Today my friend Bill and I went to Nationals Park in Washington, DC to see the Nationals host the Pittsburgh Pirates. Neither one of us had been to the new park yet, so the curiosity factor was definitely there. The park was built in just 22 months, a lot less than a stadium of over 40,000 seats would take. I was impressed with the stadium right from the get-go. When you get off the Metro at Navy Yard Station you exit only a couple hundred feet from the outfield facade. You can see a good amount of the field before you even go through the gates. Very well done so far!
During their first three years in DC, the Nationals, due to uncertainty as to who the ownership group would be, an incomplete TV contract in years one and two, and let's face it, having to play in RFK Stadium, were really not operating as a full-fledged Major League Baseball Franchise. Not to mention that they were league-run in the end of their days in Montreal, so the minor league farm system needed tons of re-building. Souvenirs and Apparel? Hard to find unless you went to City Sports or any other sporting good stores. Not anymore! Just as soon as you walk through the outfield gates, there's a big team store with lots of overpriced stuff. :) But it's a revenue stream that they didn't necessarily have before. Yup, I bought a red hat with the alternate DC logo on it. Ownership stable, full TV and Radio deal (great TV team, solid radio team), and they're moving stuff from teams stores faster than they can re-stock. Great for business.
The park itself is very nice, doesn't have the old brick warehouse feel of a Camden Yards or Coors Field, but it does capture quite a bit of DC flavor. On the lower concourses, there are all sorts of wall exhibits describing the city's pro baseball history. Clean, well presented, wide concourse, family bathrooms (huge if you have young children), beer stands that are separate from the normal concessions (should you choose to get one, you're facing the field while you're ordering your beer), and concession stands from local businesses: Noah's Pretzel's, Hard Times Cafe, and Ben's Chili Bowl are in the house! I had heard horror stories about how long some of the lines have been this season but they seemed to get that straightened out. I missed less of the game than I thought I would when I was in line. I don't usually buy food at sporting events, preferring to eat beforehand but time did not allow for it today. But, for a ball park the concessions are good enough.
The game itself: we were in Section 305 (view seating chart and pricing here), a "second deck" seat. Sightlines were great (huge), the sun was basically past us and beating down on the outside walls behind us with the 1:30 start (big, little sunburn risk), and the home team won 5-2. Perfect afternoon to chill out at the ballpark after running a fundraiser race for ARC of Northern Virginia, which I somehow managed to run in 40:24 clock time, 40:15 cross start line to cross finish line time. Being a die hard Red Sox fan, I even experienced a Wily Mo Pena sighting! He smoked a pinch hit RBI double in the bottom of the eighth. Right after I told Bill that he'd either walk, strike out and look real bad, or crush a home run into the tenth row, he crushes a line drive on an 1-0 pitch off the left field wall, which was reached in about 1.3 seconds. Big Papi wasn't kidding when he said Pena hits the ball harder than anyone he had ever seen. Washington improved to 14-18 today. Playing much better recently, they've won seven of their last nine as they continue to build from what was a less than ideal situation.
Today's about Nationals Park. A great experience all around, even the Metro crush 30 minutes after the game wasn't bad. The only improvements I can think of are to lower the pricing on the outfield seats a bit (the lower LF area has a fantastic view of the field though). And let Teddy win a Presidents Race! I can't wait to go back on May 21 vs the Phillies!