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It’s hard to believe that 2014 marked the 10th season of Nationals baseball, and that four new ballparks have opened since their stadium in Southeast Washington became home to the Nats. Built as a complete opposite to their rivals in Birdland 45 minutes away, Nationals Park is a modern facility designed to mimic some of DC’s architecture. A proper home for America’s pastime in the nation’s capital certainly had close calls on whether it would materialize.
For much of the 1900s, baseball included a team in the District, and those squads certainly struggled. Referred to as both the Nationals and Senators, Washington only won a single World Series title and just three pennants over 70 years of play. The musical “Damn Yankees” embodies those times. The son of longtime owner Clark Griffith moved the club to Minnesota in 1960, while Washington received an expansion franchise. The new Senators did not last long, as they moved to Texas in 1972.
After a long period of time trying to figure out what to do with the Montreal franchise, Major League Baseball finally came to a decision and moved the team to Washington. The Nationals spent a few years in RFK Stadium (a horrible place for baseball) until relocating into their new home in 2008. The surrounding neighborhood seems to get better by the day and with a good team now in place, Nationals Park is underrated as a decent ballpark.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Food choices are tremendous at Nationals Park, and while DC may not be known for a signature food item like other big cities, there is one place that is very popular and well-known to locals. Ben's Chili Bowl has been an institution since 1958, and their famous "Half Smoke" ($7.50) is available at the ballpark. The famous chili sauce slathered on a hybrid sausage/hot dog can get messy, but it is a favorite with many. Another District favorite is Shawafel, and down near Section 102, fans can try some very good falafel or shawarma.
It's hard to not miss something, but if you want some choices for an excellent meal, head to the Scoreboard Walk section in the outfield. Though brought in from New York, the Shake Shack and Blue Smoke are places to get excellent burgers and barbecue, respectively (just be prepared to stand in line for awhile). Despite costing over $10, I didn't use the term "meal" loosely earlier, as this is the spot to get great value for your dollar. Also near this section is the Jammin' Island BBQ, where the Jerk Chicken and Jerk Ribs are pretty good. In addition to all of the ballpark classics, other options include crab cakes, sushi, burritos and a salad bar. Last, but not least, is a new stand in 2014 featuring elaborate sandwiches from Top Chef participant, Mike Isabella.
Another underrated aspect of Nationals Park, and the Washington area in general, is the beer. Just like the rest of the country, the microbrewing industry continues to explode and for a taste of DC, check out District Drafts. Locally made products include beers from DC Brau, 3 Stars, Mad Fox and Atlas. Enjoy every sip, because it will cost you a ridiculous $9.75! Other nationally known beers are widely available, while the soft drink provider is Coca-Cola. If you're looking to save money, food and bottled water can be brought into the park from the outside.
Designers thankfully steered clear of the often copied brick and green seated ballpark by creating a sleek, modern building highlighted by steel and pre-cast concrete. Not without critics, I think Nationals Park succeeded in their efforts to some degree as there is a resemblance to DC monument architecture and government office buildings. Most fans won't see the primary highlight of this work, as the home plate entrance is hardly used. It is worth a walk to the other side at least to see the historical markers leading into the home gate. The majority of the crowd enters from the back and into a wide outfield plaza that includes three statues for past Washington baseball greats. This is a nice open introduction to the ballpark, and straight ahead is the Red Porch, an indoor/outdoor restaurant open for all ticket holders. The Red Loft bar sits above, and is a popular hang out in center field.
Traversing the concourse is simple, and is, for the most part, wide and spacious. There are elevators to go from the Main Level up to the top Gallery Level, but they are a little hard to spot. All blue seats welcome fans inside, and while the seating bowl is decent, it struck me how tall the ballpark seemed. This is due to the double stacking of luxury suites, which push the 300 and 400 seats to a high height. The sightlines are still excellent, but the continued push towards more money-making seating areas is annoying. A look towards the secluded posh section near home plate (where tickets average $200 - $350) is further evidence of this.
While it seems the location of Nationals Park would make it set up beautifully for surrounding views, it comes up a bit short. Yes, the Anacostia River runs just behind the stadium, but only those in the upper deck on the third base side get a good glimpse (designers at least left a little gap in part of the main seating bowl for more people to have a peek at the river). Then there are some of the most recognizable landmarks in the US: the Capitol Building and the Washington Monument. Again, only a small percentage of seats will see these beyond left field. At least wide openings at each end of the upper concourses allow for a sweeping and enjoyable panoramic view. Despite these quirks, Nationals Park is a pretty nice and enjoyable setting to take in some baseball. Out in right center field, is a wonderful video board that is topped off with the "Nationals" word mark. What was supposed to be an analog clock has malfunctioned to the point that the Curly W encircled by stars acts as a design seemingly there all along. The scoreboard displays the in-game information needed, while crystal clear video and replays are shown at the right times, so as not to be a distraction.
