Have a baseball road trip coming up? Well, in a bid to help you with your upcoming journeys, Big League Stew has solicited the help of the locals. Over the next month or so, we'll be hitting up our usual guest blogger crew to feature 10 tips for enjoying each of the 30 ballparks like the locals do. Have a suggestion in addition to the ones listed here? Make sure to list it in the comments below.
Our next tour guides hail from The Nationals Archive, one of the best new baseball blogs on the block. They'll steer you in the right direction on your next trip to D.C.
There's a misconception that politics forms the heart of the District of Columbia. That's not true. Sports are the city's lifeblood. Listen to the conversations at Eastern Market in Southeast and you'll agree. A popular saying in D.C. is that the President of the United States is the second most important person in the Nation's Capital; the first is the starting quarterback of the Washington Redskins. Enter the Washington Nationals, who are working to bump the President to third or fourth behind the staff ace and the starting left fielder.
A welcome addition to the District since 2005, the Washington Nationals are on the rise in the hearts and minds of Washingtonians. With a successful 2012 under their belts, a dynamic core of players under team control for several years, a convenient new ballpark that's revitalized a section of town in need of some love, and ownership driven to win, the Nats are determined to make their move now. There's no liberal and conservative politics here; just a bipartisan motion for good baseball.
Nationals Park is a special place to Washingtonians, as well as folks from neighboring Virginia and Maryland. While most Nats fans just started cheering for their new home team in 2005 or later, people here have been baseball fans their entire lives. Ever since the Senators left (twice), Washington existed as a baseball town without a baseball team. The Nationals bring together a unique set of fans to Nats Park — old Senators fans, former (and current) Orioles fans, and transplants who moved to the DC area for work who fell in love with the charm of their new home team. Today, we are all Nats fans.
With that in mind, it's a great time to be a baseball fan in D.C. Though we know you'd have a great time at Nationals Park no matter the circumstance, there are a few tips that will make your visit smoother. To use the local lingo: Don't get filibustered by a deficit of information, instead use these best practices to cut the red tape and make the most of your experience.
1. Tickets, please: So you find yourself with cobwebs in your wallet but the desire to go see some great ball at a great stadium in our nation’s capital. You have people telling you “…these days it’s just so expensive to go see a baseball game.” These people can go pound sand. We know how to see a game on a tiny budget equal to what your kid may make on allowance.
If you are putting together a large group to go, you will want to purchase about a week out and no sooner or later. This will ensure you will sit with each other while not paying the premium price. In all of this, being a risk taker comes with the territory. Seeing a game with a few of your close friends for cheap means you’ll need to buy the tickets either the day before or day of. Ticket prices hit a 50 percent markdown across the board the closer you are to the game. StubHub and Craigslist are your friends as tickets are dumped at nice low prices with also the assurance that you get the ticket electronically transferred to you rather than a dark alley ticket transfer which we all have experienced, right? Also remember there are times when tickets are $1 and $2 on the Nationals tickets site (usually for Monday and Tuesday games).
You have your $8 ticket in hand and now need to eat and drink. A little known fact is you can bring in food to Nats Park including peanuts. Make your PB & J and head on in. If you are the type that must have a beer in the proximity of time to the game, pregame at the Fairgrounds which is located outside of the center field entrance. There you can pick up drinks for cheaper than in the park while still tending to your drinking needs. Last but not least, sign up with the Nationals newsletter in order to get the inside scoop on promotions like $5 Beer and Peanuts Night as well as others.
2. Getting There (Part 1): Some people prefer to get to the ballpark on the Metro. The advantages of taking the Metro are that you don’t have to deal with DC traffic, and you can tweet your selfies while commuting. Parking is available at most of the suburban Metro stops (although garages fill early on weekdays). For first-timers, the pay kiosks can be quite confusing, and the Metro employees can be especially disdainful. I highly recommend searching for “How to Use DC Metro” on YouTube, and studying up before you embark on your trip. Allow at least an hour from the farther stations.
Nationals Park is just a two block walk from the Navy Yard station on the green line. Friendly policemen will be at the top of the escalator to point you in the right direction. Getting to Nats Park is easy — if you get lost, just follow all the red shirts and Curly W hats. It’s leaving Nats Park that is the hard part. Having 20,000 people funnel into a subway train can be overwhelming.
3. Getting There (Part 2): If you’ve attempted to park your own vehicle at any stadium anywhere ever you have probably come across a familiar parking setup: the closer lots are more expensive and generally more secure than the facilities in further proximity to the park itself. I call this the Parking Cyclone of Doom (dun dun dunnn), where the closer you are to the diamond the quicker and more violently your money is torn from your pockets.
