Invit­ing slug­gers to hit the roof

Build­ing near Na­tion­als Park draws plenty of at­ten­tion with se­ries of cre­ative signs

The Washington Post Sunday - - WASHINGTONPOST.COM/SPORTS - BY SCOTT ALLEN scott.allen@wash­post.com

If you have been to a game at Na­tion­als Park or reg­u­larly watched the Na­tion­als on TV this year, there’s a good chance you have seen the sign on the rooftop rail­ing of the build­ing be­yond the cen­ter field park­ing garage and Hamp­ton Inn & Suites.

If you have been to mul­ti­ple games, you may have no­ticed that the sign has changed through­out the sea­son.

“We want to be cre­ative and find ways to in­ter­act with the neigh­bor­hood, and a big part of the neigh­bor­hood is the ball­park next door,” said Jon Carr, se­nior vice pres­i­dent of devel­op­ment for Grosvenor, one of the com­pa­nies that man­ages the First Res­i­dences build­ing upon which the sign hangs.

“We thought we had a unique op­por­tu­nity,” said Luke Koczela, a project man­ager for McCaf­fery In­ter­ests, which part­nered with Grosvenor on devel­op­ment of the 325unit res­i­den­tial prop­erty. “This would be seen by 40,000 peo­ple, 81 times this year com­ing to a game, so let’s shy away from the leas­ing lan­guage and just en­gage with the baseball com­mu­nity.”

The first sign went up in April, and in­stead of the stan­dard “Lease Now” or “Open for Busi­ness,” it read, “HIT IT HERE, HARPER!” along with the dis­tance — 976 feet — from home plate.

The green dis­play caught the at­ten­tion of the Na­tion­als’ TV broad­cast­ers, who ques­tioned the ac­cu­racy of the mea­sure­ment when Bryce Harper came to the plate in a game against the New York Mets.

“They need to re­mea­sure that,” MASN color an­a­lyst F.P. San­tan­gelo said. “That’s more than 976.”

“Has to be,” play-by-play man Bob Car­pen­ter agreed. “It’s two blocks away!”

“That’s like 1,976 or 2,976,” San­tan­gelo said.

Koczela an­swered by send­ing, via so­cial me­dia, an im­age of the mea­sure­ment he took di­rectly from Google Maps.

“We’re just try­ing to be in­ter­ac­tive,” said Koczela, who, as a se­nior at Wil­son High in 2008, played in the first D.C. Baseball Clas­sic at Na­tion­als Park against St. Al­bans. “Af­ter the first sign got no­ticed, we de­cided we need to keep this fresh. We need to en­gage. We want to sort of play along with what­ever team’s in town and en­joy the feed­back.”

When the Texas Rangers came to the Dis­trict for a three-game se­ries in early June, the orig­i­nal Harper sign was re­placed with a new sign that read, “HONDO COULD’VE HIT IT HERE, TOO!”

The sign was a nod to for­mer Wash­ing­ton Sen­a­tors slug­ger Frank Howard, who was nick­named “Hondo” and played 95 games for the Rangers af­ter the Sen­a­tors re­lo­cated from Wash­ing­ton to Ar­ling­ton, Tex., af­ter the 1971 sea­son.

“We went through three or four ver­sions of that,” Carr said. “We kind of also want it to be a lit­tle mys­te­ri­ous. Some are ob­vi­ous, but not ev­ery­one knows that Howard’s nick­name was ‘Hondo,’ and not ev­ery­one knows that he played for both teams.

“There’s some stuff that Luke thought of for later in the year that’s go­ing to take a lit­tle more thought to fig­ure out what we’re get­ting at. That’s part of the fun. It’s re­ally not about mon­e­tiz­ing any­thing. It’s about hav­ing fun with a great neigh­bor­hood and a great com­mu­nity.”

Af­ter the Rangers se­ries, the Hondo sign was re­placed with one fea­tur­ing Car­pen­ter’s fa­mil­iar home run call, “SEE . . . YOU . . . LATER!”

(And how’s this for at­ten­tion to de­tail? The dis­tance mea­sure­ment was changed from 976 feet to 981 feet to re­flect the place­ment of that num­ber on the right side, as op­posed to the left side, of the sign.)

When the Chicago Cubs ar­rived for a four-game se­ries on Mon­day, Carr and Koczela un­veiled yet an­other new and top­i­cal sign that poked fun at the de­fend­ing World Se­ries cham­pi­ons’ “W” flag that they fly over Wrigley Field af­ter wins and that their fans bring with them to the ball­park: “W BE­LONGS IN WASH­ING­TON!”

“I sort of come up with th­ese, and if Jon thinks they’re funny, they go up on the build­ing,” said Koczela, who promised an­other new sign for the up­com­ing se­ries against the Mets. “We’re get­ting to the point where our abil­i­ties are run­ning out and we want in­put from the com­mu­nity. If peo­ple take a pic­ture and tag it with their new idea, we’ll see which ones we like and get some fresh ideas and put those up on the build­ing.”

Koczela and Carr en­cour­aged fans to share their ideas for fu­ture signs by tweet­ing @LiveatF1RST.

PHO­TOS COUR­TESY OF MASN

“We’re just try­ing to be in­ter­ac­tive,” Luke Koczela said of the signs that ap­pear on a build­ing near Na­tion­als Park.

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