Grading Nationals Park

In 2003, ESPN Page 2 conducted an unscientific survey of all the ballparks in the major leagues. I used the same criteria to evaluate RFK Stadium in 2005 and then again after it was “re-opened” by the Lerner group when they bought the team in 2006. After three visits to the new Nationals Park, I have used those same metrics to see how it fares:

1. Access:
One Metro line stops within a block of the main entrance. Parking is scarcer than RFK, but available online and from one I have seen, readily available. There is also free parking at RFK with a shuttle to the game. All reports indicate that each of these options performs well. For me, a Metro rider, it takes me less time than traveling to RFK. 4

2. Exterior architecture:

The stadium isn’t the same brick template as almost every other new park. It blends in with the federal architecture fairly well, but doesn’t wow factor of the very best parks. The Capitol dome and Washington Monument are visible from many seats, but an office building, ironically developed by the team ownership before the ballpark site was selected, eliminates the view from many seats. Without that hindrance, there would be another point in this rating. 4

3. Interior architecture:

The blue seats are a nice departure from the green that almost every ballpark built in the last twenty years. I’m not sure about the two red features, the press box and “red porch” area, but it isn’t horrible. The structural steel is painted gray, which is kind of bland. If that were a different color, like blue or red, the park would look better.

The concourses are sufficiently wide, though getting between some parts of the stadium is difficult and requires changing levels.3.5

4. Ticket prices and availability:
Tickets are readily available. They cost more than RFK, but some of the cheapest seats have the best capitol dome views. 3.5

5. Seat comfort:
Blue plastic seats are better than yellow wooden ones. They are aimed the right direction too. Having cupholders is also a welcome change. 4.5

6. Quality of hot dogs:
The Gwantley hot dogs are tasty, but not memorable. They don’t give me heartburn like the RFK dogs did though. I prefer the half-smokes anyway. 4

7. Quality/selection of concession-stand fare:
This is one of the best parts about Nationals Park, the food. Many local/regional vendors have set up shop. Ben’s Chili Bowl half-smokes are available just about anywhere you can buy hot dogs. Five Guys has a stand, as does Hard Times Cafe and Red Hot and Blue. Gifford’s, a local chain, is the ice cream vendor. The time spent in line still leaves something to be desired, so I am docking a point.4

8. Signature concession item:
Ben’s Chili Bowl half-smokes! Philly has cheesesteaks, D.C. has half-smokes. You can get them anywhere in the park too. I haven not tried the Curly W pretzels yet, but I get the feeling they could be executed a little better. 5

9. Beer:
The beer situation is actually a step back from RFK. Good luck trying to find something other than a macrobrew without a lot of hunting. 2.5

10. Bathrooms:

There are more of them, but they are not well designed for traffic flow. I asked a few women how the are and they respnded that they had improved, but one suggested that changing tables should be in the regular bathrooms and not just the family bathrooms.3.5

11. Scoreboard:
The HD Screen is huge with clear pictures of the game, but the operation leaves something to be desired at times. This really should be a 5, but early season problems knocks off 1/2 a point. 4.5

12. Quality of public address system:
A p.a. you can understand? How unlike RFK Stadium. They don’t overdue the loud music like other sporting events though, something I did not expect. 4.5

13. Fun stuff to do besides the game:
There is a plenty to do — video games, Build-A-Bear, speed pitch, playground, etc. I’m not there for that though. 4

14. Price/selection of baseball souvenirs:
Expensive, but more expansive than RFK. Had I been able to find a newborn onesie, this would have been a 4.5. 4

15. Friendliness/helpfulness of usher stuff:
There is a concerted effort not to be like the ushers in RFK. 4

16. Trading-up factor:
New park and higher prices means trading up is harder, but also less necessary. 3

17. Knowledge of local fans:
Anybody at a Nats game the last few years has been a true fan. 4

18. Seventh-inning stretch:
The Nats Pack leads in the singing of Take Me Out to the Ballgame. Instead of playing “Heart” from Damn Yankees, they play Otis Day & The Knights Shout, a poor decision that costs a point. Chuck Brown’s “Bustin’ Loose” for home runs adds a token point. 3

19. Pre-and-postgame bar-and-restaurant scene:
There is none whatsoever, but that will change in the next couple of years in a big way. 1

20. Wild card: Racing presidents adds 4 points, one for each. The commitment to find local/regional vendors for food adds another 5. Getting the park built on schedule adds 1. Trying to do something different with the design adds 1.

TOTAL POINTS: 81.5

That is a 10.5 upgrade from 2005 RFK Stadium, tying it with Fenway Park in Boston and Safeco Field in Seattle. Within a few years, the grade should improve with the massive redevelopment of the neighborhood, statues of D.C. baseball greats around the ballpark perimeter, docks on the Anacostia River for water taxis and other boaters. Minor changes like beer selection can easily add a few points too. The park could max out close to 90 points if 20 M Street S.E. (a building ironically developed by the owners of the team) is knocked down, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

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