When the Montreal Expos packed their bags and relocated to the District back in 2005, everyone knew
that RFK Stadium would just be temporary venue. The stadium was too old, too creaky, lacked
sufficient facilities for fan comfort, player training and food preparation, as well as premium seating
areas. The community struggled with various funding plans, before coming up with a $600-million
package, largely publicly financed, to build a true showcase venue for America’s showcase team.
There was just one major mantra – this was not to be anything like their rival venue to the north –
Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
On March 31, 2008, a new era opened in Washington, the opening of Nationals Park, the fourth MLB
venue in this city’s storied baseball lore.
Getting to the venue
Nationals Park is located about 12 blocks south of the US Capitol, on the banks of the Anacostia
River. The area is home to the Navy Yard and was once a heavy industrial area which is now being
redeveloped into a "ballpark district:" With cranes in the air and buildings going up at a rapid pace,
parking near the ballpark is scarce, and getting here requires some planning.
Fans are encouraged to take the Metro, which has a subway station at Navy Yard, two blocks north of
the stadium. Park and ride lots are located throughout the city in their well laid out system, and the
station has been expanded to accommodate throngs of people. The team also offers a free parking
and shuttle service from RFK Stadium, which is about two miles away. On the day we attended, the
return trip to the parking lot at RFK after the game was a mess, as too many fans and too few buses
equaled a very long wait for the shuttle.
Ramps and surface lots are available near the stadium, most of which are operated by the team, but
many are sold on a permit basis only. There are limited private lots in the neighborhood behind home
plate, the ones we saw cost $15. On street parking is scarce, as many residential areas ban parking
on game days unless one has a resident parking permit.
Outside the Venue
The best way to describe the neighborhood surrounding Nationals Park is “transformation”. What was
once a seedy and rundown industrial area with a neglected waterfront and plenty of heavy
manufacturing uses is quickly being reborn as a dynamic mixed use office, retail and residential
mega-development, with the focus happening on the northern and eastern sides of the ballpark. Two
planned communities, titled DC Yards and Half Street, are under construction, with completion dates
set for 2009-2011 and beyond. When finished, this should be one of the most exciting places to be in
all of the District of Columbia. For fans attending baseball game, a plethora of shopping, eateries, and
pre and post game entertainment destinations will become a big part of the ballpark experience here.
For now, cranes and construction fences are everywhere.
Most pedestrian traffic funnels to the ballpark from the north. The Navy Yard metro station, most
parking lots and ramps, and the Nats Express shuttle to the RFK Stadium lots are all located in this
area. What that means is that the grand entrance in left centerfield is the entry focal point and main
gathering spot outside the venue. The other four entrances, including the signature main entrance
behind home plate, are vastly underused.
To the south is the last remaining cement plant, which has been tidied up and fenced in, and a very
nice micropark and nature trail hugging the Anacostia River. An older residential neighborhood lies to
The concourses here at Nationals Park are designed to keep people in the game even when they
aren’t in their seats. Both the upper and lower levels have open views to the field, with several kiosks
and bars on the field side. Colorful concession canopies and murals on the support beams heralding
Hall of Fame baseball greats give a soft touch to the grey and white walls.
The outfield plaza makes for a great gathering spot – 14 cherry trees and flower gardens fill the
planters, the main team store is located on the ground floor in one of the adjacent parking ramps,
while the other ramp houses a Playstation video arcade and companion game area. A two level bar
and restaurant named the Red Porch and Red Loft is crowned with a 360 degree LED ribbon board.
Everything here has an open and airy feel, and from the centerfield plaza the first time visitor can get a
panoramic view of the entire stadium and seating bowl.
There are three levels at Nationals Park, although the uppermost deck is split into 300 and 400 levels
to allow for the break in the seating and the concourse view of the field. Suites are located in two levels
– above the club seating and a separate row above the clubs. The two level pressbox is situated high
above home plate in the 400 level, which is the trend in the newest ballparks.
All seats here are colored dark blue, save for the “Red Porch” seats in centerfield, resembling the red
seats in the old RFK except they don't shimmy and shake like at the old place.
The electronics here are stupendous – a massive HD scoreboard hang in right centerfield – along
with an analog clock in the shape of the distinctive “W” logo. Ribbon boards run foul pole to four pole
along the entire club balcony, along with the ribbon board crowning the Red Loft in centerfield. Along
the right field wall is an out of town scoreboard which can also change graphics to provide special
effects and works a as companion to the ribbon boards. It is all dramatic without being over the top.
The playing field is 402’ to dead center, but then goes to 410’ directly to the right before jutting inward a
sharp corner. These dimensions mimic the field size at the old Griffith Stadium, which was the home
of the MLB Washington Senators from 1911 to 1961.
Every kind of food item imaginable can be found at Nationals Park. But get ready to pay and pay, for
concession pricing here is absolutely through the roof.
The showcase stands here begin with “Taste of the Majors”, which offer food items from peer venues
across the major leagues. There is sushi from the Dodgers, fish tacos from San Diego,
Cheesesteaks from Philly, Brats from Milwaukee and Knishes from New York, to name a few.
