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Will Nationals Fans Be Able To Get Home After Postseason Games?

Nationals Ballpark sits in the southeast quadrant of Washington, D.C. Take a look at this map of the District and its environs. More than half way down, right of center, is a marker for Washington Navy Yard. That’s approximately where the  ballpark is. As you can see, the area is accessible by highways connecting the District to Virginia and Maryland. There is also a Metro stop at the ballpark. Metro is the subway run by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA). Here’s the Metro map. Notice the stop on the Green Line for Navy Yard-Ballpark.

The Nationals encourage fans to take public transportation to the ballpark, but also provide plenty of options and information for driving to — and parking near — the ballpark. The Nationals may keep track of how many fans drive to games, versus take public transportation, but that information isn’t publicly available.

The Metro stops running at midnight Sundays through Thursdays.. Typically, that’s not a problem for Nationals fans traveling to and from the ballpark on the Metro, as the night games start at 7:05 p.m. local time. Unless a game extends well into extra innings, fans usually have plenty of time to take a Metro train home.

But some games have gone well into extra innings, and that’s been a problem for fans who took Metro to the game and expected to take it home. This issue first arose in June, when the Nationals played the Mets on June 5, and the game lasted into the 12th inning. As the game moved toward 11 p.m., ballpark officials announced the Metro would stop running at midnight. That meant that fans had to leave the ballpark with enough time to catch a train at the Navy Yards/Green Line station and get to their destination by midnight. Some fans left, and missed the Nationals’ walk-off victory on a Bryce Harper single in the bottom of the 12th, at 11:20 p.m.

The DC Sports Bog at the Washington Post addressed the issue a few days later. It turns out that the Nationals could pay WMATA almost $30,000 to extend the Metro service by an additional hour, but the transit agency requires a contract and a deposit in advance. The Nationals can’t just request the extra hour when a game runs into extra innings and then pay the $30,000 fee afterward. In fact, when the Nationals played the Phillies on Sunday Night Baseball on May 6 — a game that started at 8:05 p.m. local time — the Nationals did contract for the extra hour of service and pay the deposit, and then triggered the extra hour of train service as the game wore on.

More from the DC Sports Bog:

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 issue came to the fore, again, a few weeks ago when the Nationals faced off against division rival Atlanta Braves on Monday, Aug. 20. Rain delayed the start of the game to 8 p.m. The teams battled into the 13th inning, and the Nationals won on a walk-off single by Chad Tracy. It was well past midnight when the winning run crossed the plate. As with the June game, the Nationals announced the closing time for the Metro. Some fans left; others stayed. Those who stayed were none too happy when they arrived at a closed Metro station after midnight. A local radio station talked to some of the disgruntled fans and reported the story from the Metro station.

Now, with the Nationals heading toward their first postseason, the issue is coming to a head. Although the exact time for postseason games haven’t been set, many East-Coast postseason games start at 8:05 p.m., so that FOX and TBS can broadcast the games in prime time. And postseason games tend to run longer, as the networks run more commercials to recoup the enormous fees they pay MLB to broadcast the games. The Nationals are reportedly interested in entering into a deal with WMATA in advance of the postseason that would allow the Nationals to request the additional hour of Metro service, either before the game or as the game proceeds. Indeed, as noted in the DC Sports Blog post, the Washington Capitals, the NHL team, has such a deal with WMATA for its playoff games.

But MLB reportedly has raised concerns about setting a precedent of having teams pay to keep the local subway and rail service open extra hours to accommodate fans at late-running games. It’s not clear why MLB is getting involved and whether its concerns about setting precedents are well-founded. A D.C. television station investigated how other cities handle train services for games ending after midnight and reported that many cities run their trains for a hour after the last out of the game is made.

For the moment, the Nationals, WMATA and MLB remain at an impasse. It’s hard to imagine the Nationals heading into the postseason without the issue resolved and without clear directions to fans — before and during games — about their transportation options. And it’s certainly not in MLB’s interest to see fans leaving a postseason game early to catch the last train home.