Wednesday, August 23, 2006

"THE GREATEST NO FRILLS PARK IN SPORTS!!"


Nats320
I have found it hard to write about my beloved Nats play this week in Florida. Its looks like the team quit. So I've decided to write about something more positive and worthwhile--Our Stadium.

"RFK Stadium is a DUMP!" "ITS RUN DOWN"--"SHABBY" "A TERRIBLE PLACE TO WATCH A GAME"

That's all I ever read or hear about the HOME FOR OUR WASHINGTON NATIONALS. The press continually harps on the topic. And many people, many that have never even attended a game at the Stadium on East Capitol Street, continually pass on these half truths and nonsense.

Yes, the ARAMARK Food Service has been TERRIBLE!!; After a game ends, it can take some time to move your way out of the park along the narrow concourses. The audio system is far from perfect. There are broken seats here and there, The stadium could be a little cleaner. There has been many other problems, well documented, but mostly due to Poor Management by MLB, DC Government and the RFK Stadium Authority--Game day functions, that should not take away from what RFK STADIUM ACTUALLY DOES PROVIDE.



And, I want to state CLEARLY, I am looking forward to the NEW Stadium, as I truly believe, if its done correctly, and not cheapened, by budget considerations---The GLASS, STEEL and CONCRETE STRUCTURE WILL GLEAM!! Like the NEW WEMBLEY STADIUM outside London that was built in a similar way.

None of those issues, though, has taken away my enjoyment of watching the Nats at RFK. If fact, I lOVE ATTENDING GAMES AT RFK!! And, when the Nats move to their NEW STADIUM on the Anacostia Waterfront, I will miss all of the following.




The stadium was built with a tremedous ease of commute in mind. Whether you come to the game via Downtown DC, The Southeast-Southwest Freeway, Anacostia Freeway, 395, 295, 495 & Route 50 or Benning Road, RFK is an easy reach for anyone living in the Capital City or the suburbs of Maryland and Virginia. And, when Metro opened it doors in 1976, Fans attending Stadium Events came in DROVES on the subway. The Stadium Armory Station is covered by both the Blue and Orange Lines and easy access for Yellow and Green Line Transfering Passengers. In 2005, Metro estimated over 18,000 fans used Metro for EACH AND EVERY GAME.

On game days, when we drive, I can make it from my house, near the Franconia-Springfield Metro, in less than 25 minutes--even during RUSH HOUR. The Drive Home, at times, has been less than 20 minutes.



The South Capitol Street Stadium will not be providing such immediate access for some years. South Capitol Street is TOTAL GRIDLOCK during rush hours.




The stadium parking lots, which surround the stadium--HOLDS 10,000 Vehicles, enough for almost any event and provides in Lots 7 and 8 two of the GREATEST TAILGATE PARKING LOTS OF ALL TIME!! Sohna and I can never remember driving into Lot 8, on any game day, and not seeing a host of folks enjoying themselves---cooking, drinking and having fun before the game's start. Last October 2, Sohna and I hosted a final game of the season tailgate for Section 320--WE HAD MORE THAN ENOUGH ROOM. And, Hundreds more were having their tailgates at the same time.

The DC Government and The Lerners are fighting over parking for the "wealthy", well documented by many. But, no one is considering parking for you and me. In fact, the DC Government is "HOPING" lots pop up around and near the Stadium Site. Say Goodbye to $10 and $12 parking that RFK provides.

At night, RFK GLEAMS FROM THE OUTSIDE with the lighting and distinctive RIPPLED Rooftop that surrounds and encloses the Stadium. After every night game, walking to the car in Lot 8, I always take a good look at the structure shining against the night with all the lights. If you haven't, you are missing something very special.

And, its that Cantilever Roof Top that gives RFK STADIUM the HUGE HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE for all DC TEAMS that have played there. That great roof TRAPS THE SOUND inside, sending the crowds noises right down onto field level.




RFK has some of the very best, close to the field seats, you will ever enjoy at a baseball game. The Upper Deck hangs out far towards the baselines. In fact, the lower ring of seats in the upper deck are closer to the field than the rear sections of the lower bowl. How many stadiums today have more seats in the UPPER Deck than the lower deck?? I have not heard many complaints from fans sitting in the upper deck, especially the lower view seats, between 1st and 3rd base. Those seats might well be the BEST BARGAIN in all of the Major Leagues. From those seats it looks like you are sitting right overtop the action. You can see every play develop. Its PRIME FOUL BALL CATCHING TERRITORY!! From most any seat in the house, you have a decent view of the field.



Our fabulous SECTION 320, in the lower bowl, sits only 25 rows from the Nationals 3rd base dugout. And its under the overhang, protecting us from, not only rain and bad weather, but the HEATING STROKING SUNLIGHT that shines down on the field on nearly every single day game. How many people have you seen, move from the MOST EXPENSIVE SEATS in the house, to a far more comfortable, cheaper seat under the stadiums roof and overhang. Its a regular daytime event at RFK.

