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Nationals' Victories Give D.C.'s Image a Boost

Kevin Dietsch/UPI
The success of Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg and the rest of the bullpen has helped turn around the fortunes of the hometown team.

In the middle of a campaign season  bombarding voters with reasons to resent Washington, D.C., the success of the Washington Nationals is offering the nation a contrary, positive image of the capital.

"Basically, any town, any sports town, loves a winner. It always has a ripple effect on the town," said Peter Mirijanian, a veteran Washington public relations professional who runs Peter Mirijanian Public Affairs. "They're just one more thing that makes the town attractive."

It's a tall order to break through the barrage of negative advertising that often  uses views of the Capitol Dome to symbolize political gridlock and big government.

But sports fans who watched the extended celebration at Nationals Park when the team clinched the National League East division title Monday saw a more attractive nation's capital. The television images of screaming fans and players dumping champagne on each other served up a much different scene than viewers are used to seeing in ominous campaign ads or in C-SPAN coverage of partisan name-calling in the House and Senate.

"It begins to change the conversation of what Washington is," said Andrew Feffer, the Nationals' chief operating officer.  "It elevates and amplifies the brand of the city. Washington becomes synonymous with a sports town, not just a politics town."

There is a shift under way in the branding of the team that reflects a transition in D.C.'s image.

"They went from Senators to Nationals. You can draw your own conclusions about what that means," said Mirijanian, implying that a name suggesting a proximity to Congress carries more baggage than a more neutral term, such as National.

Feffer said he hopes his team can help "bring people together" and create a Washington environment where "Democrats, Republicans, Hill staffers ... can root for the hometown team together."

"It's becoming much more of a dynamic place," Feffer said. "Ten, 15 years ago, the city was dominated by politics and government. Now, Washington ... is much more of a diverse economy," he said, adding that the area's increased diversity has attracted technology firms, a booming restaurant scene and many other things that make the capital more cosmopolitan.

Attracting Attention

National media coverage of the Nationals' success has reflected Washington's new vibe.

In ESPN Magazine, Tim Kurkjian wrote last week: "Washington Nationals utility man Steve Lombardozzi has lived in Columbia, Md., about equal distance between Washington and Baltimore, for 20 years, since he was 4. He is too young to truly understand the tremendous story that is developing in and around the Beltway, a story of hope and redemption and magic, a story that has never been told in that area, a story that wasn't supposed to happen this season."

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