When one of the editors at the Washington Post said those words to me, I realized that the financial disaster that has befallen the media must be worse than I thought. The Post was turning down a story that had everything: a local angle, brilliant visuals, interesting characters. More, it would be an exclusive. And they were doing so because they didn’t want to pay me $100 for it.
On Friday, December 10, I was at Nationals Park, the baseball stadium in D.C. where the Washington Nationals play. The stadium is about a mile south of the Capitol, in a Southeast neighborhood that is what they call “transitional.” It’s the home of the Navy Yard, row houses for low-income people, giant construction pits, and shiny new office buildings. The streets and the sidewalks are wide, and with the Anacostia River right next to the park one can get the feeling off being in the middle of nowhere. It’s a very quiet place.
I had come to the park to buy some Christmas presents — Nationals shirts for my brothers and sisters. I was the only person in the store.
As I was leaving, I noticed a crew of several men and a young woman outside the stadium working on a gigantic silver-colored baseball. It was about six feet tall, and six or seven people could stand comfortably around it. I looked up and noticed that it was only one of a string of similar baseballs that were lining the outside of the parking garage outside the stadium. The balls descended down from the third floor of the garage. It was as if a giant had thrown a curve ball.
I was looking at “Untitled,” a work of art by sculptor Thomas Sayre. Sayre, a native Washingtonian who now lives and works in North Carolina, had been commissioned by the Washington, D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities to do a baseball-related work at Nationals Park. His concept: on both sides of the entrance to the stadium, he would attach rows of huge stainless steel baseballs — on one side the balls would resemble a pitch being thrown, on the other the straight trajectory of a ball being hit. Sayre has created public art projects all over the world. He grew up near the National Cathedral, which helped inspire his art.
It was a remarkable work. And I was the only one seeing it being installed. “Usually when we install public art like this, there is massive media,” Sayre told me as a few snow flurries fell. “But in Washington, nobody is here.”