Nationals Park

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Nationals Park is a clean, tidy, pleasant place to watch a ballgame. The seating bowl is sweeping and elegant, there are places to wander, picnic tables to commandeer, and places to socialize. It is not the most elegant or beautiful ballpark you will ever visit, but it certainly does its job adequately, and does it aimed at the majority of people who will visit it.

I am not trying to insult the ballpark in Our Nation’s Capital, and maybe it wasn’t fair to visit Nats Park one week after crushing hard on Target Field. But I was a little let down by Nationals Park. The view from my seats was fantastic, and I felt like it would have been good from almost anywhere (it was funny to listen to fans who are regulars complain about sitting “so high up” – we were there on a Steven Strasburg start, which fills the park to capacity).

The showcase entrance at Nationals Park is the center field entrance. It’s the one you approach if you take public transportation to get to the ballpark. The Metro stop is half a block away, and although there is pretty much nothing (yet) in the block as you approach the park, on a weekend it’ll be filled with fans and vendors with peanuts and water and if you’re lucky, you’ll run into one of these guys:

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I still find the Racing Presidents to be odd, and ungainly, but people like them and in a perverse way, I love that there are racing president mascots at the ballpark in Washington, DC. I just understand why people have an aversion to people in large costumes whenever I encounter them. Ie did appreciate that they now wear Nationals jerseys with appropriate numbers on the back (Teddy was 26, for example). They do circulate out in the center field gate area and are freely available for your photographic needs, as mascots go. They also now sell Racing President dolls and Racing President action figures, should your needs require. (I probably would have come home with a Teddy doll had my team not lost in heartbreaking, spectacular fashion.)

The ‘main’ mascot is Screech the Eagle. He has improved a lot since I saw him at RFK Stadium several years ago.

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The center field plaza features several statues commemorating Hall of Fame players, including Josh Gibson:

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The center field area is where most of the key action is. There are multiple food stands and drink stands and you can head up to the Red Porch and the Red Loft. I like that the Nationals opted to go for the social space instead of the large fancy restaurant in the outfield. There’s a lot of outfield plaza room up there to hang out, watch the game, and be social. You can be the cranky baseball curmudgeon and want everyone to pay rapt attention to every pitch, but those people don’t fill a ballpark and keep a team viable. People who want to hang out in left field and cheer and drink beer will. I am glad there is space for them.

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DC isn’t exactly the quirky food capital of the world, but at least the legendary Ben’s Chili Bowl is represented:

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Barring that, you could visit “Steak of the Union,” which gets my vote for one of the silliest concession names ever.

The premiere food item, in my opinion, is the Victory Knot. It is a gourmet soft pretzel about the size of a small pizza, served in a small pizza box, along with three toppings: It a spicy mustard, pub cheese, and a sweet cinnamon spread (which sounds like it wouldn’t be delicious, but it was). You have to climb up to the Red Loft above the Red Porch and ask for it behind the bar – we wandered around the Red Porch areas looking for it before being appropriately directed. You need two people, if not three, to eat this masterpiece; we ate half, and then pulled the rest out around about the 5th inning. You will not need to eat much else if you opt for the Victory Knot.

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I found the concourses to be dark, dull and industrial feeling; too much artistically-rough cinderblock and exposed white beams. There is no 360 view onto the field; you are obscured by the bar, the batter’s eye, and then by the luxury club once you get to home plate. It got very crowded, narrow and unattractive at that point, which was odd to me, since the people who are spending the most money and you would want to be the most impressed are using that part of the park.

As you walk around the concourse, every pillar has a full-size image of a Hall of Fame player. I couldn’t find any rhyme or reason to the players chosen – many were Negro Leagues players – and after a while, as I tried to figure it out, I became more and more offended that they spent so much space and effort paying tribute to random players with no connection to the franchise, while completely abandoning Expos history and trashing it to bits by disregarding their retired numbers. I know there are other teams who have committed similar offenses, but you can’t act like you sprung up out of nowhere and try to give yourself some kind of immediate credibility by honoring random HOF players around your ballpark. Or maybe no one cares anyway. I do. Anyway, I don’t have great photos of this because of the closed/dark thing I mentioned above, and because I was getting more and more incensed at the artificial attempt at manufacturing historical context when there didn’t appear to be any.

The scoreboard was one of the best I have ever seen. Everything I needed to know, including pitch count, velocity, and official scoring, was on the main scoreboard. There was no need to scout the ribbon boards to find the information you wanted. I also liked the clock, which echoed the clock at the old RFK Stadium home.

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You will want to be careful with sun if you come to a day game; opt for left field if you hope to have any shade, at all. Even for a 4pm start, opt for a worse seat in left field as opposed to roasting in right field.

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The bullpens are very reminiscent of the Busch Stadium bullpens. I liked that they were visible, and were surrounded by fans.

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The music was not notable, and could have been disregarded except for two egregious errors:

  1. The song in the stretch was – wait for it – KC And the Sunshine Band’s “That’s The Way I Like It”. Maybe the Nats music director wasn’t alive when this song came out, but I’m not even sure the meaning is ambiguous: it’s about snorting cocaine and having sex at the discoteque. I cannot find anything even remotely appropriate about this usage of this song, and I have tried hard.
  2. The usage of “Dancing In The Street” not once, but twice. Once in a video with Screech the Eagle running around the District and getting people to dance with him, and second and more important, as the NATS WIN song. Hello, the DETROIT Tigers called and want their song back. I know it’s a great song, but you can’t steal someone else’s tradition, and there’s nothing to connect this song with DC, and everything to connect it to another city very directly.

