. By the time I had gotten to my seat it was 1-0 White Sox.”
It appears from an AP photo that people were allowed to come into the seats in front of the box as the president posed for them. If so, that should’ve commenced long before the opening pitch and in a location that didn’t cause the backup of hundreds of fans who weren’t told without prodding what was going on. Undoubtedly, word got to the Keebler Elves running the spin machine about the fiasco, for no sooner had the game wrapped up than an article designed to take out the knees of any criticism of the snafu appeared on MLB.com entitled “Obama as big an attraction as Strasburg.” While acknowledging that the president’s security detail caused issues, the article focused on kids who thought seeing the president was “pretty cool.”
I agree that it’s cool to be able to tell your friends you got a close look at the president at a ballgame. However, it shouldn’t have come at the expense of compromising the gameday experience of fans paying $55-$75 at a minimum for those club seats, and no amount of political spin should obscure that. This falls at the feet of the Nats brass, who need to put the ticket-buying public above a political photo-op and adjust the latter if necessary rather then greatly inconvenience so many fans as occurred Friday night. Nats fans have had a bad enough on-field product to contend with for years and shouldn’t be expected to put up with their team allowing half-baked political stunts designed to tweak some poll numbers at their expense.