City Desk

Weekend in Review

Solid weekend, weatherwise—spring, a month or so behind schedule.

With the better weather come turf battles. This past week, Washington City Paper's sports & games columnist/resident genius Dave McKenna wrote about soccer pitches around the city, and their dwindling numbers. The piece dwelled on the situation at Malcolm X/Meridian Hill Park, that gorgeous spread of fountains, steps, and grass on the 15th Street threshold of Columbia Heights. McKenna laments that the entire field isn't available to soccer players and picnickers:

The temporary red fences, augmented by strips of police tape, have been up for nearly three years on the upper level of Meridian Hill Park off 16th Street NW. Fencing was removed earlier this month on the south half of the beautiful park’s upper level. The northern knoll remains blocked off.

So soccer’s out there, too.

There are no turf repair signs on the Meridian Hill Park fences—or anything to tell patrons why the grounds are off limits.

The out-of-commission soccer spots have some things in common besides the red fences.

The National Park Service, for one, runs them all, even Meridian Hill, as part of Rock Creek Park.

This is a bona fide city issue, and I'd talked previously with superstar parks activist Steve Coleman about the situation. So after McKenna scorched the park service, I decided to take a jaunt through the park, just to see if our legendary columnist is right on this one.

He's not. Though I concede that "nearly" three years is a really long time to shut off a field, something has worked right with respect to that field's upgrade. The part that's not blocked off right now, that southern expanse, is as nice a patch of grass as I've seen on any spot this side of the turf at Nats stadium. And the blocked-off part looks as if it's going to reach that same level of beauty sometime soon. As many of the dustbowls around town—most maintained by the city's parks department—make clear, it's not easy to maintain good grass in the city. It tends to get trampled.

So I'm hereby officially endorsing the grass-management approach at Meridian Hill/Malcolm X Park.

On other topics far from D.C. parks, Andy Alexander, the WaPo ambo, writes this week about a favorite of ombudspeople everywhere, and that's the comics page. He explains the whole hullaballoo behind the cancellation and restoration of "Judge Parker" and ends up applauding Post management for its flexibility on the matter. Alexander points out how a few people got upset about the paper's eliminating stock tables and messing with crosswords and the like. Yet people went berserk about "Judge Parker."

Now, take that data alongside this complaint, which appeared in the paper's Free for All page on Saturday:

I had wondered why my team seemed to be playing station-to-station baseball: the first four games, no stolen bases or anyone caught stealing. Then I noticed other teams, too, were missing such stats in their box scores. Also missing were double plays, grounded-into-double-plays, sacrifices, sacrifice flies and who knows what else that doesn't come right to mind but does play an important part in the game.

I realize that you're trying to put content into less space, but the gain from omitting these items must be tiny and the loss larger than you realize. I can reconstruct almost every play with a complete box score and have made that a ritual for most of 40 years. It is the first thing I do with the paper in the morning, and I often return to it later to confirm my read of teams' strengths and weaknesses.

If the information is incomplete, I have much less reason to continue my rather expensive subscription. After all, I can get the information on various Web sites. However, I'd prefer to keep things as they have been.

By the way, who decided what to omit — a football fan? You left the time of play and the attendance, surely the least interesting data.

That's from reader Jim Calhoun of Waynesboro. And it leads me to the conclusion that cutting back a big, full-service, kick-ass newspaper has got to be the most frustrating and impossible tasks on earth. No matter what you do, no matter how much one cutback makes sense, no matter how few people seem to care about something, well, they do. All those complaints on the paper's quite excellent Free for All page speak to the old saw about newspapers—that they are essentially like supermarkets, in that customers come for one or two things and then head out. Sure, there are some that buy something from every aisle, but you can't build a business around them. The point here is that there is no smart or good way to downsize a newspaper.

But even the shorter Post has a lot of good stuff, including this laugher from Dana Milbank on the results of his reading all his reader comments for a week–1,800 of them.

WashTimes has a piece on Obama defending his outreach to Cuba, Venezuela. Bit of a snoozer there. But can I just remark here that the rotating story box on the WashTimes site annoys me? If only because if you want to scroll back on the thing, there's that strange "Feedback" tab in the way.

Blog Widget by LinkWithin
  • Dave McKenna

    I too went back to the various spots I cited in the story, and I'm more convinced than ever that the government is indeed launching a War on Pickup Soccer.

    Sure, the fencing and police tape at Meridian Hill Park are saving the grass, but look at the impact that has on the place! Nobody uses the portion of the park where the fences and tape are.

    Three years to fix grass at Meridian Hill? The DC United guys put up a bigger and nicer lawn EVERY HOME GAME at RFK back when the Nationals played there. Then the Nationals guys would come in and put up another bigger, nicer lawn. And they'd throw the old turf away every time! The moral: New grass ain't that expensive!

    Couldn't they just hire the DC United crew for one day, then put somebody in charge of maintaining the grass at that park full time? Or, easier still, just enforce a no-soccer-when-it-rains rule?

    Either option would be cheaper than what they've done: hire a contractor for years to just block off the place. As soon as that contract is up, the fences will be yanked and, unless policy changes are put in, the grass at Meridian Hill will go back to dirt. That's what's happened at city-owned parks because of mismanagement.

    Stop the Government's War on Pickup Soccer!

    And how come I'm only a genius when I'm wrong?

  • Chris Peterson

    The green grass sure is pretty, that's for sure, but unlike in the Old World we in this country don't have guys in funny caps and blue uniforms blowing whistles at us when we step on the soft turf. We shouldn't have fences that keep us off either.

    McKenna really gets this one right. Since I moved into a nearby neighborhood I've had a chance to walk through Meridian Hill park several mornings a week for just over a year. A year ago there was a sign up beside the north expanse proudly stating that the park's area would re-open "in spring 2008." The sign isn't there anymore, and I think it went down sometime in the summer of 2008.

    Obviously the Park Service has some shame at the delay and is in effect granting the correctness of its critics by covering its rear and removing the sign. They have to know they've embarrassed themselves over there. Tell McKenna he's got the straight story.

    Chalk this editor-reporter debate up to the publication's confusion about Meridian Hill park in general. Didn't you guys label the park the best place in the city to run stairs? (Last year's best-of issue?) Isn't that a crock. Lots of stairs, sure, but almost all of them--down the north-south slope at least--are in odd numbered flights. You're always leading with the same foot and you can never get a consistent cadence when running two steps at once.

    The stairs to no where beside Memorial Bridge are superior. Send the boss around more often on questions of Meridian Hill.

    Back to McKenna and park updates: can you send him out to get a follow up on Stead Park's freethrow shooter? Now that the park is back in operation, how do the man's stats compare with his stats at Rose Park, where he shot in the interim? (He still uses Rose Park too--are there better odds there?)