I had heard that the Nationals had outlawed anyone hanging K cards. When you have a hot pitcher that is filling your ballpark, people are going to want to bring K cards, and there is plenty of non-advertising space in the park that could accommodate them. Instead, the Nationals are responding by hanging their own. I do not like this. (There is much I do not like about the Nationals’ ownership.)

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I was sad there is no iconic view available from the ballpark; you could be anywhere. I realize that was probably unavoidable, but when I think of the ballparks that offer wonderful city views, it is unfortunate that Nationals Park is not one of them.

All in all, it is a fine ballpark, and easy to watch a game in, but it is not one of the country’s showcase parks.


Nationals Park Hints & Tips:

  • The neighborhood the park is in is not a good one. It is better than it was, but it is still sketchy.
  • Consider driving to a suburban Metro station and taking public transportation. We park at the Greenbelt stop on the Green Line, which goes directly to the ballpark stop at Navy Yard with no transfers. Parking is free on the weekend, and more reasonable than anything you’d pay nearby. It takes about 25 minutes to get to the Navy Yard stop; trains are run out of the station with brisk efficiency at the conclusion of games.
  • The President’s Race is in the 4th inning, and they come out of the left field gate and race towards the Nationals’ dugout in right field. Please, no wagering.

10 Responses to “Nationals Park”

  1. Rebecca says:

    Actually, you can see the Capitol and the National Mall from left side of the stadium, down at the end of the 3rd base line.

  2. Caryn says:

    Thanks, Rebecca – but I meant an iconic view that was visible to most of the ballpark, a la Pittsburgh.

  3. bmfc1 says:

    Great review. As a Mets fan in DC, a few extras:
    the 3B side, the superior side because that’s where Mets fans sit, is the shady side;
    the sight lines stink as you go down the line because of the vendors and the fans constantly going in and out of their rows (there’s no attempt to stop traffic during the innings as there is in Philadelphia);
    if you get food during the game, they have TVs and the radio audio so you can follow the game but you lose this as you approach the counter so for a few minutes, you have no idea what’s happening in the game;
    the best food is at Ben’s Chili Bowl and Gifford’s ice cream.

  4. Jenn Jenson says:

    Hey Caryn,
    Regarding the Hall of Fame columns, there is a bit of reason to them … All of the players played when one or the other Senators team was in DC (so, up to 1971), and of course the players with the “best” column locations played for the Senators (Walter Johnson being the most notable) or local Homestead Grays (for example, Josh Gibson).

    There are also nods to Baltimore (Brooks Robinson), and to one player who isn’t actually in the MLB Hall of Fame, but is a sort-of home town hero for Senators fans, Frank Howard.

    All together, I’d guess maybe 10 columns have a local connection of some sort, whether they went into the Hall of fame under another cap (Killebrew who played in DC before the Senators became the Twins), or managed here (Ted Williams and Frank Robinson). I may have to do an inventory one of these days to determine for sure how many of the featured players have a link to Washington.

    Finally, and this is controversial, because the city is full of transients from every state, some people (cough-Stan Kasten) have the philosophy that fans of whatever team should feel welcome. What does this mean in practice? Phillies fans feel a bit too welcome, but I suspect we’re not as welcoming as Target Field, which is, after all, filled with Minnesotans.

    I’m hoping to check out Citi Field one of these days. (I did get to Shea a few years ago).
    Jenn

  5. Jenn Jenson says:

    PS-So, the fact that the columns have players from other teams … it’s part of being a welcoming ballpark in a city where so many people are from somewhere else.

  6. Caryn says:

    Hi Jenn,

    Thanks for the info (and for coming to defend your park!) but I think the fact that none of this is obvious to fairly savvy visitors to your park means that it’s not a successful display. I mean, Hank Greenberg? I even went home and took a look to make sure I wasn’t mistaken.

    Nor does it address, at all, the abandonment of Expos history.

    Respectfully, I’m going to call bs on the ‘it’s part of being a welcoming ballpark in a city where so many people are from somewhere else’ – New York City and Los Angeles and San Francisco and Chicago wave at you enthusiastically and say “Um, hi.” By that I mean that I don’t think that DC has any kind of monopoly on that. And I didn’t feel welcomed, so, well, there you go. :)

    But I do appreciate the explanation. So thanks again.

  7. Jenn Jenson says:

    Hey, you’re more than welcome to call BS on the welcoming thing. I might even agree with you, both about about that and about the lack of Expos recognition.

    After all, having some reason (as opposed to no apparent reason at all) is not quite the same as having good reasons.

    Finally, you are more than welcome to join me if you ever find your way back to Nationals Park. Bmfc1 (who used to be in my season-ticket group, before I moved to the 1st base side) can vouch for me being a gracious hostess, even for Mets fans.

  8. bmfc1 says:

    Jenn’s the best, no matter who you root for.

  9. Caryn says:

    I appreciate the invitation!

  10. Darryl says:

    Caryn,

    Nats park is such a huge step up from the crapper of RFK that I let a lot of things slide (like the views). But if you ever make it out for a Friday night game, the views of the fireworks from the catwalk on the first base side (about section 221) over the river are really worth the trip.

    Also on the food front, Hard Times Chili out in the left field corner is another DC staple and the wings are among the best in baseball.

    Glad you could make it out and glad to see the Mets pulled a few games out of the series!