Ballpark Review: Nationals Park

As my father and I entered Nationals Park, we were handed a promotional Nationals hat, one of those cheap little ballcaps with the Miller Lite logo emblazoned on the back. I was a bit put off by the fact that the team had a promo item it could give only to people 21 and over. You really can’t get another sponsor that is not a beer maker? But hey, free hat. And it had a bottle opener! Classy.

We said were probably never going to wear the caps, especially during a Nats-Pirates game. They would most likely end up as donations to St. Vincent de Paul (we’re such good Catholic boys) instead of growing a healthy layer of dust. Then as we stood in a concession line before the game, a man walked up to me, noticed my Pirates shirt and hat, and asked, “Are you really going to take a Nationals hat back with you?”

“I guess so,” I responded.

“Would you be interested in selling it?” he asked.

“How much?”

“Twenty dollars.”

My dad held out his hat and interjected: “You want to buy two?”

We would have taken five dollars each. I’m not sure why this entrepreneur couldn’t wait until the end of the game and scavenge the hats that people would inevitably forget below their seats. But I wasn’t going to argue with the man. My dad and I were in the ballpark all of 10 minutes, and we had already make $40. I only wish they had blackjack at Nationals Park so I could keep my luck going.

A Park to be Proud Of

Nationals Park night

Neither good nor bad, but I noticed the lights at Nationals Park were much whiter and brighter and any other MLB park I have attended.

The point of that story (besides it being awesome) is that our personal experiences will inevitably color how we feel about the places we visit. Visiting Rome is the delight of a lifetime, a place soaked in history. But if you went once and got pick-pocketed or had to sit through two rainy days, you won’t remember Rome with the same joy as a regular visitor.

Let that fact act as a disclaimer for all my travel reviews and eventual ballpark rankings. If I am lucky, I get to spend a few days in a city or a three-game series in a park. Mostly, though, it’s one day or one game. My impressions of a place will naturally be colored personal experience or the conditions on a certain day. I went to DC on a beautiful, mild day, in a great mood and surrounded by Pirates fans. All before a guy gave me 20 bucks.

All that being said, I really liked Nationals Park. It has a modern look: steel, concrete and glass are the motif as it mimics DC’s monuments. A red-brick park would look out of place. Concourses are wide. Concessions are plentiful. Views of the field are splendid all over. A guy gave me 20 bucks.

The ballpark experience was sandwiched by a pre- and post-game jaunt to The Half Street Fairgrounds, just beyond the center field gate. The party noise is unmistakable as you exit the Navy Yard Metro station and pass by the fairgrounds. Step inside. On one side, a live band plays cover music and entertains. On another side, rows of beer stands ensure you don’t head in the park thirsty. On another, teams of amateur cornholers “toss their sacks around,” as the kids say. With temperatures mercifully in the low 80’s, sitting in the sun with a pre-game beer could not have been more pleasant.

The one real negative: this is a ballpark that could very easily have a terrific view. If it pointed directly north, unobstructed, it could feature a backdrop of the U.S. Capitol building and other DC buildings. Instead, the team built (to be fair, necessary) parking garages that dominate views from the lower decks of seats. The sections and decks in the park are fragmented as well, and the upper deck is pushed too high by the luxury suites and club level. It results in a park that feels much bigger and broken up than a 42,000-seater should.

However, if you’re living in a mid-Atlantic state and have not attended the six-year-old ballpark, it is well worth it. My dad and I combined an afternoon of sightseeing at the National Air and Space Museum (awesome) and National Museum of the American Indian (beautiful but meh) with an evening game. I can’t think of many better ways to spend a day.

Some Newbie Tips

Half Street Fairgrounds The Bullpen

The Half Street Fairgrounds attract a large crowd on Friday nights.

Do plan to arrive early and stay after if you are taking the Metro. Nationals Park scores huge points with me by being located less than a block from a subway stop. DC’s Metro is clean and reliable; I even saw one Pirates player taking it after Friday’s game. However, the trains can get crowded just before and after Nats games. Stop and hang around the aforementioned Half Street Fairgrounds for a post-game drink (shout-out to @ndbrian for the invite). Take heed: if you are leaving a Sunday-to-Thursday game, get on the train by 11:20 p.m. so you can make your return trip before the system shuts down.

Don’t be afraid to wear your team colors proudly. Nationals fans must be accustomed to seeing visiting fans infiltrate their ballpark. The DC area has a lot of transplants, and out-of-towners from Pittsburgh, New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore can make a quick pilgrimage for games. Our section enjoyed many loud (though not obnoxious) Pirates fans, and the home supporters did not really hassle us.

Do consider buying the Beltway Burger Pack if you go on a Thursday or Friday. For $29 or $33 (based on if the Nationals call it a “prime game”), you get an outfield ticket along with a burger, fries and soft drink. Normally, the ticket is $26 and the collection of food is $19. I like to seek out unique food options at a ballpark, but I couldn’t resist this value. Be warned, though, if your seat with the package is in right field…

Don’t sit in sections 138 to 143 if you want to see the scoreboard. In any ballpark, there are seats that force you to crane your neck around to see the video board. But Nationals Park has two decks of seating in right field below their board; if you sit in the lower deck, you are simply blocked entirely from seeing it. I am fine not having a video board to watch (Wrigley lacks one, and people don’t seem to mind), but Nationals Park’s is high-definition and stunning. My dad called it the best he has ever seen.

You will really enjoy a trip to Nationals Park, especially as buildings continue to spring up in the Navy Yard area and create more things to do before and after the game.

In conclusion, a guy bought a crappy Nationals cap from me for 20 bucks.

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