Washington Nationals – July 2

A day after my disappointing visit to Pfitzner Stadium to watch the Potomac Nationals, I was excited to watch the parent club Washington Nationals. I was staying for three nights in Alexandria, VA, just across from D.C. When I drove through D.C. to get to my hotel, I noted how bad the traffic was. (I’m sure it was worse because of the Independence Day long weekend.) As such, I decided to take the D.C. Metro to Nationals Park instead of try driving.

As it turns out, the metro is absolutely the way to go. It’s very clearly signed, and even though I’d never attempted it before, I didn’t have any problems. Even if you’re tentative to try it, go for it — there are scores of people wearing Nationals jerseys, so if all else fails, you can just follow a group.

When I arrived at the Navy Yard stop, just a block or so away from Nationals Park, I went up to street level and this was my first sight:

Yep, George Washington, Abe Lincoln and a ton of baseball fans. Nationals Park is in the background. As you approach the stadium, you have to pass by several vendors hawking water, peanuts, Nationals apparel and the like. They offer some great deals; $1 water, for example, instead of paying $4 inside the park.

Here’s one vendor and the “licensed” merchandise:

Once I made it through the throngs of sellers, here’s what I saw:

I didn’t have my ticket, so I had to get in line. Today was a double-header AND a T-shirt giveaway, so the crowds were pretty wild. A few days earlier, the team started selling $2 tickets for the game online. “I’ll buy one later,” I thought. Of course, the tickets were sold out when I checked later, and now, standing in line, I heard people grumbling that the cheapest ticket was $45. UGH!

When I finally got to the window, I was able to get one in the upper deck for $18, which wasn’t bad, all things considered:

The entry to Nationals Park is smooth. See the guys in the yellow shirts in the image below? You pass by them to have your bags checked, then you go through the gates in the foreground to get into the stadium. Some stadiums try to do both in one shot, and it ends up being chaotic:

As soon as you enter the gates, you find yourself in a huge, open pavilion with statues very reminiscent of those in Comerica Park:

Just behind the statues is the Red Porch, which is an awesome bar with two levels of seating. Here’s a closer look:

I immediately passed through the pavilion to take a look at the field. As I expected, there was no batting practice today, as it was a double-header:

In desperate need of some shade or air conditioning, I checked out a couple of the stadium’s team shops, which are nice. There are a ton of jerseys, memorabilia and even TVs to watch what’s happening on the stadium scoreboard:

After I cooled off for a bit, I started to make a big lap around the main-level concourse, noting all the impressive choices for food. Some that stood out were gelato:

Taste of the Majors, which offered food from different regions:

And even a place for some healthy food:

After touring the concourse, I went down the field level but there wasn’t much going on:

So, despite the heat, I went back up to the concourse and kept walking around. I found a pretty cool kids’ play area:

Indoor batting cage:

And a Build-a-Bear station (cool if you have kids; probably not on your to-see list if you’re with a bunch of buddies):

Beside the batting cage, there was a speed throwing station. Both were neat, though I’d suggest watching a couple rounds of someone else batting if you plan to step into the cage. When I watched, the machine was horribly uncalibrated; one guy had three pitches sail over his head, another guy was beaned on the arm and yet another had one of his 10 pitches go through the strike zone. It all made for a rather interesting spectacle. And the poor guy running the cage just stood there shaking his head.

Eventually, some players came out to stretch, so I went back down to field level. Here’s Pittsburgh‘s starting pitcher James McDonald stretching:

And here’s Washington’s Ian Desmond signing autographs:

It’s hard to believe, but the day’s game between Pittsburgh and Washington featured two clubs with decent records. Both were around .500, and trying to climb higher; it’s a big departure from where these teams usually are.

That said, how is Washington a .500 team? As I scanned through its batting order, absolutely nothing positive jumped out:

Roger Bernadina: .265

Jayson Werth: .226

Ryan Zimmerman: .228

Laynce Nix: .278

Michael Morse: .302 (Finally, a .300 hitter!)

Danny Espinosa: .239

Ivan Rodriguez: .216

Ian Desmond: .222

Livan Hernandez: .154 (As the pitcher, he gets a bye.)

Anyway, awful! But Kudos to this team for somehow getting things done on the field.

After watching the on-field happenings for a while, I went up to the 200 level to see the sights. There’s a neat eating area with comfy chairs, turf and some tents:

When the game began, I fought my way through the crowds to get waaaay up behind home plate for this panorama:

Then, I headed toward the left field corner to snap this panorama:

(Yes, lots of panoramas today. Click on them to get a larger version, if you’re interested.)

I couldn’t help but notice that for just $30, you can get yourself a cheese pizza:

Gotta love ballpark food prices, huh?

Speaking of food, it was about time to find something to eat. I passed up the opportunity at that $30 cheese pizza and returned to the Taste of the Majors concession stand. I asked the vendor which food he recommended, and he suggested chicken fingers. Hmm, that wasn’t really what I had in mind. Chicken fingers are, you know, chicken fingers. He said the New York pastrami sandwich was a popular option, so I went with it:

And as good as it looks, it honestly wasn’t all that great. The pastrami didn’t have much flavor, but live and learn. I’m still glad I tried it.

While I was up high in that left field corner, I took the following picture of the center field gate and pavilion area to show a few neat features. Fans enter from the “10 o’clock” area, which is hidden behind the Jayson Werth billboard. The team shop is back there, too, and you can see some concession stands, the MASN broadcast booth, the Red Porch, nice, wide concourses and a cool vegetation pattern on top of the concession stands at the lower left:

Nationals Park has a great scoreboard, too. It’s extremely thorough and gives you all the info you need:

If you’re not focusing on the stadium itself, you’ve got an amazing view from the upper deck of Nationals Park. Recognize these landmarks?

Yep, it’s the United States Capitol building and the Washington Monument.

After touring the stadium a little more, I succumbed to my sweet tooth’s cravings and bought some Dippin’ Dots. I’d never tried these in the past, and they are dangerously good:

After my snack, I climbed up to the Red Porch, which is THE place to be at Nationals Park. It’s crazy crowded, though, so you have to get there early to get a spot. Here’s a panorama from up here:

I spent the next few innings up here, down the first base line:

From here, I had a good view of not only the whole stadium, but also of a couple of my favorite players — Canadian Matt Stairs and future HOFer Ivan Rodriguez:

The Pirates won game 1 and Washington took game 2, and I had a great time at the double-header. A day later, I’d be back in D.C. for one more game on my road trip ….

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