August 1, 2019
This week's non-Mariners road trip began with two games at Nationals Park in Washington, DC. Both games were against the Atlanta Braves and both were won by the visitors, though the home Nats did make things interesting at the end of the contests.
Some thoughts on Nationals Park as a facility:
- For a 40,000+ capacity stadium, it feels smaller and more intimate than other big-league ballparks. I'm not sure why this is, exactly, but the layout and tiers of the seating are much different than what we're accustomed to at the ballpark by Elliott Bay and overall I think it works well. There is a separate pavilion in right field disconnected from the rest of the upper and middle tiers that provides lower cost seating that doesn't feel so distant from the action, and the "standard" upper deck feels closer to the field than similar seats in Seattle do. There are no tunnels to the seating area, access to aisleways is from concourses open to the field on each level. Even in the upper levels there are comfortable standing room areas with countertops and picnic-style table seating with at least a partial view of the game. Concession stands are situated smartly to avoid the sort of bottlenecks prevalent at Mariner games on both the lower and upper decks. Quite a well-considered design in terms of visibility and open, walkable space. There are also a number of comfortable gathering areas along the outfield concourses and on the upper right field pavilion that rival or exceed the similar areas at TMP.
- Conversely, there's one huge drawback to the seating layout: one cannot traverse the lower bowl all the way 'round unless you hold a special club ticket. In fact, one must go up and down the various tiers to make a circuit of the park and the sheer percentage of real estate devoted to exclusive, expensive, no-riffraff-allowed havens for the one percent and corporate bigwigs is disturbing. The entirety of the lower bowl between the infield edge of the dugouts is either the "PNC Diamond Club" or the "Delta Sky Club." This is in addition to the majority of the second tier, which is split between luxury suites above and a club level below like most ballparks, including Seattle's, have these days; there are more rows of seats in this level than is standard, however. All told, it at least appears that a much more significant percentage of the overall capacity is segregated for the hoity-toity and the inability to circle the park on any one level without hoity-toity tickets in hand is a disappointment.
- No matter how well the seating is designed and the view of the game is, the view beyond the field basically sucks. This is just because of where the land is; the orientation of the field has to be more or less how it is, with home plate at a southwesterly position as is traditional/practical, meaning the rest of the city is off to the first-base side and there's basically nothing to look at beyond the outfield where the stadium opens up except for parking garages and construction sites.
- Like Seattle's situation, when the park was conceived, the available land was at the edge of downtown in largely industrial area. Though there has been and continues to be commercial development in the area along one half of the stadium, the other half is across the street from a sewage treatment facility and drab industrial buildings near the Navy yards. The exterior in general has a rather blah, unattractive appearance of beige stone and gray metal. The home-plate entry is, of course, restricted to the rich folk and it faces away from the city, but that is nevertheless where the statuary and history of Washington baseball plaques and such are placed. That sort of thing would be seen by far more people and perhaps better appreciated on the opposite side of things, where most people enter the park.
The Nationals have little in their brief history to commemorate, but Washington teams of the past are acknowledged with statues of Negro Leaguer Josh Gibson, original Washington Senator Walter Johnson, and expansion Senator Frank Howard.
- The concession fare is pretty standard, though there are a few local touches (Ben's Chili Bowl, Chesapeake Crab Cake Co., Hank's Oyster Bar), and everything is as overpriced as in every other MLB park. I had pizza and soft-serve ice cream. One sign of the times that I found supremely annoying was that the majority of stands did not accept cash. "Is there no one here who will take my actual money?!"
As for the games, Atlanta was running away with the first one, leading at one point 9-0, but the home squad fought back and eventually brought the tying run to the on-deck circle in the bottom of the ninth before finally succumbing in a nearly four-hour contest. The next afternoon also saw the Nats come back from a deficit, tying the game in the ninth and sending it to extras; the Washington closer, Sean Doolittle, gave up the go-ahead run right away, though, and the Braves took it in 10 frames. Of course, the Nats' bullpen is lacking, which is why they made the trade with the Mariners that afternoon for Roenis Elías and Hunter Strickland.
On the whole, I rate Nationals Park pretty well—better than TMP in some ways, lesser in others. Tomorrow night we're in Philadelphia and Citizen's Bank Park, a corporately-sponsored facility that looks interesting on TV. How will it look up close and personal?