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Opinion: Hats Off to the Nats

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    NEWSLETTERS

    It would have been nice to see the Nats sweep those Phillies last weekend.

    But two out of three ain’t bad.

    Your Notebook had tweeted an insult or two about the obnoxious Phillies fans and even tweaked them on the Kojo Nnamdi Politics Hour.

    But the series was about more than what went on during the games.

    The Nationals’ management in February said it was setting out to “Take Back the Park” by limiting sales to credit cards in the metropolitan area. It was an effort to blunt ticket sales to those loud Phillies fans who come down in droves to act out and maybe watch the games.

    Even ESPN announcers noticed that the Nationals fans were more numerous than they had been in previous meets with the Phillies.

    According to the Nats, the three-game series drew a total of 106,931 fans. The team says it was the most for a three-game series since the Cubs in 2008, the year Nationals Park opened.

    More than a few Phillies fans and some Nats supporters have said the team would draw more when it wins more. And that’s true so far this season.

    Although The Washington Post published a story about sagging attendance for some games, the average attendance this year for the 16 home games is 25,791 -- that’s up about 25 percent over the first 16 games last year. That’s a little more than an extra 5,200 fans per game.

    Even if you’re not interested in baseball, the extra fans mean extra sales and extra tax revenues for the District.

    “The stadium was packed. At least half the fans were Nats fans, which was up from about 30 percent in other games,” said Ward 2 D.C. Council member Jack Evans, chairman of the Finance and Revenue Committee and the biggest baseball booster on the council. “It goes to show when you have a winner, people will turn out. It’s good for the team, it’s good for the city and it’s good for baseball.”

    With all the hoopla over pitcher Stephen Strasburg, there’s even more now for rookie Bryce Harper.

    “He stole home!” Evans said, still excited on Monday. “He’s just a hustle freak. He’s young, he’s energetic and he’s good. Arguably, we’ve got the best pitcher and best rookie in baseball. It’s the turnaround we’ve been looking for in Washington sports.”

    Bottom line, Evans says, the ballpark is making more than enough new city revenue to cover the bonds floated to build it, and that’s another win for the District.

    • Plunking the batter?

    We don’t know quite what to think of Phillies star pitcher Cole Hamels, who admitted that he purposely threw a pitch that hit Harper in the back.

    Major League Baseball suspended Hamels for five games.

    Sports reporters quoted Hamels as saying, “I was trying to hit him. I'm not going to deny it. It's something I grew up watching. That's what happened. I'm just trying to continue the old baseball. Some people get away from it. I remember when I was a rookie, the strike zone was really, really small and you didn't say anything. That's the way baseball is. Sometimes the league is protecting certain players. It's that old-school prestigious way of baseball."

    Old-school supporters know exactly what Hamels is saying. Others will find it violent and cruel. The Notebook will just say it is part of the game, kind of like fighting in hockey and hard hits in football. We do find it amazing that the pitcher admitted doing it.

    And what did Harper think? The young man showed a lot of old-school wisdom. At least through Monday, Harper was saying only that Hamels threw a good game.

    Now had it been a “bean ball” -- tossed at his head -- maybe there would be a lot more outrage.

    • Late-night bar hours?

    If a bar stays open until 4 a.m., wouldn’t it be better to say “early-morning” hours rather than “late-night?”

    Well, whatever you call it, those hours may not be happening in the District.

    The Human Services Committee headed by Ward 1 Council member Jim Graham last week defeated Mayor Vincent Gray’s proposal to extend bar hours one hour until 3 a.m. on weekdays and 4 a.m. on weekends.

    Graham said citizens in neighborhoods with bars “rightly worry about spillover effects of noise, crime [and] a lack of public transportation.” He said drunken driving “will surely increase.”

    The proposal could come back to life in the next few weeks as the council debates the mayor’s 2013 budget. Gray had proposed the longer hours to raise about $3 million in additional tax revenue.

    Graham said the city could raise revenue by increasing the alcohol tax by about six cents per drink, a move that would generate about $20 million. Graham’s tax suggestion startled the city’s hospitality industry. At our Notebook deadline, there were plans for a big demonstration at the council Tuesday. We guess Mr. Graham won’t be speaking at the annual restaurant awards in June.

    • Sunday sales?

    There’s also a proposal to allow liquor stores to open on Sunday. Graham hasn’t slammed the door on that. He says he’ll hold a public hearing June 12.

    • A final word.

    Former Ward 5 Council member Harry Thomas Jr., now a convicted felon for stealing lots of money from city youth programs, was sentenced last week to 38 months in prison. There’s no parole in the federal system.

    U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen, appearing on the WAMU 88.5 FM “Politics Hour,” said prisoners with good time normally serve about 10 months out of every year of their sentence. That means Thomas will spend just over 30 months in prison. He’s awaiting a letter from the Federal Bureau of Prisons to tell him when and where to report to begin serving that sentence.

    The special election to replace Thomas on the council is set for May 15.