Tagged: Washington Nationals

Shirts I’ve Collected

Last week, I blogged about the six caps I’ve bought during my travels around Major League and Minor League Baseball.

This week, I want to continue the sports-centered wardrobe theme and talk about some of the shirts I’ve bought and received through stadium giveaways. As I’ve said, I don’t buy a hat at every park I visit. The same holds true for shirts and other memorabilia. Still, when the price is right and I like the look of something, I’ll add it to my collection.

Dating back to my first baseball road trips for TheBallparkGuide.com in 2010, here’s what I’ve picked up:

Cleveland Indians – Travis Hafner jersey shirt

This isn’t a traditional jersey shirt; you’ll see that it has Hafner’s nickname, Pronk, on the back. I’m a Hafner fan, and thought this shirt was unique.

New Hampshire Fisher Cats 1

When I visited New Hampshire’s (now called Northeast Delta Dental Stadium) in September 2010, the team was about to play what would be its final playoff game of the season. As such, most of the products in the team shop were on sale. I picked up this T-shirt for under $10.

New Hampshire Fisher Cats 2

I got this one for around $10, too. Not bad for a Nike product, and I like the look of it.

Great Lakes Loons

When I watched the Great Lakes Loons play in May 2011, I visited the team shop during a long rain delay. This shirt was priced way less than other comparable products, so I bought it. What I didn’t notice at the time is that the logo is significantly closer to the left sleeve. (Hence the price reduction.) Still, I like this shirt because it’s one baseball shirt that isn’t gaudy.

West Michigan Whitecaps

Speaking of gaudy (in a good way, of course), this bright red Whitecaps shirt featuring their logo is eye catching. Most of the shirts I’ve gotten are white, so this one stands out in my closet.

Fort Wayne TinCaps

Perhaps partly influenced by my amazing visit to beautiful Parkview Field, this TinCaps shirt is one of my favorites. I like its design and the fact it uses the MiLB logo in a prominent spot. Plus, who doesn’t like angry apples?

Lake County Captains

I wasn’t around to see Lake County win the first half of the Midwest League championship in 2010, but I liked this shirt enough to buy it in 2011.

Delmarva Shorebirds

I’m a big fan of this simple Shorebirds T-shirt by Nike. I like Delmarva’s logo and the simple design of this shirt.

Baltimore Orioles 1

When I was in B-More, I was lucky enough to attend a game with a T-shirt giveaway. The T-shirt this day was J.J. Hardy.

Baltimore Orioles 2

Last summer, Chevrolet heavily promoted the Volt at MLB stadiums, including Camden Yards. If you signed up to receive Chevrolet marketing material, you got a free T-shirt. Count me in! And, if you wanted to sign up multiple times, you’d get multiple shirts ….

Washington Nationals 1

A couple days after I was in Baltimore, I was in the nation’s capital over the July 4 long weekend. The Nats gave away American flag-themed T-shirts at the gate.

Washington Nationals 2

Just like in Baltimore, Chevrolet had a kiosk promoting the Volt. I managed to get, uh, a few of these shirts, too.

Binghamton Mets

On July 4, I stopped in Binghamton to see the B-Mets battle the Portland Sea Dogs before an impressive fireworks show at NYSEG Stadium. During the game, I picked up what’s become one of my favorite items — a B-Mets pullover. These are the shirts the players wear during BP, in the dugout and while warming up. It’s awesome.

But what about game-used items? You’ll just have to check back tomorrow for some goodies that fall under that category.

Game Programs

I’m a huge fan of taking in the entire ballpark experience every time I watch a game. For me, this typically means trying to snag a foul ball, getting a handful of autographs and eating some unique food. It also includes grabbing a game program and checking out what it has to offer. My stipulation, however, is that I rarely get programs if you have to pay for them. I’m not big on paying for something I’ll likely only flip through once, and if I buy one, I’m less likely to want to throw it out later.

I don’t have programs from every ballpark I’ve visited, but I have a handful that range from amazing to bland. Here’s a look at them.

