The Washington Nationals are headed to the postseason.
No, it's not official yet, but the Nats' magic number to clinch the NL East is 15. It would take a monumental collapse for them to not win the division, and even if that somehow happens, they'd likely have a fallback position: the second wild-card. The Nats' magic number to clinch no worse is 10.
So everyone's happy, right? Sure, that is... as long as the Nationals' home playoff games don't go past midnight ET, because that's when the Washington Metro shuts down for the night.
Baseball Nation contributor Wendy Thurm has summed up this issue neatly at FanGraphs; the bottom line is that the WMATA (the Washington-area transit authority) wants $29,500 per hour (and a $29,500 deposit for each day this is done) to keep the Metro open after hours; the Nats are willing to pay, but MLB is balking, stating they don't want to set a precedent, never mind that there's no other city that has a MLB team and public transit that has this issue.
$29,500 a day. That sounds like a lot of money when you consider this from DC Sports Bog regarding what the Nats did on May 6, when the team did pay for a late Metro run when the team hosted ESPN'S Sunday Night Baseball against the Phillies:
A portion of the $29,500 extra-hour cost is reimbursable to the venue or organization in question, based on the additional fare revenue generated in that extra hour. For the Phillies game, the Nats were reimbursed $1,611 for the 445 passengers who used the system after midnight. In other words, the Nats paid WMATA more than $62 for each fan who took advantage of the extra hour of service.
The attendance May 6 was 33,058, well short of the stadium's capacity of 41,888, and you can be reasonably certain that many fewer people would leave a playoff game early; if it runs into extra innings, is rain-delayed or is one of the games that a national network wants to start after 8 p.m. ET, a late opening of the Metro would almost be mandatory.
Keith Olbermann has an idea:
Why not? The maximum number of postseason games any one team can host in a season is 11 -- three division series games, four LCS games and four World Series games. Let's see, 11 times $29,500, carry the five... $324,500 would cover the entire postseason. Further, with the much larger number of fans likely wanting to use the Metro after postseason games, the transit authority would probably wind up reimbursing most of the money.
The highest-paid member of the Nats is Jayson Werth, who is making $13 million this year. The Nats have three other players (Ryan Zimmerman, Edwin Jackson and Adam LaRoche) making $8 million or more this year. $324,500 is a lot to you and me... but to these guys? I won't use the words "chump change", but as Olbermann suggests, a Nats player would be a hero to his team's fans if he offered to pay out of his own pocket.
Grump Selig would undoubtedly try to find a way to nix this sort of thing, but it would be a charming way for a team to really ingratiate itself with its fanbase. I'm all for it. Because if there isn't a way found to keep the Washington Metro open late on postseason game nights, the Nats could find themselves with some real angry fans.