Exhibit A, from Nationals.com:
May God help your soul if you’re going to a “prime” matchup. That’s why, more often than not, I take the Metro. But sometimes you just need to have your car. Keep in mind that this isn’t a knock on the Nats, but rather commentary on stadium parking everywhere. Because if you’ve ever been to FedEx Field (home of DC’s football franchise) you’ll probably never complain about paying to park at Nats Park ever again.
If you show up early enough (1-2 hours prior to the Anthem, I’d say) you’ll usually find parking in the construction lots across South Capitol street, west of the park. Keep in mind that these lots are constantly changing, as is the nature of construction sites, but they are free. If you find yourself on the north side of the Park, head down M Street. like you’re going to Lot W and poke around on the side streets. Street parking is easier to come by up there, if you don’t mind the walk. Which you don’t, because you’re going to need every spare calorie you can find to combat the beer and ballpark food baby you’ll soon encounter.
4. Adults get to play in the neighborhood: Nationals Park was built in the Navy Yard section of Washington D.C. with the intent of livening up that area with new businesses and living spaces. Progress report: It's still in the development stages.
Apartment buildings are being built and businesses are finally looking at Nats Park as an opportunity rather than a dead spot now that the home team finally enjoyed a taste of success in 2012. Today, there are only two bars a couple blocks away from the stadium: Justin’s Café and Gordon Biersch. Sometime this year, The Yards Boilermaker Shops is due to open and will include: Nando’s Peri Peri, Buzz Bakery, Bluejacket Brewery, and Willie’s Brew and Que.
The main attraction at the moment isn’t the most beautiful thing in the world but if you miss/love college tailgates, this is right up your alley. The Half Street Fairgrounds is an adult (21+) open-air hangout located across from the Centerfield Gate and spans the length of Half Street. Beer and food prices are much cheaper in the Fairgrounds than in the stadium, which makes it a hot spot for a pregame or postgame meet up. There are at least 20 cornhole sets which anyone can just jump on and play. All guests are treated to a live band (usually a cover band and usually good, emphasis on “usually”) before and after the game. And this year, DC food trucks have been inside the Fairgrounds to add some variety to the menu (ex. El Farolito, Jetties, and Surfside).
Until the area around Nats Park develops fully, it will remain adult-oriented in terms of entertainment. There are a limited number of options at the moment, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time before and after the game. So if you’re over 21 and aren’t catching the game with the kids, before you enter the park, you should check out the bars or the Fairgrounds. And if the kids are tagging along? Well you might just want to get into the stadium as soon as possible since I don’t think you can legally tie your kid up to a sign post while you grab a cold one.
5. Ballpark food: There is a rumor going around that Nats Park has the most expensive beer in the majors. This may or may not be true, depending on how you word this statement. Yes, the average price of a beer is highest at Nats Park, but that is because they (on average) sell the largest beers. The average beer goes for $8.25, which is pretty high. But it is possible to get a beer from $6.50 to $10. Remember that your souvenir cup is allowed on the Metro, as long as your beverage has already been consumed.
There are several good choices for food. For a long time, Ben’s Chili Bowl was the big name in town, serving up chili dogs that are a Nats Park legend. If this is your first and only trip to Nats Park, you might want to try these just for the tradition. Recently the Shake Shack has opened, giving fans a new favorite spot for burgers. But beware, the Shake Shack line can be long. It’s best to go before the game starts, or you could spend an entire inning or two waiting in line. Nats Park is very friendly for vegetarian and healthy options. There are also gluten-free options, including an entire Gluten Free booth at section 136. This was probably to appease a certain bearded, gluten-free outfielder.
6. Where to sit?: Nationals Park offers a number of options when it comes to how you want to watch the game. Want to surround yourself with passionate fans who can tell you Denard Span’s current OBP or how phenom Anthony Rendon performed in the minors last night? Check out the outfield reserved sections. Depending on the game, tickets can range from $25-$40 and you can be assured no one will try to leave in the 7th inning or heaven forbid, start the wave.
The left field corner is also a favorite. Great fans and great view, and who knows...maybe Bryce Harper will toss you a ball.
If you’re in the mood for a more social scene, consider grabbing a $5 grandstand ticket, on sale two and a half hours before the game. Then head to the Red Loft in centerfield where the beer is flowing and the tabletops are plentiful.
Remember, when purchasing any kind of tickets these days, StubHub and Craigslist can be your friends. Since the Nats use e-tickets, gone are the days of trying to meet up with someone in person to make an exchange. Now, it’s a simple Paypal transaction and instant download. As for Stubhub, check up until the cut-off — two hours before game time. A number of times, I’ve been able to purchase baseline box seats (basically on top of the field, you can smell the dirt and grass) for $40 or less.
Pro tip:Avoid right field at all costs for day games in the summer. No shade and a brutal sun will send you up to the Red Loft in no time.
