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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.
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".
Here is where Nationals Park truly shines. Between all of its vendors and bars (yes, bars, we'll get to that in a moment) it boasts dozens of different kinds of beers on tap, everything from Budweiser to Peroni, Coors Light to Stella Artois. There are micro brews that even the most discerning beer lover will enjoy. They all cost $7.50, which is great for a ballpark Stella, not so much for a ballpark Bud.
The variety of food is impressive. It ranges from great local legends such as Five Guys (best burger you'll ever have outside of a sit down restaurant, and better than most of those as well, fries are as addictive as heroin), Ben's Chili Bowl, home of the legendary half-smoke sausage (think about the best kielbasa you ever had, only a hundred times better), and the Hard Times Cafe, to your traditional ballpark fare.
They also have a couple of stands called "Taste of the Majors," which, as the name implies, carry foods from the other four cities of the NL East. They include a Philly Cheesesteak, a Florida Cuban Sandwich, an Atlanta BBQ pork sandwich and a NY meatball sub. There are even several vegetarian and kosher options available. Truly, an impressive display, and all are reasonably priced. For a ballpark.
This is not a bad place to watch a game. Sightlines are great. One complaint is that if you are sitting in the lower level bleachers from center to left, you cannot see the main scoreboard at all, and the mini scoreboards on the sides that you can see are replaced by advertising at key situations sometimes. Hey, I get it; Papa John's makes great pizza, what's the count? But hey, it's clean, has great food and drink, and still has that fun, new stadium feel. I would go back.
There is a tent-covered bar called The Bullpen outside the park, but, really, there is nothing to do here. Nothing. Unless you are fascinated by the DC water and sewer headquarters or by the US Department of Transportation, in which case you are definitely in luck! I walked four blocks before I even saw a Starbucks.
Part of the problem is that the neighborhood is largely still under construction. The stadium is supposed to be the centerpiece of the revitalized DC waterfront. But the cool DC waterfront is in Georgetown, on the other side of town. But there's a lot to do in the stadium!
The announced attendance on the day I went was 23,691. There is no chance there were over 10,000 people in there. There were several - several - whole sections empty. It was a pretty good game, too, the Nats came back to win after being down six, and it was almost like the crowd had to be told to cheer. When it is the top of the ninth, and there are two strikes, the scoreboard operator should not have to tell the crowd to stand up and applaud - or any time there are two strikes, really. The only reason they get one point here is because I spoke to two knowledgeable fans and saw a third doing scorekeeping. So they are there, there are just not enough of them yet.
Parking is brutal. Brutal. Take public transit. The access from public transit is great. Parking ranges in price from $10 to $40. The $40 and $35 parking are on-site and very limited and are recommended to be pre purchased to guarantee a spot. The $20 and $15 parking is limited as well, and you are walking six to eight blocks to get there, in SE DC, an improving, but, let's be honest, notoriously sketchy neighborhood. Look, it's not Boston's Combat Zone, or south central LA or anything, but, trust me, just take public transit. If you are coming from out of town, find a metro station (Washington Metro Area Transit Authority) in the Virginia or Maryland suburbs, and park there. Metro has plenty of parking, they cater to tourists, and the fare will be much cheaper than parking anyway.
Bathrooms are clean and plentiful. There are even family bathrooms for Dad to take his little girl or Mom to take the little guy. The great job on bathrooms here saves this from being a zero.
If you happen to be in DC and want to see a ballgame and eat well while doing it, Nationals Park is your place. This is not a park worth traveling to DC specifically; there are plenty of better things to do in this town. But for watching a game? Good place.
If you do come for a game, be sure to check out the Red Porch Restaurant. With a two level, full, upscale bar in right center field, it is THE spot to watch the game. The menu is small, and slightly overpriced (but not quite ballpark overpriced), but with surprisingly good variety. It opens two and a half hours before game time, so you can do dinner, and then watch the game in the upstairs bar.
Another extra point feature is that you can buy "tickets" and have them sent to your mobile phone. When this option is selected, a text message is sent to your phone (separate texts are sent for each ticket), which is then scanned at the entrance. A receipt is printed as a stub to get to your seat, but since you will be following this guide, you won't need it because you will have purchased the cheapest ticket available and be hanging out at the bar in right center.
Overall, this is a decent place to go if you like the Nats or your team is visiting. There is no history, it is not nice to look at and there is nothing to do outside the park. Inside it's great. There are plenty of food and beverage options to please everyone, and lots of stuff for the kids, including video games and a Build-A-Bear workshop. If you like to sit in the outfield, bring your internet ready mobile device so you can follow the stats, because you won't always be able to see them.
Geoff Crawley is the Mid Atlantic Regional Correspondent and Voice of the Fan and is the host of a weekly podcast.
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.
1000 H Street NW
Washington, DC 20001