Sunday, August 7, 2011

Prince William Park Authority Authorizes $150,000 For Upgrades to Pfitzner Stadium

This is cross-posted over at Ballpark Banter. I wrote this for a baseball blog, so it obviously has an emphasis on the baseball aspects of the decision. I think it's worth discussing here, however, because of the decisions made by the Prince William County Board of Supervisors and the Park Authority Board to help in the funding of upgrades to the stadium. While this does mean more investment from the County, it could prove to be very beneficial to the County and local businesses if these upgrades mean more fans make their way out to the park. After all, those fans will be purchasing tickets (which will generate tax revenue) and will be spending money at gas stations and restaurants near the stadium.

When it was announced that Bryce Harper would skip playing High A ball with the Potomac Nationals and head straight to AA, there was a lot of speculation that this move was due to the poor field conditions at Pfitzner Stadium in Prince William County. This wasn’t the first time Potomac got the short end of the stick in regards to the top Nats prospects as Stephen Strasburg never came to Woodbridge even though the original rumors were that he’d start his professional career with the P-Nats. It appears as though some action has been taken to start addressing concern about the field, however, as the Prince William Park Authority Board authorized $150,000 to make improvements to the field.

Some of the specific concerns are about the inability of the outfield to properly drain, which can lead to safety concerns for outfielders like Harper. The lack of drainage also causes a lot of games to be postponed due to rain that wouldn’t be postponed elsewhere. While this isn't as big of a concern as the safety issues, the unnecessary postponed games could put the development of crucial prospects behind schedule when they happen so often. When you combine this with the fact that the training facilities are so outdated that trainers have to go to the concession stand just to get ice for the players they’re treating, it’s really sad to see how poor the stadium has become over its 30 year history.

This isn't just local fans expressing frustration at missing out on top prospects as the drainage issues, poor training facilities, and other problems with the playing field are so bad that baseball officials sent a letter to Prince William County saying that the stadium absolutely had to be improved.

Fan frustration is an issue though as attendance at P-Nats games has been so low that there’s been talk about moving the team to a new stadium instead of investing the money in a 30 year old stadium. Part of the reason that the now go by the Potomac Nationals instead of the Prince William Nationals, for instance, is that the team’s owner, Art Silber, has been looking for ways to get private capital for a new park that could potentially bring in more fans. Part of his so far failed tactics to get a new stadium was to look at other areas in the region for the team to play. The switch to Potomac as the team's identifier instead of Prince William was made as a marketing decision several years ago in case an opportunity for a new stadium was found in Loudoun or Fairfax County.

There have also been a lot of rumors that the team was hesitant to invest in the stadium because it wanted to get so bad that the County was all but officially forced to put some public funding into it or risk losing the team (which is essentially what’s happening now). This not only impacted the quality of the playing field, but also meant the fan experience was negatively impacted by a small and severely outdated stadium.

A prime example of the poor conditions outside of the playing field can be seen in the stadium’s scoreboard. Up until about halfway through last season, the P-Nats had a scoreboard that was more outdated than those seen at most local high schools. It was so bad that when they posted the information about who was up to bat, there were so many lights out that it was sometimes difficult to make out the player’s number and batting average. Thankfully, they finally realized last year that enough fans were getting fed up with the conditions at Pfitzner Stadium that they bought a new scoreboard.

With the rumors about the moving, the letters of reprimand from baseball officials, and the frustrated fans, it’s good that Prince William County and the P-Nats have gotten the hint that action needs to be taken. Hopefully the team and county won’t stop at just bringing the playing field up to the bare minimal standards and adding a new scoreboard. If they make the stadium an attractive place to play and take in a game, after all, we could see the Nationals be willing to have their top prospects play in Woodbridge. This not only will help the P-Nats, but will improve the local economy as Nats fans from all over the DC area make the trip to Prince William County to see the future stars of the Washington Nationals.

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