New ballpark gets mixed review

This Saturday I was one of about 2,000 witnesses to the first baseball game ever played at Major League Baseball’s newest venue, Nationals Park. GW’s baseball team hosted Saint Joseph’s in Southeast so stadium owners had a chance to test operations in the recently completed 40,000 capacity stadium.

The Colonials defeated the Hawks 9-4, but for most of the fans attending the game, the real point of the day was to get an exciting first look at the new ballpark. Hailed by many as the centerpiece to the transformation of the Anacostia waterfront, the stadium will certainly do some great things for the Nationals and for the surrounding community. As a baseball fan, though, I have to say the stadium does not live up to the lofty expectations set forth by the city and the team.

The first problem that emerges after entering the seating section is the view from the seats. Fenway Park has the Green Monster, Baltimore has a historic warehouse incorporated into the stadium, and at Dodger Stadium you can look off into the beautiful southern California hills. But at Nationals Park fans are treated the site of two delightful parking garages – soon to be completed. The point of having an open concourse in the outfield is normally to allow for either a great view or for a spacious setting for a festival environment.

Perhaps my biggest complaint is that the stadium does not have a unique personality. The dimensions of the outfield, for example, are very standard and nothing really stands out. While they plan to plant cherry trees in the outfield, the trees will be in the middle of center field and may cause a lot of problems for hitters.

Beyond its flaws, there remains plenty of good about the new park, beginning with the fact that this stadium – unlike RFK stadium – was built for baseball, not football. The Jumbotron in right centerfield is a highlight of the ballpark. Not only is it the largest video screen in the major leagues, but the picture quality is stunningly crisp. There are also two other screens, including one on the right field wall.

The new park will also have great advantages for the team and the area. As was the case for the first two years after PNC Park opened in Pittsburgh, it will draw tons of fans to the games because of the novelty, giving the team time to develop a solid fan base while building the squad into a playoff contender. It will also be great for the Southeast D.C. community, as it will attract better venues and businesses to the area and be the leader in the transformation of the Anacostia riverfront.

Upon my departure from Nationals Park, I came to two conclusions about the new venue: for baseball here, there is still work to be done, but for D.C., this is a big step in the right direction.

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