Washington Nationals hang 'Natitude Park' banner
Yes, there's been some trouble spelling ''Nationals'' correctly in the past. This was no typo, though.
Above the center field scoreboard, where the team's stadium name normally appears, a temporary red banner with capital white letters proclaimed the site ''NATITUDE PARK'' for Friday night's game between Washington and the Philadelphia Phillies.
It's part of a new marketing campaign this season that the Nationals - two players took the field wearing jerseys reading ''Natinals'' during a game in April 2009 - are hoping will boost attendance in general, and when hosting the usually well-supported Phillies specifically.
Nationals manager Davey Johnson's take on ''Natitude''?
''I can hardly pronounce the dang word,'' he said with a smile.
As fans streamed into the park, the video screen above center field greeted them with: ''Welcome to Natitude Park.'' Later, that screen showed a fake interview with CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer, who was asked to define the made-up word, before urging spectators: ''It's time to ignite your `Natitude!'''
''They might be overdoing it a little bit,'' said Philadelphia's Laynce Nix, who played for Washington last season. ''I really don't know what to make of it. I would think the Nationals' being in first place, (Stephen) Strasburg pitching, (teen phenom) Bryce Harper, us - I think that's enough to sell tickets, I would think. Who knows? Marketing is marketing.''
Despite being 16-9 entering Friday, good enough to lead the NL East, the Nationals ranked 14th in the 16-team league in attendance, averaging 23,517 fans in their 41,000-seat ballpark.
Some of Washington's players privately scoffed at the new banner, although none would discuss his feelings on the record.
Johnson said he was supposed to use the ''Natitude'' slogan in a promotion for All-Star balloting.
''I said, `Man, I may have four or five takes on that.' I said, `We got a ... good team here. Vote for the Nats.' I have enough trouble spelling. But no, I don't get caught up in all that.''
Johnson said there was another new promotional sign at the ballpark as part of the marketing effort on Friday, on the wall behind home plate, but he had it removed because it would be distracting for a pitcher.
Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins was asked whether he was aware of the Nationals' attempt to get more hometown fans in the stands, instead of the usual high number of Philadelphia supporters who make the trip down I-95.
''In short,'' Rollins replied, ''two letters: The first letter starts with `N'; the last one is `O.'''
The 69-year-old Johnson, the oldest skipper in the majors right now, summed up his thoughts this way: ''I don't know about `Natitude'; I don't mind the attitude.''
Howard Fendrich can be reached at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich
Freelance writer Benjamin Standig contributed to this report.