The specialty hot dogs here are called “Half Smokes”, topped with chili, mustard and onions ($6.75). A
food court in centerfield offers chicken wings ($9) and chili dogs ($6.25) at the Good Times Café,
while the Red Hot and Blue stand sells beef brisket and pulled pork sandwiches ($12). Gourmet
burger platters run $11, while the Maryland crabcake platter will set you back $12.50. A couple more
pricing mentions to provide some perspective – the standard hot dog runs $4.75, a draft beer $7.50
and a large soda pop $5.50. Yikes!
All this is just a sampler – Nationals Park has something to satisfy anyone’s palette.
We should also mention the Red Porch restaurant at centerfield, themed like a 50s style diner and
offering table services with views of the field. The facility is open to all fans on a first come first served
There are three distinct areas of club seating here, all of which offer separate amenities.
The 200 “Stars and Stripes” club level offers a climate controlled carpeted concourse, nicely appointed
bar areas including a Homestead Grays Bar with plenty of Negro League memorabilia, and
comfortable lounge areas.
Behind home plate are two mega premium areas – the PNC Diamond Club is a baseball themed
area which is showcased by a long bar area, and right above is a replica of the scoreboard from the
7th game of the 1924 World Series, won by the Senators over the New York Giants. Green padded
walls and ash baseball bats at the drink rail overlooking the field enhances the old time baseball feel
For $300 a pop, fans can sit right behind the plate in the Presidents Club, with the sophistication and
elegance of a gourmet buffet in a white tablecloth setting, access to the elegant Oval Office Bar, view of
the home batting cage and press conference room from behind a full glass wall, and complimentary
food and beverages served in seat. This is all out of control!
The Washington Nationals have not retired any numbers, and the only number hanging on the outfield
wall is that of #42, Jackie Robinson. Washington’s one World Series championship, in 1924, is not
displayed n the seating bowl, but the feat is celebrated in other locations in the ballpark, including the
main entrance behind home plate, in the PNC Diamond Club, and in several exhibits in the
The number “1924” is one of several at the home plate entrance engraved into the concrete denoting
several significant events in Washington baseball history. Events such as the first game(1859), first
presidential “first pitch”(1910), All Star Game(1937), Grays winning Negro League World Series
(1948) and the end of American League ball in 1971.
The team did bring over the “Washington Hall of Stars” exhibit from RFK Stadium, a roster of sports
greats and athletes in all sports who come from or represented this region. It hangs above the
centerfield plaza and can be spotted from many of the seats. Nice touch!
By the way, there is a large #10 beyond the right field stands with the words “Nats Fans” above it. Dear
God, please tell us that the Nats did NOT retire this number!!!!!
Runs, hits, errors…
Error….to the USRT karma, which failed miserably in two losses to the (Washington Senators 1961-
71)…..errr Texas Rangers by 13-3 and 5-3 scores.
Error - about that scoreboard system. State of the art, best in technology. Hey. How about a
scoreboard that runs at all times and doesn’t disappear to show between at bat and inning ads. There
should be at least one scoreboard that keeps the basic score/stats up constantly somewhere in the
Home Run..honoring legendary sportswriter Shirley Povich in naming the press box/media center in
his honor. Povich wrote about sports in the DC area for roughly seventy five years right up until his
death in 1998.
Hit – to the many photos/artwork in the club level dealing with the role of patriotism in America’s
pastime. One such photo was of Bret Shephard, a WWII vet who lost his leg in combat and came back
to baseball for a cup of coffee with the Senators. Shephard had just passed on during our recent visit
and the Nats gave him a nice video tribute.
Hit – for building a venue without a single red brick, kelly green seat, or wrought iron gate anywhere in
the joint. Very, very refreshing!!
Error – to the analog “W” clock in right. If its going to be five or ten minutes off it might as well not work
at all. Just sayin’.
Error – not the team’s fault, but to the developer that constructed a ten story building on Half Street that
blocks the view of the Capitol Building from the stands.
Home run – to the game day staff which has to be among the friendliest in the land. Nice greeting on
the way in, even the security check was done with a smile and a joke. On a concession run we got a
bucket of stale popcorn, not discovering this until we tasted it in the next line two stands down. The
concession worker overheard us, and insisted on getting us a fresh batch. Customer service here is
outstanding! That leads us to…
Error – The Nats Express running from RFK to the ballpark is hardly an “express”. Too few buses, long
lines and a long wait. Absolutely unacceptable!
The best way we can describe Nationals Park is by calling it the "Anti Camden Yards". Folks here
wanted nothing to do with the architecture and ambience of their nearest rivals to the north, so they
created a venue with its own distinctive look, and managed to give the place its character by fitting it
with great touches of DC baseball lore, deference to their formal baseball stadiums, and things as
simple as cherry trees, so symbolic of everything that is DC. As the adjoining Half Street and DC Yards
neighborhoods take their final shape, Nationals Park should become one of the most dynamic
destination venues in all of baseball.
Food and team store 7.5
Scoreboard and electronics 6.5
Fan support 5
Location and neighborhood 5
Banners and history 8
In game entertainment 5.5
Concourses/fan comfort 9
Bonus: Presidents Race 2, Cherry trees 1, Home plate entrance timeline 1, Homestead Grays