Aberdeen IronBirds

For a Short-Season A franchise, Aberdeen’s “First Pitch” program has a lot to offer. For one, it’s printed specifically for the game you’re attending. (Most teams print programs per series, week or homestand.) It’s got a clean, attractive cover and a preview of the night’s game. Because the program is printed for each game, all the standings and stats are up to date, which is a huge bonus for a stats guy like me. A couple standout features in this edition of “First Pitch” were a list of IronBirds with Twitter accounts and a well-illustrated diagram of pitcher Aaron Wirsch’s four pitches, along with commentary from the pitcher himself.

Bowie Baysox

Baltimore’s AA franchise in Bowie provides a program called “Baywatch” for each home series. This one had a decent fan guide to Prince George’s Stadium, a list of former Baysox who’ve made the Major Leagues and a discussion between the team’s infielders on turning a double play.

Cleveland Indians

The Indians’ “Batter Up!” is given out free and printed for each series. Of course, you can also buy a more in-depth game program, but this one’s worth picking up. It’s got a good concession directory, a fan guide to Progressive Field and a couple interesting articles. I was also impressed with the full-page ad for Cleveland’s Midwest League affiliate, the Lake County Captains, who play just 15 minutes outside of C-Town.

Delmarva Shorebirds

A South Atlantic League franchise, the Shorebirds program “Play Ball” is one of the shortest I’ve seen. Still, it contains a couple interesting stories on Shorebirds players, a decent look at the team’s opponents and a nice, comprehensive breakdown of each team in the Baltimore Orioles system.

Fort Wayne TinCaps

Fort Wayne’s “Gameday” program is printed each homestand, which is pretty much the norm in the Minor Leagues. This one had pink as a dominant color, given the theme of the team’s homestand, Turn the Park Pink for breast cancer awareness. This program featured a thorough, five-page guide to Parkview Field’s food and interesting features such as a tutorial on how to score a game, a map showing the location of each Midwest League franchise and a couple articles about the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

New Hampshire Fisher Cats

New Hampshire offers an amazing fan experience, but there wasn’t anything to write home about in the “Inside Pitch” free program. The schedules, stats, rosters and promotional schedules were all handy, but they’re all things you’d expect to find here. The worst part was the ads, even though I know they’re necessary. Early in the program, 22 out of 23 straight pages were full ads. Ugh.

Potomac Nationals

The P-Nats, as they’re often called, provide a standard gameday program for free. It’s got all the things you’d expect, but a few interesting pages are the breakdown of the Washington Nationals’ farm system and a look at the Carolina League franchises. Additionally, this program isn’t overly laden with ads.

Rochester Red Wings

After spending two sentences explaining how I don’t buy programs, I’ll quickly recant that statement to say I spent $1 on Rochester’s yearbook during my first ballpark trip in 2010. Simply put, it’s one of the best programs I’ve ever seen, and for $1, it’s a real bargain. This baby is more than 100 pages long and contains a ton of interesting information — not just ads and more ads. The highlights of this edition were a look at the Red Wings’ uniforms throughout the years, an article about Stan Musial’s time as a Red Wing, in-depth player profiles, a pretty good guide to Frontier Field and an ultra-thorough map of the where to find every food item sold at the ballpark. (In case you’re wondering, the cover is damaged because I spilled water on it. Oops.)

Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees

The big perk to the S/W-B Yankees’ “Play Ball!” program is like the IronBirds, it’s printed for the game you’re attending. Although it’s relatively short in length, “Play Ball!” has an interesting game preview, a “This Date in Yankees History” page and an interesting section about the players to watch from the visiting team.

Toledo Mud Hens

It’s a toss-up whether Toledo or Rochester has the best program I’ve seen so far on my travels. “The Muddy Times” is amazing, and might get the nod over Rochester because it’s free. This book is giant, measuring 9.5 by 12 inches and numbering 112 pages. The pages are newsprint, but they’re thick and in full color. I love the cover shot, as well as the in-depth player and coach profiles, the 2010 season review, some good player Q&As and an awesome two-page spread on the Detroit Tigers’ top 10 prospects, written by Baseball America. This is the type of program you’d spend $5 on and still feel as though you got your value.

Washington Nationals

Like Cleveland, the Nats hand out a free game program to complement their paid program. “Inside Pitch” (which is the same title as New Hampshire’s program) is printed on thick paper, which is a definite upgrade over the newsprint in some programs. This one has an extensive Nationals Park fan guide, a guide on how to score a game and even two removable player cards (Jason Marquis and Michael Morse).

