Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy - D.C. Grays
Photos by Gregory Koch and Richard Smith, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.29
Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy 3675 Ely Pl SE Washington DC, 20019
Year Opened: 2014 Capacity: 500
The Other District Team
Founded in 2005, the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League features six teams in the Washington, D.C. metro area. One member, the DC Grays, is the second of two summer league teams by that name. The first Grays team played in the Clark Griffith League from 2006 to 2009 when the league folded, although they only played in the District for one of those years. After an absence in 2010, the second and current version of the Grays was founded in 2011 and joined the Ripken League for the next season in 2012. The Grays played their first two seasons at Hoy Field on the campus of Gallaudet University before moving to the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy in Southeast D.C. in 2014. The Grays nickname pays homage to the old Homestead Grays, a Negro League team that used to play in the District.
Food & Beverage 3
There is one concession stand at a window down the right-field line, staffed by two friendly employees, which sells a typical selection of food and beverage. Meals include hamburgers ($4, or $5 with cheese), pizza ($7 for a personal size), nachos ($5, or $6 with chili), and $5 for a “meal deal” that includes a hot dog, chips, and soda or water. A wide assortment of snacks is available for $1-$2 each, and soft drinks and water will cost $2-$4 depending on the item. Note that if paying by credit card, there is a $1 service fee for transactions under $5. To avoid this, either bring cash or buy enough in each visit to be above this threshold.
Theoretically, hot chocolate and coffee are available between 9 AM and 12 PM, but this is mainly for the kids, parents, and coaches who are at the complex during the day. The Grays do play one 1 PM game a year for various youth groups, and if you arrive early enough for that game, you may be able to get some of these drinks. Otherwise, you won’t be able to get them at a Grays game.
The DC Grays’ home stadium is located within the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy, nestled among various youth baseball and softball fields. Numerous youth teams call the Academy home, as do various softball teams up to the college level. However, the Grays’ stadium is the main stadium in the complex as reflected in its quality. The all-turf field is surrounded by several sections of bleachers with backs with a wide-open, large concourse for fans to walk between the seating bowl and other areas of the complex. All seats have an excellent view of the action, but be careful of the sun setting down the left-field line for the first few innings of a night game. There is also a scoreboard in left centerfield which shows a linescore and other basic information.
The team does a good job of keeping fans engaged, playing walkup music, making announcements throughout the game about the various ways fans can get involved, and holding a 50-50 raffle in the later innings for a chance to win some money and raise some money for the team, which after all is a non-profit.
Although many parts of D.C. are great, the Nationals Youth Academy is not located in the best neighborhood. This choice of location makes some sense, as the complex was intended to help inner-city children play baseball. The area directly around the stadium is safe enough, and expect some police presence during games to make sure it stays that way, but as always in an urban environment, be aware of what is going on around you. You probably don’t want to venture too far away from the stadium though.
Many more options are available downtown, but unless you want to drive down there and try to find parking, you’re probably going to have to take an Uber or Lyft.
Like most teams in the Cal Ripken League, the Grays are lucky if they get more than a couple hundred fans a game, but those who do show up are passionate, loyal, and knowledgeable about the team and the league. Even as the hour grew late and the game went into multiple extra innings, most fans stayed until it was over, cheering just as loudly in the final inning as the first. That is real dedication. As all Ripken League teams are located within about 40 miles of each other, and the Grays are the most centrally located team of them all, you will often get a number of visiting fans making the short trip into the District as well.
The Nationals Youth Academy is conveniently located a short drive off either I-395 or DC Route 295 (which is the only “state” highway in the District of Columbia.) Parking is available for free in the complex lot, although you will have to walk past some of the other fields to get where you need to go. Unfortunately, the Academy is not easily accessible by any D.C. Metro line, but free parking is a rarity in this city so take it where you can get it.
The concourses are more than wide enough to accommodate the crowds. The restrooms are of sufficient size as well, although the men’s room is tucked away in a corner under some stairs, so you may have to look around a bit for it.
Return on Investment 5
Admission to all Grays home games is free, one of only two clubs in the league where that’s the case. Concessions are affordable as well, and parking is free, so fans shouldn’t have to pay much to see the Grays. Throw in the fact that the Academy stadium is much nicer than most fields in the league and a visit to a Grays game is a pretty good deal.
There is a tent on the concourse down the first base line which sells Grays merchandise at affordable prices. The tent also has free programs available, which earns another star. Finally, there are batting cages located on the concourse behind home plate where fans can watch the Grays and their opponents take some batting practice.
Few in the Washington, D.C. area even know the Cal Ripken League exists. That is reflected in the low attendance numbers at the vast majority of teams in the league. However, the DC Grays play in a beautiful stadium, and the chance to watch a baseball game for free on a summer’s night is an opportunity not to be passed up. Despite what people think, the Nationals are not the only baseball team in this city, and while the quality of play isn’t nearly as high at a Grays game as at a Nats one, it’s a chance to see a game for free as opposed to paying a lot of money to sit far away from the field, and who can argue with that?