When the Nationals sent a message to season ticket-holders earlier this week, urging prompt renewal in exchange for a 5 percent discount, I thought about my season ticket group - a collection of baseball fans who started out as the means to help me buy better seats than I might otherwise and have become a bigger part of my life.
So if I might, I'd like to tip my cap to the 27 Nationals fans and one Mets fan who are or have in the past been members of my group. Yes, there are 28 of them total. It's crazy, I know.
After the 2007 season, when I decided to graduate from one-share member of someone else's ticket group to account holder, my intent was to get two seats for a 20-game plan. Nationals Park was under construction and it was hard to know for sure where I'd want to sit, but after spending roughly one million hours fussing with the 3D seat-viewer, I decided on left field mezzanine. For me, that section seemed to offer the best combination of price, location and protection from the elements.
I figured I'd need a couple of partners and the first one had to be Bernadette, a close friend who introduced me to baseball in 2006 by inviting me to join her for a few games. Both of us were in another ticket group in 2007, but in 2008 she became the first member of my group.
When my ticket assignment finally arrived, I wasn't satisfied and called the Nationals to look into other options. Before I knew it, I had a full-season plan in left field baseline reserved. The price was roughly 550 percent of what I had budgeted. Uh-oh, I would need more partners.
I allowed small shares in my group and found 10 partners who were a mix of friends, coworkers, Nationals.com message board posters, craigslist shoppers and one person who responded to a flyer. About half were strangers at the time.
Over the years, my group has gained and lost members as I've changed price points, location and the number of tickets purchased. In addition to baseline reserved seats, I've made my home in baseline box and dugout box locations. In different years, I've had two, three or four seats. I lost a bunch of people in 2010, when I moved to the first-base side and bought more expensive tickets, but in 2011, I didn't add anyone and started a waiting list.
Sometimes it feels like a part-time job to coordinate everything. Allowing small shares is part of it, but I also do what I can to make sure everyone feels like they're getting a good deal, including sharing Red Carpet Rewards points and coming up with a crazy draft system to help each member get at least one preferred game while also rewarding those who have been with the group longer and/or buy more tickets.
And here's the thing that's surprised me a little: In rounding up ticket partners, I've built a bunch of friendships. With some people, it's just a business transaction, but in other cases, we share a stronger bond that's partly about our love of baseball.
That Mets fan? He didn't move with the group to the first base side, but we still keep in touch. A Craigslist recruit from 2009 made a job-related move from the Washington area and was for a while at sea commanding an aircraft carrier, but now and then we talk a little baseball on Facebook. Over the years, I've watched the family of one group member grow to include two adorable young Nats fans. Just a few weeks ago, instead of paying attention to the game, we caught up at the ballpark while Mom painted curly Ws on the girls' faces.
At this point, I go to a lot more games than I used to and could simplify my life by cutting back on the number of tickets I renew. Having more seats provides more options, but I rarely used all four seats myself when I had four together, and I probably don't need a ticket group in the way I did in 2008, when I sold a lot more tickets than I used.
What's a fangirl to do? Renew now to get a discount? Wait to see what happens next? Maybe the Nationals will offer more incentives. And maybe my ticket rep will come up with an amazing seat upgrade that entices me to buy more tickets than I'm currently considering. I don't know what I'll decide, but I like my ticket group and they will be a factor as I figure it out.
Jenn Jenson blogs about the Nationals at Nationals Fangirl and has joined MASNsports.com's initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.