A Few Places I’ve Been

I’ve taken several thousand photos since I began traveling and compiling research for TheBallparkGuide in the summer of 2010. (If you’re new to this blog and are curious about where I’ve visited, look at the tag cloud on the right side of the menu or click here.) The vast majority of my photos focus on the elements of each ballpark I visit, but one thing I’ve noticed is that I’ve missed getting photos of myself in most locations. I often travel alone, and while it’s possible to hold the camera at arm’s length to shoot myself, some of these photos don’t turn out that great.

That said, I’ve got a handful of photos taken at different locations that I’m posting below. Click the date to read my blog about the visit.)

The second ballpark I visited, back on July 17, 2010, was Auburn’s Falcon Park. While I was snapping shots of the front of the ballpark, the man who lives next door to the facility offered to take my shot:

Later that summer, I traveled to Cleveland for two games on Aug. 7 and Aug. 8. During the second game, I got a few autographs around the visitors dugout, and then had my photo taken by another fan while sitting on the Indians dugout:

On Aug. 10 and Aug. 11, my wife and I watched two Blue Jays games at Rogers Centre. My wife snapped this artsy shot of me hoping to catch a ball during batting practice …

… and a day later, took one of me along the fence during batting practice. I snagged two balls here:

I toured around Michigan in May 2011, and watched the second of two Detroit Tigers games on May 25. Unfortunately, this game was called because of the rain after a few innings. While the tarp was still on the field, an usher took my photo:

On June 27, I watched the Hagerstown Suns play at Municipal Stadium. Bryce Harper was hurt and didn’t play, but that didn’t stop me from finding his truck in the parking lot and taking a photo of myself in front of it:

Next, on July 2 and 3, I was in the nation’s capital to catch three Nationals games (July 2 was a doubleheader). Here’s a photo of me before the first game, down at field level:

And on the second day, up on a deck in the left field corner:

The third-last game I watched in 2011 was on July 31 at Hadlock Field, home of the Portland Sea Dogs. Before entering the ballpark, my wife took a photo of me out front:

The Sea Dogs are the AA affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, and Hadlock Field is equipped with a mini green monster. During our visit, fans were able to play catch on the field before the game. Here’s me in front of the scoreboard:

And while throwing balls off the wall and catching them:

And pretending to relay them to the imaginary cut-off man. (I can’t lie.)

As always, thanks for reading. If you don’t do so already, check me out on Twitter.

2011 Game Tickets

It’s still several months until I’ll be blogging about my 2012 baseball road trips for The Ballpark Guide. Fortunately, I still have a lot of interesting things to share from the 27 games I attended during the summer of 2011.

One neat souvenir I’ve got from each of those games is my ticket stub. Now, ticket stubs are admittedly uninteresting to some people, but I think they’re great. And I think my wife approves, as they don’t take up that much space. I like how, for the most part, every ticket stub is different.

Anyway, enough talking. Let’s get to them, in order:

May 19: Tampa Bay Rays at Toronto Blue Jays

I bought the top ticket in advance of my first game of the season at Rogers Centre, and it’s pretty plain. Midway through this game, a lady gave me the lower two tickets for the section behind the Jays dugout, as she was leaving early. The design on these tickets is much nicer; they’re likely from a set of season’s tickets.

May 20: Houston Astros at Toronto Blue Jays

My second Jays game of 2011 had the same style of ticket as my first game.

May 21: Bowling Green Hot Rods at Lansing Lugnuts

I think the Lansing Lugnuts offer one of the sharpest-looking tickets in the minors. I like the checker plate background, the large, stylized team name and how the ticket takers stroke out the side of the ticket with a Sharpie, rather than tear it.

May 22: South Bend Silver Hawks at Great Lakes Loons

The simplicity of the Great Lakes Loons ticket is perfect. The Loons play in the small town of Midland, MI, and the design of this ticket is reflective of that rural setting.

May 23: Fort Wayne TinCaps at West Michigan Whitecaps

This West Michigan Whitecaps ticket is pretty standard: faded image in the background and the classic “ticket font” in the foreground. I do like, however, the vertical strip down the right side, featuring the ballpark and team logos.