The Drawings for the New Stadium shows very little overhang, with the UPPER DECKS much farther back on each successive level. People are going to BAKE each summer on the Anacostia Waterfront and EVERYONE is going to be sitting MUCH FARTHER FROM THE ACTION. We are not looking forward to that.

Those portable stands that move from along the 3rd baseline to left and centerfield for football and soccer, accidentally provided the "Bouncing Sea Wave" effect of heads jumping up and down that so many people enjoy to this day. It was a STAPLE at REDSKINS GAMES for years. And, is an integral part of most every Nats game. The "JUMP" song is played after every 7th inning strech to get the heads bobbing up and down behind the Nats Dugout.



The Sounds at RFK STADIUM from the CROWD can be DEAFENING. You ask anybody that once played for the Dallas Cowboys during the HEY DAYS of the Redskins/Cowboys Rivalry, and I would guarantee you that they would ALL say that RFK STADIUM was their favorite road city to play. The ROAR OF THE CROWD WAS LOUD and only GOT LOUDER as the games continued. RFK stadium has a LIFE OF ITS OWN--IT CAN SHAKE AND SWAY to the STOMPING and RUMBLINGS of its fans. The Crowd noise at RFK was such a HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE for the Washington Redskins, that football games in DC have NEVER BEEN THE SAME, since Jack Kent Cooke moved the team, out of RFK, building his new Stadium in Landover, Maryland. I don't know the actual numbers, but during the George Allen, Joe Gibbs era of Redskins Football at RFK, I would bet WASHINGTON had one of the very best home records of any team during that time frame. The Redskins, under Daniel Snyder, may well be the wealthiest franchise in American Sport. But their games are no longer "EVENTS" that ALL Redskins games were on East Capitol Street.



Nationals fans got a GOOD TASTE of the DECIBEL LEVEL that RFK can reach when, on June 18, 2006, before a packed house of 45,157, Ryan Zimmerman hit his DRAMATIC, Bottom of the 9th, 2 run homer off Chien-Ming Wang to defeat the NEW YORK YANKEES 3-2. RFK has not ROCKED LIKE THAT SINCE THE WASHINGTON REDSKINS LAST PLAYED A HOME GAME IN DC. It was THE SIGNATURE MOMENT so far for the YOUNG NATIONALS FRANCHISE, and it brought back so many fine memories of attending Washington Redskins Game for so many years.

You could not take the SMILE OFF MY FACE for the entire week that followed.

One of RFK's greatest oddities, just a green wall, and not stands behind the outfield fences, has given great credence to UPPER DECK SHOTS!! Home Runs of Mammoth proportions. "Wow!!--Did you see that rocket into Section 464!!" "Daryle Ward just launched that into the front row of Section 541--THE YELLOW SEATS!! What beauty to watch!!" Alfonso Sorino reaching Section 445. Barry Bonds reaching DEEP into Section 461. Earlier this year, on May 22nd, Lance Berkman of the Houston Astros Launched a LINE DRIVE that barely went over the Nationals Starter's, Zach Day, head and just kept on rising, it was stopped by the second row seats of Section 456 in DEAD CENTERFIELD!! Berkman WALLOPED IT!! If would have hit the ring road surrounding RFK if it had not hit the seats.

Anybody can appreciate the MAJESTY of those UPPER DECK HOME RUNS!! RFK HOME RUNS to the UPPER DECK are to be cherished, because you know how far away it really is, and how high the Upper Deck sits above the playing field. Batting Practice at RFK is a MUST SEE at times. I can vividly remember, last season, watching Mike Piazza, then a NEW YORK MET, launching 2 balls on consecutive Batting Practice swings into Section 535, the YELLOW SEATS well above the leftfield wall.

All of Piazza's Teammates stopped and applauded the moment, and there was not a sole in the stands that was NOT TALKING ABOUT IT.

Love watching BOMBS into the upper deck at RFK. The New Stadium will not have that same feel. I will miss that TREMENDOUSLY!! If fact, had this very same conversation with some of the Section 320 faithful during the last home games.





I attended my very first Major League Games at DC Stadium (now RFK). From 1966 through 1971, as a youngster, I was fortunate enough to make about 10 Washington Senators games per season. Loved FRANK HOWARD, was in his FAN CLUB, and could not wait to see him LAUNCH ONE INTO THE UPPER DECK. Whether during a game, or batting practice. We always went to the game early to see BP. And, I attended, as a 12 year old, THE VERY LAST GAME OF MY BELOVED WASHINGTON SENATORS AT RFK on September 30, 1971. I am proud to say, I DID NOT RUN OUT ONTO THE FIELD THAT NIGHT--which led to the Senators forfeiting their last game to the New York Yankees. RFK is where I first fell in LOVE WITH BASEBALL--and I am happy to be able to enjoy that game I love, once again, in THAT VERY SAME VENUE--for a little while longer. I am 47 years old, and I had spent most of my entire adult life, NEVER EXPECTING TO A SEE A WASHINGTON HOME GAME AGAIN--until, by all miracles, the Montreal Expos actually moved here in 2005.