One note on attending a Nats game - be sure you are in your seat in the middle of the 4th inning! That is the time for the Presidents Race, where Tom (Jefferson), Abe (Lincoln), Teddy (Roosevelt), Bill (Taft) and George (Washington) run towards first base in a race from the outfield. These large characters with big heads are funny just on their own. Each race features some sort of antics and the popular running even has its own following. Milwaukee may have the history in their Sausage Rage, but the Presidents Race is better, from a pure comedy standpoint.
What was once a seedy, rundown neighborhood, the Southeast section of DC is quickly transforming into a desirable place for people to live and visit. Constant construction leads to seemingly new buildings by the month, and the quick development is remarkable, as high-rise condos and fancy living spaces are filling up. Now, this still does not mean much to the ballpark visitor, as there is not a lot to do in this section of DC, but the eyesores are gradually disappearing. At the same time, new restaurants are opening, and a fun, trendy spot to hang out before or after games is the area on Tingey Street, just to the east of Nationals Park. New restaurants like Bluejacket and Nando's Peri-Peri get quite packed on game days. Bluejacket even brews their own beer. Closer to Union Station, fans can check out Gordon Biersch or have a greasy meal at Five Guys Burgers & Fries, which got its start in DC.
The closest "attraction" within walking distance to Nationals Park may be the US Navy Yard. While there is a museum within the campus, security is understandably very tight in the area, and it likely is not worth visiting unless you have a Military ID. Luckily, the amazing National Mall is just a 5-10 minute drive or Metro ride away, and visitors from all over can enjoy the famous monuments that symbolize the US Capital or check out one of the many free Smithsonian Museums.
Before anybody criticizes the Nationals' fan base, it is important to realize that they sit just 45 minutes from the home ballpark of a team with a pretty big following in the Baltimore Orioles. With a whole generation missing out on baseball, the Nationals have done well to build a decent group within the DC area, and especially into northern Virginia. Attendance has risen as the team has become contenders, and pretty good crowds can be seen throughout the summer. While the Redskins will always be number one in this area and the Washington Capitals "Rock the Red" to a continuously packed house, the Nationals have made red a baseball thing too, and a lot of it can be seen throughout the ballpark.
The fans themselves are a little on the tepid side, and there is not a lot of naturally generated noise or enthusiasm. It takes a bit of prodding to get them going; however, good plays and team hits produce decent cheers. Many in the lower deck will stand up after a run is scored, while the uppers seem more reserved for applause. Overall, the fans create a nice atmosphere that naturally gets better late in the season when the team is contending.
The driving and parking situation may hinder the access to Nationals Park; however, the mass transportation option is excellent. The subway system throughout DC is known as the Metro, and it is well designed, along with being highly accessible. On the Green Line is the Navy Yard station, and that sits just a few minutes from the stadium. Two stops from the Green Line, the L'Enfant station enables for transfers from several other lines. Though it gets quite crowded after games, the Metro is the easiest way to reach the area.
While the warnings not to drive to Nationals Park seem scary, in actuality, it is not as bad as many lead to believe. Driving in from Virginia is easier than Maryland, as the route is more direct. Running through the city, I-395 leads to I-695, and there is an exit for the Southeast neighborhood that houses Nationals Park. Skip the congested exit for South Capitol Street and instead use the one for 6th St SE (or 8th St SE if coming from I-295). From there, you can start to look for parking in the area. Though the amount of lots are limited, with around 65 percent of fans using the Metro, these lots are often not full. The best one is just a 10-15 minute walk away at the corner of M St and 7th St. That area typically goes for $15 or less. Most other parking lots charge a ridiculous $30 - $50. Traffic is, as advertised, often brutal. The notorious DC traffic leads to frequently jammed roads, and that will probably be the case at some point on a car ride in. On second thought, unless you're gunning for that one aforementioned lot, take the Metro.
Inside Nationals Park, the space is open with roomy walkways. In fact, the outfield plaza is at street-level, so if your seats are in the lower deck, you do not have to climb a single stair. Bathrooms throughout the park are plentiful.
