A Nation’s Pastime

It seems difficult to imagine our national pastime without a team in our nation’s capital. Yet for over 30 years, Major League Baseball ceased to exist in Washington.

The second version of the Washington Senators moved to Texas after the 1971 season, and it wouldn’t be until the 2005 season that MLB would return to Washington. When the Montreal Expos relocated and became the Nationals.

For three years, the Nationals played their games at RFK Stadium. Which was also the home of the second Washington Senators from 1962 to 1971.  RFK was the first stadium to employ the “cookie cutter” design.  Cookie cutter stadiums soon began popping up all over the place.  Stadiums that were designed to be able to host both baseball and football, as well as a plethora of other events.  Some of RFK’s most notable primary tenants throughout its history were the NFL’s Washington Redskins from 1961-1996, MLS’ D.C. United from 1996-2017, and the Nationals from 2005-2007.

RFK Stadium was the Nationals temporary home until Nationals Park was completed.

I actually did see a baseball game at RFK. In 2006, my family and I went to a game on our vacation to Washington.  So far, RFK is the only stadium I have been to for a MLB game that no longer hosts MLB games.  For a cookie cutter stadium, RFK was respectable.  That may be the reason it still stands despite the cookie cutters that came after being all gone. (Looking at you, Philly, Pittsburgh, Cincy, Atlanta, and the rest)

My brother and I at RFK Stadium, 2006.

I am here to talk about Nationals Park, which is a true baseball park. I visited Nationals Park for two games in August of 2015, during the first leg of my first ever ballpark tour. Assuming your staying for a vacation, the best way to get to the ballpark is by the Metro.  Take the green line train to Navy Yard-Ballpark station and hop off there. The ballpark is a block away and you will likely enter the ballpark through the center field gates. If you do not prefer taking a train, I still highly recommend taking public transportation to save yourself the stress of D.C. traffic and having to find a parking space near the ballpark.

To be completely honest, I did not really know what to expect out of Nationals Park. I think that may be why I was so impressed by it. There are better ballparks out there. If you have read my other blogs, you know I am in love with PNC Park in Pittsburgh. But make no mistake. Nationals Park holds its own, easily. It’s barely a decade old, but it has plenty of tradition already (no I don’t mean the Nationals constant playoff chokes in the 2010s).

Sunsets and baseball go hand in hand.

The biggest thing I remember about Nationals Park was the atmosphere. Even for a game in mid-August, the ballpark had a really solid atmosphere. There really is not a bad seat anywhere in the park. Seating is also split fairly evenly between the upper and lower level. Throughout the ballpark, you will find panoramic views of some Washington’s most notable sites. These include the Navy Yard, US Capitol, and Washington Monument.

A beautiful night for baseball in the nation’s capital.

You will find plenty of history about Washington baseball throughout, too.  There’s the PNC Diamond Club, a baseball inspired restaurant that honors the history of baseball in the nation’s capital.  While the Homestead Greys Bar pays respect to the history of the Negro Leagues in Washington. There is also a ring of honor to honor both past Washington Senators and Homestead Greys (Negro Leagues). If you aren’t feeling a restaurant or bar, there are plenty of other food choices to discover around the park.

Perhaps the most entertaining thing you will see at a Nationals game is the Presidents Race. In the middle of the fourth inning of every game, former US presidents with giant foam caricature heads race for bragging rights.

The four primary racing presidents are the ones you will find on Mount Rushmore (George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt, in case you forgot what you learned in your US history classes). William Howard Taft raced (lol) from 2013-2016, Calvin Coolidge in 2015, and Herbert Hoover in 2016. Taft, Coolidge, and Hoover now race at Spring Training games in West Palm Beach, Florida.

In 2017, the race returned to the original four presidents featured on Mount Rushmore.  Perhaps the most well known fact about the Presidents Race is the struggles of Teddy Roosevelt. You went 525 races before finally winning on October 3, 2012.

The Presidents Race in 2012. Teddy Roosevelt has had better efforts.

While Nationals Park makes sure to honor the past, make no mistake, it has the latest in ballpark technology.  In right-center field, you will find a 4,500 square foot high definition scoreboard and over 600 linear feet of LED ribbon board along the inner bowl fascia.  Thanks to the latest and greatest technology, fans are able to always have a memorable experience.

Nationals Park scoreboard in action.

What might be a little known fact about Nationals Park is it was the first major stadium in the US to accredited as a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Structure. The ballpark is actually so environmentally friendly it surpassed the exceptions a building must meet to be consider a Green Building. It even received Silver Status from the United States Green Building Council.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my experience at Nationals Park for the two games I attended.  Hopefully one day I will be able to make it back.  Maybe it will be included on a mid atlantic ballpark trip some day.  After all, Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York are all fairly close to one another. I hope you find your experience at Nationals Park to be as pleasant as mine.

-Evan Lewis

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