May 24: Tampa Bay Rays at Detroit Tigers

I bought this Tickets.com ticket in advance of my first visit to Comerica Park; obviously, there’s not much to see here.

When I misplaced the above ticket while in Detroit, I was given a reprint at the ticket office. This one’s a little better, but the green (which, in its defence, is used to identify the ticket as being a reprint), looks weird when associated with the Tigers.

May 25: Tampa Bay Rays at Detroit Tigers

The next day, I bought this ticket at the Comerica Park ticket office. As you can see, it’s virtually identical to the reprint from the day before, but has an orange/red border instead of the green one.

May 26: Durham Bulls at Toledo Mud Hens

The Toledo Mud Hens have a sharp-looking ticket and the pinstripe background is the first such design I’ve seen. From the stylized Mud Hens wording in the center of the ticket to the logo on the right, I’m a big fan of this one.

May 27: Great Lakes Loons at Fort Wayne TinCaps

While I loved my visit to Fort Wayne to watch the TinCaps, this ticket design lacks interest. The gray TinCaps logo in the bottom right corner blends into the background, which isn’t great. On the plus side, I like how the ticket identifies the name of your section and the Parkview Field wording stands out well.

May 28: West Michigan Whitecaps at Lake County Captains

The Lake County Captains offer one of the most unique tickets I’ve seen. The right side is ripped off upon entry to the park, but even with this subtraction, the ticket is massive. The top part tears off, if desired, and the blue color and team logo give this ticket lots of visual impact.

May 29: Reading Phillies at Erie SeaWolves

This Erie SeaWolves ticket is perhaps the most underwhelming I’ve encountered. It’s certainly got all the information you need, but its design is super sub-par. There’s some sort of baseball image in the background, but it’s virtually impossible to discern.

June 23: Norfolk Tides at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees

This ticket is simply designed, and has large “Yankees” lettering in the background, although it didn’t show up in the scan. I’m still a little bitter about the price I had to pay for this game.

June 24: Altoona Curve at Harrisburg Senators

Stephen Strasburg is depicted on this Harrisburg ticket, which is cool. I also like the 25-year badge and the 6-time EL Champs lettering.

June 25: Staten Island Yankees at Aberdeen IronBirds

The IronBirds offer one of the plainest tickets I’ve seen thus far, but I like their sense of humor. See where it says “Fashionably Late”? That’s because I bought it on game day. The “SRO” lettering means standing room only.

June 26: Binghamton Mets at Bowie Baysox

On the surface, this Baysox ticket looks fine, but the odd thing is that the team uses orange and black as its colors. (The team has a turquoise third jersey, however.) If this ticket had an orange tint to it, I’d call it a winner.

June 27: Lakewood Blueclaws at Hagerstown Suns

Although the sunglasses on the Hagerstown Suns logo scream 1991, this is a catchy ticket. The fonts are a bit small, but I realize saying that makes me sound like a bitter old man who complains about neighbors who make noise at 7 p.m. The $8.80 price is a bit bizarre, too. Virtually every other ticket’s price is an even dollar value.

June 28: Greensboro Grasshoppers at Delmarva Shorebirds

Plain Jane is the best adjective for this Shorebirds ticket, which features no color and minimal graphical elements. I like the silvery shimmer of the logo in the center, but this ticket would be augmented with a splash of color.

June 29: St. Louis Cardinals at Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles offer a bland ticket, but like other MLB teams, the look of the ticket improves if you’re a season’s pass holder. The B&O warehouse is depicted in the background, which is neat.

June 30: St. Louis Cardinals at Baltimore Orioles

See above.

July 1: Winston-Salem Dash at Potomac Nationals

I’m not a fan of the way the Potomac Nationals rip your ticket upon entry, but this ticket is neat because it features a background image of the P-Nats’ 2010 Carolina League championship team.

July 2: Pittsburgh Pirates at Washington Nationals

Like the Blue Jays and Orioles tickets I showed above, the Washington Nationals use a standard ticket template for fans who buy at the ticket office.

July 3: Pittsburgh Pirates at Washington Nationals

Ditto. But I like the price on this one better.

