Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Justin's Review: Nationals Park

Ballpark Design: Much like Philadelphia, Nationals Park takes many of the best features from the newest baseball stadiums and adds a few unique Washington touches to make an attractive and well-designed ballpark.  Like many new ballparks, the stadium features open concourses on all levels, all the way around the ballpark, hundreds of places to watch the game from if you leave your seat, and an interesting playing field with some unique angles in the outfield wall.  The upper deck seems to be a bit more set back than in some other new ballparks (such as Philly), although the one section of the upper deck that stretches into the outfield is detached from the rest and a bit closer to the field.  Perhaps my favorite thing about the ballpark is the open feeling of it - the actual structure of the stadium does not extend much past either foul pole, giving the whole place much more the feel of a park than a stadium.  However, while the open structure is nice, the view that it provides of two large concrete parking garages takes a bit away.  Some other nice touches are the cherry blossom trees that line the area around the main gate in center field, the Red Loft bar in center field, and the great standing room views (with counters for your food) high above centerfield on the scoreboard walk.  Additionally, the Nationals have done a great job of incorporating things commemorating the history of baseball in Washington, DC throughout the park  We also had the opportunity in this stadium to visit each of the three exclusive clubs in the stadium, each of which was beautifully designed. B+

Scoreboard/Soundtrack: The main scoreboard is impressively large, and chock full of information, with lineups, pitch counts, pitch speeds, stats, and the line score all in one, easy to find place.  The out of town scoreboard is a video scoreboard located in the right field wall, which showed all the information you could need about other games.  However, it was a little frustrating that it disappeared whenever the stadium would play a "clap your hands" type graphic/sound (which there was a little bit too much of), and between innings.  One of the cooler scoreboards is the the thin, round scoreboard that circles the top of the Red Loft bar and shows what the at bat player did in each of the previous innings on it.  Finally, the ballpark plays some really weird sound effects during games, from the cool and funny (the "extra life" noise from the original Mario games during some plays) to the sheer annoying.  B+

Food/Drink: We had passes to the Presidents Club, the highest level club in the stadium right behind home plate, so we got to enjoy the free buffet prior to the game in a very elegant setting.  Needless to say, the food there was amazing - some particular highlights were the free range chicken and the bacon mashed potatoes.  The more traditional ballpark food was good as well, and there was no shortage of other choices ringing the concourses.  The choices included DC's signature Ben's Chili Bowl and a bunch of FIve Guys stands (a burger chain that's located mainly in the mid-Atlantic area).  The beer selection seemed to be pretty good as well, with seemingly different types of beer at almost every stand in the ballpark. A

Fans:  The game was pretty sparsely attended, with less than 20,000 people there.  Not great, but it was a Tuesday night.  I'm not sure what the deal is with baseball fans in DC - on one hand, I think that when they finally have a good team and something to root for, there will be a lot of fans there, but at the same time, even last year, in the first year of their new stadium, the Nationals had some trouble drawing fans, and DC has, of course, lost two baseball teams previously in part because of fan disinterest.  I've always thought it could have something to do with a fact that the city of Washington itself has a very large population of people who are not from DC originally, but that hasn't stopped either the Capitals or Wizards from drawing large crowds when they're successful.  I think it's just a matter of success for the Nationals - DC hasn't had a good baseball team to root for in about 75 years.  When the Nationals finally give them one, I think the fans will start showing up. C-

City/Stadium Neighborhood:  I spent the last five months living in DC and fell in love with it.  Outside of New York, it was the most fun city I've ever spent a significant amount of time in, with a bunch of great, vibrant neighborhoods, a really young population, and no shortage of restaurants, bars, and things to do.  Obviously, it's also a beautiful city, and easy to get around, with walkable streets and a great transportation system.  Living there quickly made it my second favorite city in the world.  The stadium neighborhood itself is one of the less impressive areas of DC - a formerly very industrial area south of the Capitol that is very slowly redeveloping.  The Nationals and the City built the stadium there with the hope that it will anchor the redevelopment, sort of like what Camden Yards is believed to have done for Baltimore's Inner Harbor.  I'm a bit skeptical, but I hope it works, because the area certainly has great potential. City: A; Neighborhood: C+

Game:  The Nationals beat the San Francisco Giants 10-6 in a game that was very exciting, with the Nationals coming back from a 5-2 deficit to win, capped off by a 6-run eighth inning.  Tim Lincecum pitched fairly well for the Giants, but their bullpen imploded after he left the game, costing him him the win.  We also got to see a home run from Josh Bard, making us 3 for 4 in seeing the home team homer on the trip. B+

Overall:  One thing worth noting about Nationals Park is that I've never been to a stadium where the whole staff is as friendly as there.  It definitely added to the whole experience which was, on a whole, fantastic.  Certainly having great seats and a fantastic tour of the ballpark helped give us a favorable impression, but the park is truly well designed and a great baseball experience.  Hopefully the rest of Washington, DC will begin to realize that soon as well. A-


  1. "but that hasn't stopped either the Capitals or Wizards from drawing large crowds when they're successful." REDSKINS FAIL! Washington is a football town first and foremost. Always has been, always will be. As much as it pains me to say it, the Caps, Wizards, and Nats will only be successful when they win, because otherwise the fans only care about the Redskins.

    As for the neighborhood, give it some time. When the Verizon Center was only a year old the neighborhood would have received a C+ as well, if not worse. Now it's a great place, thanks mainly to the stadium.

  2. I would have included the Redskins, but I think it's fairly evident that football teams don't have trouble drawing even when baseball teams do - it's not as useful a comparison. That being said, you're very much right - DC, like many cities outside of the northeast, is a football town, and it is the only sport that fans will show up for regardless of the success of the team.

  3. There's a reason the Redskins, despite their long-standing suckage, continue to have the longest consecutive sellout streak of any team in the 4 major sports (sold out every game since 1967). We'll see how long that lasts in this economy if they continue to suck and ticket prices remain insane.

  4. You like DC better than Providence??? Im a little offended....

  5. Don't the Redskins have an insanely long waiting list for season tickets even if people begin to give them up?