Some of the prices at Nationals Park are a little ridiculous, like the parking and the concessions. Tickets also are high in the 100 level, where it is often hard to find a face value seat for less than $45 (check the secondary market to find cheaper tickets). However, seats in the upper 300s and 400s are not overly expensive. Even with the use of an annoying pricing tier that depends on opponent, date and time, seats are all $30 or less. With good views all around, these are the spots from which to watch the game. Another positive on the overall pricing - the gameday program is free, which is a rarity in professional sports.
Every early spring in DC, locals and visitors alike come to enjoy the warming weather at the Cherry Blossom Festival, where the blooming pink and white trees are quite the sight. At Nationals Park, both the outfield and main entrance include cherry blossom trees, making for beautiful scenery around Opening Day. These trees help to give the park some local character, and adding to that feel are the several displays that can be found throughout the stadium. While the Nationals may be a relatively new team, Washington has a deep baseball history, and it is great to see that recognized in several forms (statues, markers, ring of honor).
The team also has been making subtle tweaks every year or so, and the cumulative results make Nationals Park better. These simple things include adding a sub horn after home runs and victories, changing the floors of the concourse to red and the removal of a party tent on top of the parking garage to improve Capitol Building views.
Lastly, another extra point to the ushers. While they may be a little strict (and annoying by constantly checking tickets in some sections), they deserve applause for holding fans from walking up and down aisles during at-bats. This can be so frustrating as a fan, and it is nice not to constantly have people in the way. Also, I saw during a between-innings activity that had the crowd wave their hats, an usher gave his hat to a young boy to wave around and participate. Little things like that make a difference.
Nationals Park is an underrated stadium in the baseball world that deserves more mention. With a design that steers clear of the worn "retro" motif, this ballpark does a lot of good things and is a very enjoyable place to watch a game that gets better by the year. More fans are building a better atmosphere, the location is improving and already amazing food just keeps getting tastier. DC has a baseball home to be proud of.
On approach, Nationals Park looks like a large, round office building. There is a real feel of the old 70's multipurpose stadiums like Veterans, Three Rivers and Riverfront Stadiums. But once inside, it is clear that this is every bit the modern stadium, complete with great food, drinks and activities. Oh, yeah, they play baseball here, too. The best way to describe it would be to imagine that Three Rivers and Camden Yards got together and had an ugly baby with a great personality and disposition. It never cries, is always happy and laughing, but, man, is it hard to look at.
This could be a great place for baseball. The food is fantastic and if/when the team puts something competitive out there the city could be a wonderful town. For now, this is a great park to work in during a visit to the nation's capital.
The Nationals have seriously upgraded their digs since the days of RFK. I had the opportunity to see a game there a number of years back, and if the baseball team wasn't bad enough, the aesthetics made it a less then pleasurable experience. However, their new park has all the beautiful views and amenities that all of today's parks do, a fact that makes it a bit cookie-cutterish, but the game viewing-experience is nice enough you forget about that. There are not many bad vantage points I could see (though the friends I went with said that the back of the upper deck does not make for a good view at all), and bargains can be had quite easilyâ?¦we sat along the first base side in the 200 level ($32 a ticket face value) for well below that via StubHub. I would imagine that until the team becomes relevant for a while that these bargains will continue to abound. Getting to the ballpark is very easy from all areas of D.C. The Metro drops you off right outside the park, and extra trains run the day of game. The view of the Potomac was quite nice, though if you are looking for a bar after the game, good luck. Foodwise, I had the best thing I ever eaten at any park here, at a place I believe was called Jammin' BBQ, though don't quote me on the nameâ?¦just know it's located behind the left field side of the main scoreboard. I had the jerk ribs, which came with some potato wedges and fried plantains, and a dish of cole slaw. The cost was high at $16 (especially as there were only 6 ribs) but they were meaty, and absolutely mouth-watering, with a great dry rub combined with an amazing sauce. The hot dogs were good; Washingtonites must love their dogs, as the lines for them were huge park-wide, while lines for BBQ pulled pork and brats were walk up and order. There are many decent beer selections, especially if you are like me, a beer snob who would rather go without then lower myself to cheap Bud or Miller swill. They had Leinie's, Sam Adams, Newcastle, Guinness, Bass, and many others, as well as the choice I went with, a house Home Run Ale, which the vendor said was "sort of like Bass"â?¦it was good. No matter the beer, they cost $8, so you might as well get the good stuff. Beyond the game, you have the D.C. equivalent of the Milwaukee Sausage race, the Presidents Race. I wondered why all the souvenir stands sold the Teddy Roosevelt stuff for $2 more then Lincoln, Washington, and Jefferson, and found out that Teddy is everyone's favorite, because in the year's since the park has opened, he has never won a race, making him infinitely popular as a lovable loser. (as a Cubs fan, I could appreciate this) Walking in the main gate is a great view, with cherry trees and player sculptures in the foreground, and the full view of the park in the background. Nats fans are starting to come aroundâ?¦they seem to like the manager and the fact the team spent some money in the off-season. It's easy to see the fans start really coming if the team stays over .500 for any length of time. All in all, the experience is a bit over-priced, but if you are smart, you can get in cheap and add quality baseball to your D.C. trip.
