Nationals Park - 6/17/15
Baseball, Travel

Ballpark Review: Nationals Park (Washington)

I saw the Nationals play at their first stadium—RFK Memorial Stadium—in 2005, and that stadium neither looked nor felt like a baseball team belonged there. Having been home to football and soccer teams, RFK had an awkward layout. As I do with every new park, I expected a lot from Nationals Park, which opened in 2008. While it is a vast improvement over RFK, Nationals Park is merely a generic stadium. The inclusion of the President mascots were entertaining and the food offerings were splendid.

Design

We were not overly impressed with the look of the stadium. The exterior design of steel, glass and pre-cast concrete were supposed to reflect the architecture of Washington, DC. Unfortunately, we thought it was a bit drab and didn’t appear majestic like many of DC’s phenomenal buildings.

It is very neat that Nationals Park is the nation’s first major professional stadium to become LEED Silver Certified through the incorporation a variety of sustainable design elements. It’s obvious that the ballpark is part of the urban revitalization of the area. It’s definitely an improvement over their previous stadium (RFK).

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Walking to the center field entrance from the Metro

I’m starting to think that we Cardinals fans are spoiled with a spectacular skyline view, because this is yet another stadium that offers little in the view department. The only prominent object to be seen beyond the outfield walls from our seats was a crane and the parking garages. This is a shame, because Nationals Park—like Busch Stadium—has an open outfield view.  I’ve read that the US Capitol can be seen from the upper levels, but it’s mostly obstructed and barely visible. There is a nice view of the riverfront and Navy Yard, but there’s so much construction right now that it wasn’t very attractive.

Location

We arrived at the stadium via the Metro, and as we entered the center field entrance, all we saw of the stadium’s surroundings were shipping containers that make up Fairgrounds, a combination food, market and events space that opened in 2012. The shipping containers are a way of paying tribute to the stadium’s neighborhood, which is located along the Anacostia River in the Navy Yard. Not much is around currently but it looks like they are in the process of building a lot of restaurants and venues around the stadium – probably to support the 2018 All-Star game. We’ll have to come back and reassess the stadium and area after these updates are completed.

Concessions

Half-Smoke from Ben's Chili Bowl

Half-Smoke from Ben’s Chili Bowl

We had done some research on the ballpark beforehand, and were looking forward to its food offerings. In addition to local favorites such as Ben’s Chili Bowl, the stadium features the New York staple Shake Shack. I had just eaten at Shake Shack, so I opted for Ben’s Original Half Smoke, an epic chili dog from Ben’s Chili Bowl. Sarah was allured by the jerk ribs at Jammin Island BBQ.

The chili on my dog was distinctly delicious, with just the right amount of heat. I would have preferred a regular hot dog to the half-smoke, a coarsely-ground pork/beef sausage. The jerk ribs were not very tender, but had good flavor.

Later in the game, we indulged in treats from Fluffy Thoughts Cakes, a dessert stand along the main concourse.Fluffy Thoughts is a bakery in McLean, Virginia, and the treats are baked fresh and delivered before every game. This was the best food choice we made. Sarah got a layered cake push pop, and I got a Harpcake—a Funfetti cupcake iced to look like my favorite Nationals player, Bryce Harper.

Layered cake push pop and Harpcake from Fluffy Thoughts Cakes

Layered cake push pop and Harpcake from Fluffy Thoughts Cake

The soft pretzels are shaped like the Nationals’ logo!

The Culture & Presidents

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Posed with Abe, photobombed by George

Nationals Park is famous for its Presidents Race, featuring big-headed likenesses of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and William Howard Taft as they race during the fourth inning. They were all dancing around the center field entrance when we arrived. Sarah posed for a photo with Abe, and was photobombed by George.

The game we went to had a small crowd and was somewhat quiet. We did go to a rainy, weekday game in which they unfortunately lost so I’m sure this played a big factor. The Nationals are fairly new to Washington so the fan base is still building. With young talent like Harper and a winning team, I’m sure it will enlarge. We were wearing Cardinals red so it was easy to blend in with the Nationals fans, and we didn’t have any issues with fans bothering us. Of course, we were cheering for the Nats so we didn’t really expect any haggling.

 

Teddy—who once had a 525 game losing streak—won the Presidential Race

Teddy—who once had a 525 game losing streak—won the Presidential Race

Summary & Scoring

Date Visited: Wednesday, June 17, 2015
Game Played: Nationals 0, Rays 5 – WP Andriese, LP Zimmermann. We left when it started raining late in the game.
Design: 3 Stars – Design was supposed to reflect Washington DC architecture, but we felt it fell somewhat short of this. First LEED Silver Certified professional stadium. A view of nothing is better than a view of the interstate, as is the case in KC. From the upper levels you can spot some of the Washington monuments, the riverfront and Navy Yard.
Location: 3.3 Stars – Easily accessible, but in an area formerly regarded as the bad part of town.
Concessions: 4 Stars – Excellent food options, with Shake Shack and Ben’s Chili Bowl as the highlights.
Amenities: 3.75 Stars
Culture: 3.5 Stars – Low attendance and fan excitement at the game we attended but factors such as weekday game, rain, and the loss likely impacted this. The Presidents were very entertaining!
Overall: 3.42 Stars – Somewhat unimpressive looking but had great food and very entertaining President mascots. This is certainly better than the Nationals’ first stadium (RFK) and is clearly revitalizing the area.

Your Rankings:

Let us know what you think of this stadium.

More Pictures

Bryce Harper drops in one of the Nationals' two hits

Bryce Harper drops in one of the Nationals’ two hits

With the shift on and no 3B in sight, Harper attempts a bunt

With the shift on and no 3B in sight, Harper attempts a bunt

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Our gang—an early Father’s Day outing!

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