Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Washington Nationals

Ladies and Gentlemen, your Washington Natinals (google it) errr, Nationals... where you can enjoy a nice night at the ballpark for everything but the baseball.

I know I already bashed our home team in the post that overviews DC's sports teams (read here) and I have no intention of repeating myself. Instead, for those of you who haven't ventured to beautiful Nationals Park, here's a few reasons why you should.

1. Access. There's a metro stop (Navy Yard on the Green Line) that is just steps from the outfield gate. Could it be much easier? Actually, yes. There are a couple other metro stops in walking distance on pleasant days when you want to avoid the crowds and plenty of parking lots not more than a block or two away. Also, for the more adventurous out there, free street parking is available (we've never failed to find it, even when arriving late) for those willing to walk a few blocks through the neighborhoods to the west and southwest. As far as tickets, the games are rarely, if ever, sold out. In fact, on multiple occasions we've given away tickets to perfect strangers at the ticket windows because we can't find people willing to take our extra tickets. Finally, seat upgrading is rather easy outside of the really expensive sections. When your team isn't very good, there are perks... see, glass half full!

2. Individual Stars. The Nationals are (generously) a few years away from winning any team championships but there are a few bright spots. Whether it is economically driven or genuinely a smart baseball move, the team is dedicated to building from within. Young stars will continue to emerge like third baseman, Ryan Zimmerman, who barring injury, could be a perennial All-Star. Then again, I was a perennial All-Star on a little league team that won even less often than the Nats, so I know how the "at least one player per team" rule can help a guy. Nevertheless, Zimmerman is the real deal and is a solid cornerstone that deserves some help. Hopefully the Nationals can develop and retain a core group that will bring some more W's to DC (and I don't mean George).

The other source of star power would be Adam Dunn. This real life Pedro Cerrano is a gambler's dream since he's equally likely to walk, strikeout, or hit the ball to the moon. In an attempt to remain marketable, Washington seems to usually feature one token "big" name (see exhibit A: Alfonso Soriano) and Dunn is it. Don't get too attached, just enjoy the occasional moonshot (apologies to Wally Moon) and defensive blunder.

Outside of these two, the only other big names that don't sit in the visitors dugout are in bronze and reside in center field where Walter Johnson, Frank Howard, and Josh Gibson are memorialized. However, while I certainly dabble in baseball history (seriously, you should see my bookshelf), I just don't remember the Big Train having 4 arms... I get the idea but frankly it is just odd looking, if not downright scary.

3. The Main Event. Ok, I promised to take it easy on the Nats but doesn't it say something about the competitiveness of the team when the Presidents Race is marketed as the "main event"? Seriously, that's what they say on the PA every game. It's sad because it is true. People plan their bathroom breaks and food runs around the Presidents Race. And as I've said before, the fact that they loyally cheer for the perpetual loser (Teddy) has to mean something. That said, the first half dozen times I saw the race I laughed out loud. Even though I've seen this same shtick 30+ times, I still enjoy it. My one gripe is the National's mascot, Screech. I don't know if he had gastric bypass in the off season or if they are simply marketing a healthier image, but dude went from adorably plump to tall and gangly. In other words, Mr. Tuttle to well, Screech. Worse yet, the belly dance is gone (pretty much his signature move - it's like moving a basketball around in a giant t-shirt to the music).

4. The Real Main Event. Thought we'd get through this post and not touch on the cuisine? Wrong! Let me throw the ball to J...

J Says

I love stadiums of all shapes and sizes. Yes I love watching the teams on the field, but I also love exploring the food options. Lately, stadium food has been taken over by mega food service chains such as Aramark, and you usually end up with the same boiled hot dog whether in NY or Chicago. Blah.

When Nationals Park opened last year, I was excited to learn that the stadium would feature food from local favorites such as Ben's Chili Bowl, Gifford's Ice Cream, Hard Times Cafe, Boardwalk Fries, and Five Guys. Now, in addition to the standard chicken strips and dogs, you can get a quality Ben's Chili Bowl half smoke or a pretzel in the shape of the Nats logo from Noah's Pretzels.

The Taste of the Majors stand features crabcakes and Philly cheesesteaks at every game, and allegedly cooks up a special from the visiting team's hometown. I have yet to personally verify this, but the original plan was for this booth to serve California rolls when the Dodgers come to town (Go Blue!), Cuban Sandwiches for the Marlins, Chicago Style Hot Dogs for the Cubs... you get the picture.

Because the Nats are terrible, the lines are generally manageable and the extra wide concourses eliminate the claustrophobia that you may encounter at other stadiums. The staff is generally friendly and efficient. The prices are pretty standard for ballparks these days (expensive) but not overwhelmingly bad.

So what do we eat when we're at the ballpark? B is a baseball purist so almost always goes with a hot dog. Luckily at Nationals Park the hot dog got an upgrade and he enjoys a messy, spicy, fantastic Ben's Half Smoke (hold the mustard). When I'm feeling gutsy (pun intended) I opt for the Ben's chili cheese fries. With 2 drinks, this tray-o-indigestion costs around $22.

I'm a sucker for the helmet sundaes (served on the main level) but generally find myself opting for a Curly W pretzel from Noah's. These are no rock-hard Super Pretzels. They are soft, gooey and a portion of each pretzel's proceeds supports Autism charities. (This particular one was not as beautiful as most, but it was just as tasty)

You might not see many homeruns on the field (maybe some by the visiting team) but thanks to a wide variety of fun food options, you won't strike out in the culinary department.

Also, don't forget to read about our latest discovery at Nationals Park: Teddy's BBQ. He may be slow, but he sure can cook.

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