July 4: Portland Sea Dogs at Binghamton Mets

The background color of this Binghamton Mets ticket certainly catches your eye. The Mets logo on the upper right of the ticket is nice, but I find the other team logo gets lost behind the visitor’s name. Still, a nice ticket.

July 28: Reading Phillies at New Hampshire Fisher Cats

The New Hampshire Fisher Cats have a tear-off Modell’s coupon on the left side of their tickets, but the rest of the design is sharp. I like the Fisher Cats logo in the background and the 2011 Eastern League All-Star Game emblem in the bottom left corner.

July 31: Altoona Curve at Portland Sea Dogs

The Portland Sea Dogs take an interesting approach on their tickets, showing an image of the team’s alumni jersey wall in the background. With a sharp eye, you can catch the jerseys of David Ortiz, Clay Buchholz, Jacoby Ellsbury and Jonathan Papelbon, among others.

August 21: Hudson Valley Renegades at Vermont Lake Monsters

I find that the Green Mountain Coffee coupon on the left of the Lake Monsters ticket takes up a bit too much space, but I like the background image of the team celebrating.

September 23: Minnesota Twins at Cleveland Indians

Not to sound like a broken record, but the Indians’ standard ticket is pretty similar to the other MLB teams in my list.

As a bonus, I thought I’d share the tickets from the games I attended in 2010.

Ready? Let’s go!

July 16: Indianapolis Indians at Rochester Red Wings

This ticket’s special to me because it’s the ticket I bought for the first ballpark I visited for my website, TheBallparkGuide.com. I bought it in advance, so it’s got my name printed across the middle, which is sort of neat. The ticket itself features an overhead view of Rochester’s Frontier Field.

July 17: State College Spikes at Auburn Doubledays

I absolutely love this ticket. It helps that my visit to Auburn was amazing, but I love the simple design of this ticket. The Doubledays are publicly owned, and have a tangible community-oriented feel. This one-of-a-kind ticket just supports that.

July 18: Pawtucket Red Sox at Syracuse Chiefs

The Syracuse Chiefs used this ticket in 2010 to commemorate their 50th season as a modern-era franchise. Although it’s hard to see on the scan, the design includes baseball card images of past Chiefs.

August 6: Columbus Clippers at Buffalo Bisons

This 2010 Buffalo Bisons ticket is pretty generic. There’s a standard crowd image in the background, and if it weren’t for the red/orange seats, I wouldn’t know it was taken at Coca-Cola Field. Of note is the angry-looking guy to the left of the world “Buffalo.” I think the team could’ve done better.

August 7: Minnesota Twins at Cleveland Indians

Virtually the same ticket the Indians used this summer.

August 8: Minnesota Twins at Cleveland Indians

Another standard Tribe ticket.

August 9: Aberdeen IronBirds at Mahoning Valley Scrappers

The New York-Penn League’s Scrappers have a simple, effective design on this ticket from 2010. The background image features the team celebrating in the infield after a win. And I have to chuckle at the “No Outside Food/Beverage” reminder in the bottom right.

August 10: Boston Red Sox at Toronto Blue Jays

This ticket featuring Adam Lind is nicer than the plain tix the Jays sold in 2011.

August 11: Boston Red Sox at Toronto Blue Jays

These two tickets show Vernon Wells and Aaron Hill. I also like how the tickets indicate the time that the stadium opens. The baseball stitches along the right side are sharp, too.

September 10: Trenton Thunder at New Hampshire Fisher Cats

The ’10 Fisher Cats ticket is very similar to the ’11 version. The chief difference is the change in the team color and ballpark name.

September 11: Brooklyn Cyclones at Tri-City ValleyCats

I don’t like how the side of this ticket got ripped off, but the design is nice. Because I’m such a fan of ballparks, it’s neat to see Joseph L. Bruno Stadium depicted in the background. This ticket works well.

Ball of the Day – 3 of 4

Over the last two days, I’ve posted autographed balls from 1970 AL MVP Boog Powell and two-time National League All-Star Justin Upton.

Today, I’m posting the third autographed ball I got on my most recent road trip for The Ballpark Guide, which took me through Pennsylvania, Maryland and eventually to D.C.

