With the pre-season World Series favorite (lol) Washington Nationals blowing yet another game against my Mets and falling six games behind in the division race, I figured now was as good a time as any to throw some gasoline on the Nationals dumpster fire and list the worst parts about a day at the ballpark in Washington.
Here are the eight worst aspects of Nationals Park:
8. The hideous statues on the concourse
Commissioning statues of former Washington baseball stars to decorate the concourse was a fine idea. Trying to convey the fluid movements of the sport in a stationary structure was not.
7. The PNC Diamond Club
The PNC Diamond Club encompasses most of the premier seating sections behind home plate. But the real draw of these tickets has nothing to do with watching baseball. The attached luxury lounge on the concourse level offers a complimentary buffet and bar, plus that sweet air of exclusivity that Washington’s wealthiest can’t do without. The lounge features numerous screens that allow Diamond Club ticket holders to watch the game in air-conditioned comfort, which means there’s little incentive for them to actually sit in the ballpark among the commoners. Practically, this means the most visible section of the stadium is always at least half-empty, an optical blunder that looks especially bad on television.
6. The president race
Talk about a gimmick. The fact that the presidential race is by far the most popular part of the Nationals Park experience speaks volumes about how little this fanbase cares about baseball. It would be one thing to watch people in oversized mascot suits actually racing against one another; you could at least gamble on that, and laugh when they fall. But the worst part about the mascot race is that it’s staged. The winner is pre-determined; it’s not even a race, it’s just a cartoon. Plus, they stole the whole concept from the Milwaukee Brewers, who do a similar sausage mascot race. Nothing about the Nationals or their stadium is unique.
5. The location
It’s better than RFK or the suburbs, but that’s not saying much. The Navy Yard neighborhood is improving (they have a great new CVS by the Metro!) but it’s still an urban desert with a paucity of appealing post-game bars and restaurants.
4. The inexcusably shitty sightlines
So the location of the stadium isn’t ideal for fans, but it is ideal for creating captivating sightlines. It’s built right along the Anacostia River, not far from the iconic Washington Monument and Capitol Dome. There’s so much to work with. When you’re in Busch Stadium in St. Louis, you see the Gateway Arch from every angle. When you’re in AT&T Park in San Francisco, the bay is a central part of the experience. And yet, inexplicably and inexcusably, Nats Park makes use of none of its nearby scenery. The river is an afterthought; the dome is blocked by condos and a parking garage. A parking garage draped in a Geico ad. That is the defining visual characteristic of Nats Park. A parking garage draped in a Geico ad. Nicely done, Washington Convention and Sports Authority.
3. The generic design
Over the last twenty or so years, baseball stadium architecture has flourished. Nowadays, when a team builds a new park, they do it right, crafting a unique venue with a range of amenities that befits the city in which it stands. Places like PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Camden Yards in Baltimore, Safeco Field in Seattle, and Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati are shrines to baseball and attractive additions to their cities. But Nationals Park, built in 2008, is just one big hunk of concrete and steel, like RFK before it. It is the office building of ballparks. It is generic and boring, devoid of any defining features. In that way, it really is the perfect park for this team.
They don’t make it easy to flee Nationals Park. Unless you live in nearby Capitol Hill or Southwest DC, you can’t very well walk anywhere. And if you drove, forget about it, you’ll be sitting there in traffic for at least an hour. Ditto with Uber or a cab or a bus. So that leaves the Metro, which becomes an enormous clusterfuck on game nights, even by Metro’s standards. On many occasions, the Nationals have refused to pay for additional Metro service to accommodate the mass of fans who need to get home after the game. So you get thousands upon thousands of people trying to cram onto the platform and get onto the one Green Line train that runs every twenty minutes. Then, with all the suburbanites transferring to the Red and Orange lines, the Chinatown and Metro Center stations become disasters too. Metro and the Nats: a match made in hell.
1. The “fans”
Washington is full of passionate baseball fans who understand and appreciate the subtle grandeur of America’s pastime. Then there are also a bunch of Nats “fans.” Outside of the Florida and Arizona teams, the Nationals probably have the most apathetic, uninformed fanbase in baseball. Such is the product of a transient city with an uninspiring expansion team. People didn’t grow up with this club; the real baseball fans from the DMV pledged their allegiance to the Orioles or Braves or Yankees long ago. And the people who move here already have their team. So there isn’t a lot of passion to go around, which makes the team’s whole #natitude campaign pretty ridiculous. Fans of the Nationals’ opponents routinely embarrass the home team by taking over the stadium with their superior energy and enthusiasm for their team (my Orioles buddy calls Nats Park Camden South). It doesn’t matter if it’s a crucial game either; just two days ago, after another loss to the Mets, Bryce Harper and Jonathan Papelbon blasted their own fans for leaving the stadium before the game was over.
Most Nats “fans” just aren’t that into the sport; they’re not real baseball fans. They don’t know who’s on the other team or who leads the AL West. Baseball is not why they came to the park. They’re there because they’re on a date or at an obligatory work outing. They’re there to be outside on a nice summer day. For many of them, the food is a bigger draw than the game. Shake Shack and Ben’s Chili Bowl elicit more excitement than Max Scherzer and Bryce Harper. Many of the “fans” don’t even pay attention. You’ll find a number of people reading in the ballpark. Or knitting. Or doing their math homework. There are even people doing their taxes! Sure, they’ll look up for the president race. Just don’t ask Nats “fans” to sit through three hours of boring old baseball.
In conclusion: long live the Expos and go Mets.