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Washington Nationals Are Creeping Up On The Washington Capitals

10:50 AM, Apr 18, 2012   |    comments
In the near future, the Nationals stadium will look like this on a nightly basis. Credit: James Lang-US PRESSWIRE
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WASHINGTON (WUSA) -- What would life, and more specifically sports, be like without trends?

Some are long lasting -- reality television, Twitter, being environmentally friendly.

Some creep up quickly and soon become undesirable -- tramp stamps, trucker hats, crocs.

And some are in between. 

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Over the last few decades, there's a trend in Washington D.C. that's flip-flopped like a sandal at the beach: Which sports team is second place in town?

At this very moment, I think most would agree that the Capitals own the number two spot, thanks in large part to owner Ted Leonsis and his brilliant marketing schemes in selling the team to the affluent Northern Virginia market. The regular season product and a recognizable star in Alex Ovechkin also have gobs to do with the Capitals heightened profile in town. And the 147 straight sellout crowds speak for themselves.

But if and when the Capitals are eliminated prior to the Eastern Conference finals -- an expectation the franchise has lured their fan base into believing the team should achieve over the past several seasons -- how can major changes not be made? How many years will Leonsis let the Capitals come up short before something major is done?

Until a franchise can become a legitimate championship contender for several seasons (IE the Joe Gibbs Redskins of the 80's and early 90's) the said team will continue to be a trend in this town, rather than a mainstay. 

Keeping the same disgruntled, underachieving set group of players and management WILL ultimately lead to a disastrous ending -- the late 2000's Wizards are just one example. Handing players 100 million dollar contracts in a salary capped sport is one of the most dangerous tactics as a front office decision maker. That kind of money puts players on a godly status. Gilbert Arenas, Albert Haynesworth have been down that road and whose to say Alex Ovechkin -- who finished tied 37th in total points this past season -- eventually won't be run out of town either? Too many Caps fans have put Ovechkin on an untouchable platform. Big-time pay checks effect people's attitudes on life and winning. That's a fact. And we may be getting to that point with Ovi.

Timing is everything for the Caps right now. It's unlikely that Ted Leonsis will make major alterations to the Capitals, even though they glaringly need serious retooling. The owner will surely have to fire both Wizards team president Ernie Grunfeld and interim coach Randy Wittman. If Leonsis also let's go of current Caps General Manager George McPhee and interim head coach Dale Hunter, he's painting a picture that both of his franchise's are in a state of flux. That's not exactly a way to keep anxious fans satisfied. 

So what I think will happen is the Capitals will remain predominantly the same -- maybe a different coach -- and the team will continue to duplicate the frustration of not becoming an elite hockey franchise. Ending season after season with disappointment will begin to turn a portion of the fan base off, because again, the Caps are a trend and not the Redskins. Winning in the regular season is fun, but it doesn't guarantee your fans will always support you. Winning a title is the only way to turn casual fans into die-hards.

***

Next in the trendy line for second place in the D.C. sports circus happens to be the Washington Nationals. And the key to becoming the trend in town is to win over the bandwagon fans.

Many current hardcore Caps fanatics didn't even know the rules of hockey circa-2005, but fell in love with the sport thanks in part to Alex Ovechkin. The same thing could very well happen inside Nats Park relatively soon.

Outside of Robert Griffin III, Bryce Harper is on the cusp of making the biggest splash in D.C. since Monica Lewinsky in 1998. Athletically gifted, with a flamboyant personality, Harper's post-game press conferences will become nearly as exciting as his walk-off RBI's and diving catches. A dynamic personality like the youthful Harper's will attract a whole new fan base to the Navy Yard and even more importantly, MASN.

As for the rest of the team, the Nats already have the hardest part pretty much figured out: pitching. And they have droves of it. Young droves. 

Two things that separate baseball and hockey:

1) Nats Park seats just under 41,000 as opposed to the Verizon Center's nearly 19,000. So yeah, Nats park isn't going to sell out every night until they become trendier. 

2) It's much harder to make the playoffs in the MLB as opposed to the NHL. If the Nats had a season like the Caps did in 2011-2012, they wouldn't have even sniffed the postseason. The reward of playing baseball in October should be celebrated abundantly more than playing hockey in April. 

I don't know when exactly the Nats take over will happen. But I do know that this particular franchise is warming up in the bullpen, waiting for the Caps to squander their second place lead in the nation's capital. 

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