Today we present you with another guest blogging effort, this time from my good friend Jon Eick who runs the always enjoyable food-obsessed Sogoodblog.com, if you haven’t read it yet, do so immediately. Eick is one of the only people I know who willingly watches and roots for the Nationals. He also once voted for Bush and used to be a Yankees fan, so, there is that too. Anyhoo, he had tickets to both of the games this weekend at their brand new shiny stadium and offered to do a review of the stadium for the readers of The Slanch Report. Buckle up!
I went to both the first game EVER at Nationals Park, an exhibition game on Saturday against the Orioles, as well as the first OFFICIAL game, last night on ESPN, against the Atlanta Braves.
On Saturday we were only in our seats for about 3 of the 9 innings, because we were exploring everything. I didn’t get to walk around the whole stadium outside and see the trees and plaza and stuff in “front” (i.e. outside the stadium behind the home plate side). Instead, we entered through the CF gate. It’s right by the metro, and when you come out of the metro there is a really cool narrow street called ½ street, which has, or may have soon, a sort of Yawkey Way type feel to it. If they develop it as they hope to, it could be a really fun happening street (happening? You really are a 40 year old trapped in a 20something body). Right now there is no development on it yet, and there weren’t even food vendors there.
The food at this ballpark is insanely good. So much good stuff everywhere, and it all appears to be of really high quality. The line for Ben’s chili bowl was about 100 people long for the whole game. However, I discovered that the “Ben’s half smoke” was available at all the food stands. The Ben’s half smoke is going to be THE signature food for Nationals Park. Fenway has Fenway Franks, Dodgers have Dodger Dogs, we have Ben’s Half Smokes. If you don’t know what a half-smoke is, that’s because it is a unique to DC thing. It’s like a 50/50 cross between a spicy sausage and a hot dog. Delicious. And you’ve got to get the Ben’s half-smoke “all-the-way” with chili, onions and mustard. One semi complaint. The food stands don’t each have their own signs, everyplace just has their name in these sort of lit up glowing neon letters, If each food place had their own unique signs, it would make the inside tunnel areas where you get food feel a little bit less strip-mallish.
There is an abundance of food vendors, underneath/in back of the stands there are just rows and rows of food vendors. Beer, there appeared to be decent selection, including Stella on tap, and what appeared to be 20 or 22 oz cups at certain locations. The restaurant in Centerfield, called “Red Porch” is quite large, as is the “Red Loft” bar above it.
The thing with a new ballpark, this one in particular, is everything was so shiny and new. You felt like you were the first person pissing in each urinal you used. The stadium needs to be “lived in” a little more so it can develop some character. There are certain quirks or things that will develop as we spend more time there. More stuff will go up on the walls, etc.
The site lines for the game, no matter where you go in both the upper and lower level were amazing in every section. All the seats are perfectly positioned to face the exact right angle. My favorite part was that anywhere you walk around in the stadium, you can always walk over and stand behind the last row of seats of any section, and have a great view.
Oh, the jumbotron is amazing. A-MAY-ZING. I realized, I don’t think we’ve had a new baseball stadium open since the whole High Def stuff started, so this might be the first high def scoreboard (It isn’t). If it’s not, it is certainly the first to open in tandem with a new stadium. It looks awesome, and it is HUGE. I mean enormous. Stat heads will like it because at all times they show all the pitchers stats, the full 9 man lineup, the hitters stats and background info etc.
The kids area and fun zone type areas are pretty amazing. If you were 9 this would be about the greatest area to go play in history. Tons of baseball themed play areas and a Playstation zone where you can play Guitar Hero, MLB the Show and Gran Turisimo for free. There is a video simulation batting cage (link goes to a Pirates story where they are now using the same machine for batting practice) where you get to choose a pitcher to face and the ball just pops out of the screen where the pitchers hand is. I had never seen that before, and it was definitely very cool. I could easily see parents showing up early for games, and dropping their kids off in these kids areas then go having a beer at the bar.
So how does the field play? The grass and base paths all look crisp and perfectly maintained. One interesting thing, there is a big screen built into the right field wall. During play it is lit up with a Nationals logo. Do other stadiums have this? A screen built into the wall? It seemed like a big glowing screen behind him could potentially make it hard to see balls hitting off it. Austin Kearns, who is in RF, will have to deal with the ball hitting off three different surfaces. A hard wall by the bullpen, a padded wall elsewhere, and the screen – which, I imagine has a chain link protective layer over it, so the ball probably doesn’t bounce off it much. It will be interesting to see how this affects the trajectory of balls that hit the OF wall.
Any negatives that I developed about the stadium on Saturday were totally put to rest for the real opening game on Sunday. They got their shit together and fixed all the problems I noticed from Saturday night. Also, when you are in your seats for most of the game, as opposed to exploring it really is amazing how good the sight lines are everywhere.
Bush’s announcement drew about 50/50 cheers and boos, although when I got home and watched the rebroadcast of the game on ESPN, the people booing must have been right next to the ESPN cameras, because it sounded even louder on TV.
As for the Nats performance, pretty happy. Nick Johnson getting the first RBI in the new stadium was MONEY. When Jon Rauch came in I was pumped to lock up a win in the new stadium, but when he threw that wild pitch I was flipping my shit (um, Cordero? Where were you?) However, Ryan Zimmerman, with a WALK OFF HR in the first game ever in the new stadium? Wow. Zimmerman, the future of the franchise of all people? I cannot imagine a better conclusion to the first game in their new stadium.
And don’t forget to visit Sogoodblog!