Nats Park is nice, but does not stand up to Camden Yards which is just up I-95. It is difficult to get to by car, the METRO is OK but a zoo after games if there is any crowd. While I enjoyed my visit, I still prefer Camden Yards to catch a game.
With a winning team I might be more willing to make the journey, it might just make the difference.
I gave up on MLB after the strike (believe it or not, I generally don't hold grudges, but that's a different story.) So, despite living an 8 minute walk from the stadium, I've only been there twice--for the annual Congressional baseball game.
Don't go for the baseball--go for a cheap chance to wander around the park, contribute to a good cause, and witness a truly decent aspect of American politics. Despite "politics as usual," this annual event has been running strong for decades, and it symbolizes pure decency and bipartisanship, reaching across the aisle, sportsmanship, and setting differences aside.
Sadly, the event isn't widely publicized outside of Congressional circles. But do a little googling and you'll find the date. Then just show up. You won't need a ticket in advance. There will be maybe 5000 other people there cheering for democracy. Considering that, in any given year, there are usually a few former athletes in Congress, you'll get to see a couple of people who understand the game at least. And it's always fun to see what local team's uniform your Congressman has chosen to wear.
The stadium itself is a nice, new, modern stadium. It's everything you'd expect from a 21st Century stadium, but nothing that will wow you. The Stadium site was chosen to revitalize a bad neighborhood. It's definitely doing that, but much more slowly than many would have hoped. The Metro is a convenient option, but parking at Nationals Stadium has proven to be much less of a hassle than many originally feared.
Beatiful park but the crowd seemed to be more interested in talking about business rather than cheering on the team. Ben's half smoke chilli dog is a sign from god. It's messy and georgious. The president's race is truily unique and the field and sightlines are perfect. Neighbourhood is lifeless.
The stadium is very nice and the fans are excited now that the team wins. Even with the team's success, you can get cheap tickets on StubHub a few days before the game. DO NOT buy from the Nationals, especially since they raised prices in 2013.
Strasburg. Harper. Zimmerman - the young studs of the Washington Nationals, who play their home games in Nationals Park, one of the youngest stadiums in the majors. Opening in time for the 2008 season, the home of the ‘Nats’ is a tremendous upgrade over their previous residence, RFK Stadium. At a cost of $700 million, the Nationals home is a first class facility located in the Southeast waterfront area of the Anacostia River.
The Nationals have found recent success by building through the draft and some key free agent acquisitions. 2012’s playoff run has pushed attendance at Nationals Park to an all-time high, drawing over 32,000 fans a game in 2013, up from 24,000 two seasons prior. Overall capacity is a little over 41,000, so there is still some work to do to fill up the stadium on a nightly basis.
As a fan, this is one of my favorite stadiums. Overall, it delivers a great experience and with a few tweaks, it could be best in class.
If visiting from out of town, stay at the Marriott Courtyard. It is only a few blocks from Nationals Park (walking distance) and just one block from the subway station. The neighborhood is safe. Washington DC does have one of the better subway systems so getting in and around the area is pretty easy and affordable.
I would recommend visiting Gordon Biersch for a pre or post game drink or meal. There’s a Red Porch Food & Spirits just inside the center field entrance gate at Nationals Park that is worthy of a visit for a beer and bite to eat.
There is a lot of construction around the ballpark (2014). They are knocking down a building and I’ve heard they will be constructing a retail outlet including a hotel, movie theater, and shops. I heard three different stories on what will be constructed in the area so we’ll see what finally gets built.
The fans (at least in the 300 section) are knowledgeable and very welcoming. Just near section 309 is a cart (Distinct Brews) offering craft beers and is worth visiting if local brews are your preference.
1500 South Capitol St SE
Washington, DC 20003
900 F St NW
Washington, DC 20004
300 Tingey St SE
Washington, DC 20003
1000 H Street NW
Washington, DC 20001