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District of Columbia ready to host MLB All-Star Game, a ‘gold standard’ event

July 16, 2018

Six-year-old Nathaniel Wolpoff smacked a single up the middle of the diamond and celebrated on first base. One batter later, he advanced to second on a questionable fielding mistake.

For most children from San Diego like Wolpoff, playing in a pickup baseball game at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in the District of Columbia isn’t part of their “what I did last summer” essays. But Wolpoff and his parents take a baseball-centric vacation each year and always makes sure to hit up the MLB All-Star Game. Wolpoff took in the interactive attractions at All-Star FanFest at the convention center on Friday, wearing green-and-tan shorts that depicted a ballfield from the batter’s point of view.

“We’re baseball fans. It’s fun,” said his mother, Hedi Wolpoff. “It’s great to see the different parts of the country and support our teams.”

Nathaniel Wolpoff looks forward to seeing some non-baseball parts of the District, too, like the Lincoln Memorial. But the crown jewels of the trip are slated for Monday and Tuesday: the Home Run Derby and the 89th MLB All-Star Game, both at Nationals Park, both of which he’ll attend with his father Marc.

Asked for his expert prediction of who would win the Derby, Wolpoff said, “Bryce Harper or Kyle Schwarber.”

You may have heard your local elected official call the District the “sports capital” of America once or twice lately. It’s hard to debate why the phrase is catching on. On the heels of a Stanley Cup parade in June and the opening of a professional soccer stadium over the weekend, the District will host its first MLB All-Star Game since 1969.

The game that annually pits the American League against the National League will be played Tuesday at 8 p.m., and will be nationally broadcast on FOX.

For 33 years, before the Montreal Expos became the Washington Nationals, the U.S. capital had no professional team playing the pastime whose Americanness is often compared to apple pie. This week, the District is the center of the baseball universe, a feather in the cap for Ward 2 D.C. Council member Jack Evans.

“Hosting an All-Star Game for MLB is kind of the gold standard that you’ve really arrived. Everybody doesn’t get to do that,” Evans told The Washington Times. “It’s very hard to get and I think for us to have achieved the All-Star Game here is a recognition by MLB and others how the city has evolved.”

Even District residents who couldn’t care less about sports will feel the short-term and long-term effects of Major League Baseball’s trip to town.

The city estimates All-Star Week will have an economic impact between $50 and $60 million, the president and CEO of Events DC, Greg O’Dell, confirmed. That factors in more than just the game and the Home Run Derby as part of the festivities Sunday, Nationals Park hosted the Legends and Celebrity Softball Game and the Futures Game, which showcased top minor-league prospects.

As with any new stadium or “mega event,” sports economists point to a body of research that finds much smaller if any economic impact on localities resulting from sports events. Victor Matheson, a professor of economics and accounting at the College of the Holy Cross, said local governments’ estimates tend to look “wildly optimistic” compared to what mega events actually do for economies, whether measured by taxable sales, GDP or new jobs.

But put aside the money, and the other tertiary “quality of life” benefits still matter. Mr. Matheson, whose research largely covers mega events, sometimes likens them to weddings.

“No parents of the bride or the groom are planning on making money on a wedding, but it doesn’t mean we don’t have weddings,” Mr. Matheson said. “That’s not the point of the wedding. Weddings are supposed to be a big party ... We’re willing to put out a lot of money, negative, in order for that to happen.”

It shows the commitment of both team ownership and fans to the city, Mr. Evans said.

“Maybe more important than the economic benefits are the prestige for the city,” the Council member said. “There’s nothing like sports to bring people together all across the region.”

Mr. Matheson also pointed out that mega events can serve to put cities “on the map,” whereas Washington is already on tourists’ radars.

“Word of mouth in this case doesn’t generate new tourism for D.C.,” he said. “It generates new tourism for the All-Star Game next year in a city that’s not D.C.”

Come Tuesday, the players, fans and other inhabitants of Nationals Park won’t be thinking about taxable sales and future tourism. The hometown Nationals will be represented by pitcher Max Scherzer and outfielder Bryce Harper.

Of course, trying to purchase tickets now could bruise Nationals fans’ budgets. Most All-Star Game tickets available on ticket marketplace websites SeatGeek and Stubhub are at least $300, with some eclipsing $1,000.

The area around Nationals Park is dominated by all things MLB. Half Street SE between M and N streets and most of N Street SE between Van Street and New Jersey Avenue are closed until after the All-Star Game, while Van, First and Potomac Avenue SE are partially restricted. Four Metro bus stops on M Street SE are closed through Tuesday, with that traffic redirected to the stop at M and 4th streets.

But to accommodate baseball fans, Metro rail will operate at least an hour later than usual Monday and Tuesday nights from the Waterfront, Navy Yard and Anacostia stations. If the events run late, Navy Yard will remain open 30 minutes after they conclude.

Further information is available on a new section of the city website, fittingly enough called sportscapital.dc.gov.

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