Monday, April 14, 2008

Friday, April 11 (Braves 3, Nationals 0)

First trip to the new stadium: WOW! Exiting Metro for a 100-yard walk along Half St, what a great entrance. Much better entrance aesthetic than the three other "new" parks I've been to in the last couple of years (AT&T in San Francisco, Citizen's Bank Park in Philly, OPCY, US Cellular or whatever they call the new Comiskey). Large, open concourse, looking right down onto the field, lots of open space, and the cool round electronic logo.

Quick spin around the lower level -- love the variety of food, LOVE the wide spaces, no lines for bathrooms, lower level spaces are open enough to let the sound out, very well done.

So RAVE #1: Look and feel. It's a beautiful park, terrific proportions and coloring, and feels instantly comfortable. The seats are gorgeous (is there such a thing as Nationals Blue?) and acquire a shimmer as they catch the setting sun. There are "picnic" tables set up inside the park in lots of places. As a Nationals fan, I'm happy and proud.

RAVE #2: Metro. I've read little positive about the Metro experience to and from the game, but we had a very positive experience in both directions. We got there super early to check out the stadium and catch batting practice (a lot of fun) with no problems on Metro. On the way home, we were crowded but steady going into the Navy Yard station, and got on the first train out. At Gallery Place, we ran into a zillion Caps fans (coming off a 5-4 win...YES!) and still got onto the first Red Line toward Shady Grove.

RANT #1: Cost. If we're not the target audience, then I don't know who is: DC residents, family of four, two boys aged 9 and 12 who love baseball in general and the Nationals in particular. Generally attended RFK 5-10 times per year (Dad -- me -- went a few more times). Our price for four seats in the the right field bleachers ... $161.50. Are you kidding? Yes, I know they're not just benches but seats, I know they have cup holders, blah, blah, blah. (They have a lot of problems too, see below rant on signage and comment on sight lines.) Want a sandwich from Red Hot & Blue -- $10, $12.50 with potato salad. 3 Budweisers: $22.50. We're prepared for some inflation, we're prepared to suspend credibility, etc. but we ARE NOT PREPARED TO BE TREATED LIKE IDIOTS. No wonder the stadium is basically empty -- believe me, 28K paid (maybe 3/4 of them showed) on a beautiful April evening against a divisional opponent counts as empty. We'll go maybe another time or two, tops.

RANT #2: Signage. Buying the tickets for this game, I went with the outfield to keep four tickets below $200 while staying out of the clouds. I took row E in right field rather than row H in left field because, well, we were three rows closer. What you cannot realize from the seating pages is that sections 140-143 CANNOT SEE THE SCOREBOARD. Well, OK, we'll follow the game from the secondary scoreboards around the stadium...NOT. First, there's hardly any information: the traditional 10-inning score with cumulative runs-hits-errors is compressed into the current score. The current batter name and stats have headings so small and poorly-designed (yellow on red?) that's it hard to figure them out. (This wasn't helped by Guzman's posted stats, in which his BA was higher than OBP, which I suspect can occur but I can't quite figure out how!). And the rest of the space is used for ... ads, yes, the same single ad repeated three times. So the information is displayed in one quarter of the space, while the same ad is repeated three times in the other three quarters. (Believe me, I will never never never visit

RANT #3: empty seats behind the plate. It looks bad on TV, but even worse in person: the $100 and $300 seats behind home plate are virtually EMPTY. Washington and the Nationals will never be taken seriously if they cannot get people into those seats. If anyone reading this is a friend of Stan K, beg him to give those seats away. How about randomly selecting a row in each of two other sections and moving people up after the 3rd inning? You'll earn loyalty, look good, and some of those folks will buy in the pricier areas.

COMMENT #1: parking lots. Anyone can see that the above-ground parking lots are basically an architectural disaster. They're ugly, cut off what could be great views of the water and the surrounding development, and have all the ambience of an exurban office park. However, the Nationals do a pretty good job of hiding them from the inside of the park with large panels (a couple of which are blank, gotta get on that advertising sales staff!), and letting them frame the view of the field from the outside. It is a shame that the Nationals chose to buck the current trend toward more interesting architecture that's showing up everywhere else in the city in favor of building with all the pizazz of oatmeal.

COMMENT #2: sight lines. In many places, I've read that the sight lines are wonderful and that the design of the park yields an intimate baseball experience. Compared to RFK, sure, but even my affection for that pile of concrete can't stop me from pointing out that it well may be the worst venue for baseball that I've ever seen. From section 142, the sight lines at Nationals Park are adequate at best, and inferior to the outfield sight lines at AT&T or OPCY. Intimate? Sorry, no. This isn't a rant yet, because I was too lazy to climb up to the upper level behind the plate and check out the view, but it's the least intimate of the fields I mentioned above. The same design that leads to the open and airy feel also pushes the fans farther away. For our next game, we'll likely try the upper sections somewhere between 1st and 3rd, and I can compare those to similar seats in Chicago and Philly.

Happily, I can work around most of the problems -- buy seats with a scoreboard view, move into better seats, bring a sandwich from Subway, etc. It's a beautiful stadium, I loved being there, and the memories started right away when my 9-year-old got a ball on his birthday.

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