7. The Racing Presidents: Beginning in its current form in July 2006, ballpark visitors have been treated to a fourth inning race of gigantic foam-headed anthropomorphic presidential caricatures. The combatants: George Washington (154 wins since inception), Thomas Jefferson (155), Abraham Lincoln (214), Teddy Roosevelt (4), Jayson Werth (1, no kidding), and beginning in 2013, William Howard “Bill” Taft (0). Though most often a sprint from the outfield warning track to the first base line, the race will sometimes resemble something more like gladiatorial combat. Other DC mascots, and occasionally national luminaries such as the Philly Phanatic, Mr. Kool Aid, and Iron-man (one of those is not true), will disrupt the race, sometimes with graphic violence. You may want to shield your children’s eyes for these parts.
These five constitutionally mandated mascots have become a celebrity institution extending past the park boundaries, appearing almost everywhere from the White House Easter Egg roll to Mount Rushmore. In fact, during Teddy Roosevelt’s infamous losing streak, the White House itself issued a statement condemning the so-called conspiracy against the Rough Rider.
It’s silly. It’s meaningless. It’s not baseball, really. But it’s a fun promotion that is guaranteed to get your heart pumping just a little bit faster. Believe us, it’s true. If you don’t believe us, check out the blog dedicated to the Racing Presidents. Even Fox Sports writer Ken Rosenthal is campaigning to race with the Presidents.
For the kids, or for those of us who are kids at heart: If you get to Nationals Park early enough, you can often find the Racing Presidents filibustering about by the centerfield gate. There are few things in this life as thrilling as fist bumping a walking presidential caricature.
8. Act like you’ve been there before: Although it’s tough to create cherished traditions in only five years of existence (eight years if you count the RFK years), Nationals Park does have a few. Familiarize yourself with these helpful tips and you’ll be able to “Ignite your Natitude” and pretend you’ve been there since the days back at RFK.
If you go to a game over Memorial Day weekend or on the 4th of July, expect the Nats to honor the troops by wearing their patriotic red, white and blue jerseys. It’s also typical for high ranking members of the military or wounded warriors to throw out the first pitch on any given day.
In 2010, before fans were Igniting their Natitude, fan favorite slugger Mike Morse starting using the A-Ha’s 1980s pop classic “Take On Me” as his walk-up song. During the 2012 NL East Division Championship season, this song became a Nationals’ battle cry when it was played late in the game. After Morse was traded to Seattle, the sacred tune was brought back by popular demand as the seventh inning stretch song. In case you didn’t know, the lyrics are: “Take on me, take me on, I’ll be gone, in a day or two,” but feel free to just yell anything that sounds right.
9. When in Rome ... : For the most part, Nats fans are a kind and accepting bunch. But, here are a few things that might annoy them. If you’re from Baltimore, don’t scream “O” during the National Anthem. If you have to get up during the game, ushers will make you wait until the play has stopped to return to your seats. Don’t throw trash, this isn’t Turner Field in Atlanta. Although we no longer need to “Take Back the Park” from Philly fans, we still don’t very much care for our neighbors to the north who used to refer to Nats Park as “Citizens Bank Park South.” And lastly, if you choose to participate in the “wave,” don’t be surprised if you are reprimanded by passionate “Stop the Wave” supporters. Hey, it’s a political town, you gotta choose sides.
10. Twitter: If you’re a fan who likes to stay connected through social media, Twitter can serve as a valuable source for all kinds of information throughout each game. The Nationals will post in game stats and factoids via their official twitter accounts@Nationals and @NationalsPR. From lineups, to stats of all kinds, to updates on which players are wearing Steve McCatty playgirl t-shirts, the crew reporting on the beat will provide you with all the news as it happens: Bill Ladson (@washingnats), Adam Kilgore (@AdamKilgoreWP), James Wagner (@JamesWagnerWP), Mark Zuckerman (@ZuckermanCSN), Amanda Comak (@acomak), and Dan Kolko (@masnKolko).
The ever growing blogosphere is also good source for game analysis and commentary. Some recommended blogs include District Sports Page (@NationalsDSP), Federal Baseball (@FederalBaseball), Matt’s Bats(@MattsBats), Citizens of Natstown (@CitsOfNatstown), The Nats Blog (@TheNatsBlog), the Nationals Enquirer (@NatsEnquirer), Nationals 101 (@Nationals101), and of course The Nationals Archive (@NatsArchive).
What are your favorite tips for taking a trip to Nationals Park?
Previous parks: Citi Field, Marlins Park, Great American Ball Park, Petco Park,Comerica Park, Progressive Park, AT&T Park, Rogers Centre, Wrigley Field, O.Co Coliseum, Yankee Stadium, Coors Field, Minute Maid Park, Fenway Park, PNC Park,U.S. Cellular Field, Safeco Field, Target Field, Rangers Ballpark, Camden Yards, Turner Field