Finally, on any given night during a Washington Nationals home game, when Section 320 is in Full Force, you can hear us throughout most of the stadium. The Overhang above us echo effects our cheering and helps send our noise out toward the field. Its a great site to see SO MANY turn their heads, to see it might be anywhere up to 16 folks in Section 320 causing all that noise. Their expressions of Awe and Amusement--FABULOUS.

RFK Stadium is the last of a dying breed. The one time MULTI-PURPOSE Stadium, a stadium so many cities copied to maintain their costs for housing professional sports team. A stadium style that fell out of fashion, just a few decades after being built. RFK is far from modern, with little frills. I have always called it the "GREATEST NO FRILLS PARK IN SPORTS!!"

People can say all the disparaging remarks they want about it. BUT I WILL ALWAYS LOVE RFK, for what it does provide--A GREAT PLACE TO WATCH A BALLGAME!!

4 comments:

SenatorNat said...

It is hard to embellish this fantastic ode to RFK:

I would only add that the stadium was considered a stadium engineering marvel when it opened in 1961 with its first event, hosting the East-West Shrine Game (I was there) because the great expanse of covered second deck was upheld by nary one support beam from the first deck("pole")!

It had actual marble facing in the front entrance, and a ring of mezzanine boxes which served hot cocoa during cold Redskins games - presidential-styled luxury.

U.S. Presidents indeed attended baseball openers, since JFK threw out the first ball in April, 1962 (Senators 3- Tigers 1); and then again at the 1962 All-Star Game, when he issued his famous comment to Stan Musial (also 42 that year): "Well, they said you were too old to be here, and I was too young - but we're both here!" (NL 3- AL 1).

Jack Kent Cooke's box entertained presidents, vice-presidents, princes, kings, journalists, and movie stars throughout the Redskins' glory years. You knew whose star was on the rise in the world each autumn Sunday when the Redskins were home.

RFK should also receive note for itself having broken the color barrier - as the U.S. Supreme Court felt empowered to effectively order George Preston Marshall to integrate the team due to its playing in a Federally financed facility.

Thus, the drafting of star running back Ernie Davis from Syracuse in 1961, who was then traded to Cleveland for future Hall of Famer Bobby Mitchell. (Davis dies of Lou Gehrig disease later that year...) And the band stopped playing Dixie before the National Anthem, too.

And there will only be one stadium where immortal Sonny Jurgenson played as a Redskin - one in which he played both in front of Robert F. Kennedy, and after it took his name as a memorial.

It took RFK as its namesake as a tribute to his connection to sports and D.C. youth, in fact. That enduring legacy being a large motivating force for Mayor Williams and those like Bill Hall of the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission who tirelessly prodded the vision of baseball's return to D.C. on behalf of D.C. kids and families throughout the area.

Like tens of thousands of middle-aged Washingtonians, as a much younger guy, I went to scores of professional baseball and football games at RFK with my Dad: so it is more than a enduring stately edifice, it is like a vibrant mystical ring which conjures terrific memories.

I love the stadium, and have to pinch myself everytime I walk into it to think that my own son and I have actually attended Washington major league baseball games there - long after I had abandoned hope that this could ever occur.

RFK is the Natural - it is our living Field of Dreams - and, like old soldiers, will merely fade away, but it will never die...

Eddie Cunningham said...

Thanks for the elegy to RFK. I suspect that even though "Lerner Field" may be a beautiful park, many of the fans who dislike taking Metro will be grousing about it for years. (I also think the City Council was short-sighted in insisting that the stadium look like an office building.) Intellectually, I know why RFK Stadium has to be replaced and that the Nats would surely be contracted if a new stadium was not built. But I will always have a warm spot in my heart for RFK and I will miss it once it is gone.

Rich from Richmond said...

Great tribute to The Bobby. I had heard all the negativity about RFK before I attended my first game there last year, so I was pleasantly surprised. OK, so the concourses aren't pretty. So what, I spend about 10 minutes there tops when I go to a game. Most of my time is spent in my seat, watching the game. The 400- and 500-level seats are maybe the best-kept secret in sports -- the view is great, most sections are shaded from the sun, but you still have the open sky above, not like the dark caverns of some of the 300 sections. All the benefits of a dome with none of the drawbacks. I will miss RFK.

Anonymous said...

What's with all the CAPS?