This ball comes from someone taken second overall in the 2002 MLB Entry Draft — Justin’s brother, B.J. Upton:

B.J. hasn’t been an All-Star like Justin, but he has hit for the cycle, doing so back in 2009. He’s played his whole career with Tampa Bay and I’ve seen him play live a number of times. I bought this MLB-authenticated ball at Nationals Park, just as I did with the one signed by Justin. Both balls were a good deal, and I thought it’d be neat to have signatures from both guys.

One last ball tomorrow!

Washington Nationals – July 3

Before my second Washington Nationals game, I decided to walk around the outside of the stadium to take in the sights. A day earlier, big crowds prompted me to quickly get into the stadium, but on July 3, I had more time.

I took a long walk around the entire stadium, and saw the team’s head office …

… a plaque recognizing baseball’s return to D.C. …

… and even the players’ parking lot:

(Range Rovers seem to be pretty popular among ball players.)

Here’s what the first base gate entrance looks like:

And here’s a panorama of the center field gate, where I entered for both games:

Today, the crowds weren’t so bad, so I was able to score a $5 ticket …

… when the gates opened, I went straight down to field level to watch some Nationals tossing:

(Sorry, this guy’s name escapes me.)

See these giant lineups?

They were for the team’s autograph signing day. Chien-Ming Wang (who I saw pitch a few days earlier on a rehab stint at Hagerstown’s Municipal Stadium), Doug Slaten, Cole Kimball and Alex Cora were all signing:

I decided to forget about standing in line for 20 minutes to get one autograph, and it soon paid off. A few minutes after I took the above photos, the previous day’s starter, Livan Hernandez, came out to sign:

I got him on a ball I snagged a few days earlier at a Minor League game:

After getting my autograph, I went down the to Lexus Presidents Seats, which run $300+ a pop. You can’t even cut through this area, so the photo below is as close as I could get:

I stopped and watched the Nats’ pregame radio broadcast in the center field concourse for a few moments …

… then went and got a loaded hot dog for lunch. I got one covered in mac and cheese and Fritos, and while it tasted OK, it was impossible to eat without making a mess:

I then took a spot up along the first base line …

… and watched Jason Marquis have an absolutely terrible outing:

This mound visit was either in the first or second inning. Ouch. Though he was 7-2 going into the game, Marquis could not make a pitch. He left after 1.1 innings after giving up eight hits, six earned runs and even making an error:


After a few innings, I went behind home plate to take this panorama:

When I write my official guide to Nationals Park for my website, TheBallparkGuide.com, you’ll get a comprehensive list of all the places to eat. But in the meantime, I have to share one cool feature I’ve never seen elsewhere:

Yep, onion and relish dispensers that you crank. (I wonder if I could convince my wife to let me get one of these for the kitchen.)

I spent a couple innings standing behind a railing in the left field corner, where I took this picture of myself:

Nationals Park has a ton of places like this. It’s nice because if your seating area is crowded, or if you just want to stand up for a while, you can go find a spot to watch:

The Pirates cruised to a 10-2 win in a game that was all over in the first inning, and after its conclusion, I took the subway back to my hotel. Waiting for my hotel’s shuttle bus, I struck up a conversation with another guy who’d been to the game. After I told him about my website, he told me how the last time he’d watched a pro game in D.C., it was in the mid 1970s. (The old Washington Senators, of course, left in 1971.)

I love unsolicited opinions. The guy then told me (disgustingly, I should add) what a horrible manager Davey Johnson is and how the day’s loss was on him. He said Johnson’s not ready to manage in the Big Leagues and how Jim Riggleman was slapped in the face by Washington management. I said I understood what he was saying, but giving the team an ultimatum can come back and bite you in the hind parts.

The guy completely flew off the handle, telling me I was wrong and how when you’re “only” making $600,000, the team’s taking advantage of you. “He showed them,” the guy said. I pointed out that now that Riggleman is making $0, the team may be having the last laugh. The guy was starting to ramp up his rebuttal (while his wife stood there and blatantly rolled her eyes) when our shuttle bus came. Saved!

With my visit to the nation’s capital now in the books, I had one last stop on my 12-game, 12-day road trip: A visit to Binghamton, NY, to watch the AA Mets.

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 ….