Fatherhood continues to offer unexpected surprises. We are just back from Nationals Park after watching Carlos Zambrano put in a serviceable performance. Tyler Colvin and Starlin Castro also showed why hope will spring yet again in 2011. Watching the Cubs actually play decently was not the surprise -- the fact that our two-year old enjoyed herself at the game and danced around every time it drizzled down was awesome. We were able to enjoy eight innings of baseball before I headed off mom's complaints of keeping the little one out too late by leaving (before our little girl asked to leave; her parting words: "Bye Bye Chicago Cubs, See You Later!"). We were also spared Carlos Marmol's nervy ninth inning.
Walking from the metro station to the stadium, our daughter was skipping to the game. She must genuinely enjoy the prospect of getting into ballparks, because she was similarly pumped when going to RFK. After pulling off the East Capitol exit onto the straightaway to the stadium, she started clapping and singing to herself "we're going to a soccer game, a soccer game."
Most DC United supporters who post their thoughts on the internets have pulled no punches opining how awful the team has played, how poorly the front office has performed, and how dire the team's stadium situation is. There is no question that it has been a bad season. The reputation of a number of the players formerly held in high esteem by the club's supporters has taken a hit and management is openly mocked, but, truth be told, I have enjoyed going to games this year much more than last season. It is not just the revelatory play of Andy Najar and the quick development of Bill Hamid. Just as importantly, it is all the things the club has done to make the experience more enjoyable for fans.
There is simply no question that I will renew our season tickets for next year. The only real question is how many more tickets I will have to budget for. We use every ticket we can. In response to a undeniable problem, the food has improved at the stadium (Ledo Pizza is a particular favorite for the little one, as are all the ice cream choices). ATM service is better. We are extremely grateful for the continued focus by the team on insuring that we can take our daughter to the stadium to a safe and friendly environment. When a drunk fan got too aggressive during the Milan exhibition match, security quickly defused the situation while reasonably providing the fan an opportunity to compose himself and enjoy the rest of the game.
The club has also done quite a bit to make sure that the players and staff are seen in the community. The opening welcome for Coach Onalfo at Black Finn's was great. As was this year's Meet the Team Day. The team publicizes well public appearances by the players and, for their part, the players seem to meet this responsibility with some enthusiasm. Team officials also make sure that at least some players make themselves available after every game for autographs; something that is immensely important to every family of casual fans who have sat around us during this season (it was a bit surprising to see Bill Hamid initially decline to take a sharpie from a DC United staffperson on Sunday after his clean sheet, but I was heartened to see the young man think better of it, grab the marker, and wade in towards all the kids awaiting signatures on Family Day).
As season ticket holders, Sunday's game represented our allocation of Field Passes and this was also a nice and wholly unnecessary touch. The team has not asked us to pay for the Milan or Pompey friendlies, nor have they asked us to pitch in more for U.S. Open Cup matches at RFK and they went even further by giving season ticket holders the field pass opportunity without additional charge. Being on the field to watch practice is a neat, albeit fairly boring experience. Just getting to see the players up close running through drills -- watching, for example, Hamid come out for crosses hit by Troy Perkins -- was fascinating (to me). For our daughter, she got to meet Freedom, Screech, Slapshot and other DC area mascots up close.
The mascots alone were enough to get her through the game. When it began to pour down, she simply curled up under a poncho and went to sleep until the second half.
For the adults, we were treated to a solid DC United performance. Allsopp slotted home his opportunities -- something that United strikers haven't done very much this season. Boskovic and Hernandez directed the game well through the center of the field and were complemented nicely by Najar's forays forward. The team looked committed. The introduction of Stephen King for Boskovic with over half an hour to go in the game made the match closer than it needed to be, but the game was still comfortable for United with Hamid having little to do.
Perhaps I am just wired differently, but Sunday afternoon at RFK provided a nice outing for my family. We enjoyed the game, we enjoyed cheering for United, we enjoyed the result, and we enjoyed the atmosphere. Not much more could be asked of the club.