Saturday, March 29, 2008

The First Game

If you hung around New Nationals Park a good 25 minutes after tonight's First Game by Our Washington Nationals--you would have enjoyed one of best moments of the entire evening. A test for what's coming tomorrow on Opening Night-- A FABULOUS FIREWORKS DISPLAY. Yes, Bang!! Zoom!! Went The Fireworks!! from directly behind The Centerfield Plaza. Everyone still on site--turned to look. This was good stuff.

A fitting conclusion to another fine evening enjoying baseball with Our Washington Nationals--never does the experience get old. From the very first moments Sohna and I stepped through The Centerfield Gate at New Nationals Park this afternoon--fun was at hand. Our Washington Nationals were playing that first game at New Nationals Park. And yeah, I know, it was "MERELY" an Exhibition Game. But, the fact that The African Queen and I had been fortunate enough to experience the build out--first hand--by The Clark/Smoot/Hunt Construction Team--did not take away from any of our enjoyment. This Fresh Experience as 34,635 showed up for Major League Baseball on South Capitol Street to take in the new sights. Back for the fourth consecutive season in The Nation's Capital--many of those on hand--we were very thrilled to view the new facility.

Especially--when not 15 seconds into the new park--"The Let Teddy Win!!" Chant was bellowed out. Yes, by total chance, Our Lovable Loser was standing directly in front of The African Queen and I. Teddy feeling the love once again. Even Abe, so into the joy--he insisted on posing with The African Queen. The sight of Our Racing Presidents brought back fond memories of the many hours spent on East Capitol Street--with our friends--sharing baseball.

Tonight's affair provided the opportunity to catch up, relive the past and look forward to the fresh times ahead--in a spanking new venue. Of course--no baseball season can OFFICIALLY begin until The OFFICIAL FIRST POUR--provided by Section 320's Number 1 Beer Man--Neal. The Best Beer Hawker of All TIME!!--looking mighty sharp in his new Vendor Hawaiian Shirt with Red Curly "W". Nice Shirt-- got to get ahold of one of those. Of course--the relocation has separated the entire Section 320 faithful from RFK Stadium--many of us no longer sitting on the same level. Yet, that did not keep many apart tonight. Throughout this 2 hour and 27 minute game with The Baltimore Orioles--Sohna and I found ourselves greeting many of our friends. Five long months after Our Washington Nationals last played a baseball game in DC--it was like we had never missed a beat.
Friends are friends--and many times for life.

Yes, there was a game played tonight--but the action on the field played second fiddle to the activity in the stands. Precious the sight--of watching fans surveying the scenery. Nothing like a first impression--and except for some rather long concession lines (more on that later in this post) not many were paying attention to the exhibition. The Ballpark was the star tonight--and it was basking in new found glory. Of course--Our Washington Nationals won the very first game in New Nationals Park, 3-0. Jason Bergmann pitched a good 5 innings of shutout ball--giving up one hit. Garrett Mock and Mike O'Connor closed the door. And Nick Johnson was warmly welcomed back by Our Fans with two hits and the first RBI in Stadium History. The sight of Our Number 24 hard--pop up--sliding into second base on a throw--the most promising sign of the night. Nick Johnson is back and ready to play. Nothing else on the field mattered more tonight.

Which was fine with The African Queen and I--because today was all about New Nationals Park. On March 29th, 2008, Sohna and I first experienced the fully completed Stars & Stripes Club. What a difference from just a few weeks back. This two tier Club with the nice view out toward The Anacostia River was better than expected. Two nice bars--The Homestead Grays Bar & Nats Bar. A Brick Oven Pat's Pizza--Anacostia Station with the Traditional Ballpark Fare and The South Capitol Grille serving up a entire assortment of offerings--including The Ben's Chili Bowl Half Smoke. Also--two Serving Stations--providing upscale meals from The Presidents and Diamond Clubs. One plate offerings--tonight a Pasta Bar with Shrimp and a Turkey Sandwich with extras. Some Quality stuff--not junk.

Our food choices this evening--Turkey Sandwich, Pat's Brick Oven Pizza, The Noah's Curly "W" Pretzel and "The Dinger". Gifford's CEO Neal Liberman providing Sohna and I with his Washington Nationals Foundation Special Creation during it's initial offering. On a cold night--the chill of ice cream going down--a nice feeling. "The Dinger"-- Two real chocolate cookies with all natural vanilla ice sandwiched in between at $5 a pop. During the hot summer time--they should sell like hot cakes. We liked them--alot.

There is so much to cover from today--so please find below our thoughts of the many experiences by us for New Nationals Park's first game--beginning with transportation.

When Our Washington Nationals announced The Nats Express would begin running 3 hours before first pitch for this First Game at New Nationals Park--Sohna and I decided to try the new service. 15 Buses were awaiting. Arriving at 2:45PM at RFK Lot 8--we gathered our belongings for the trip to South Capitol Street and boarded THE VERY FIRST Nats Express Trip. Total time from Lot 8 to 3rd & M Streets SE--7 Minutes. I timed it. Then, another Seven Minute walk to The Centerfield Gate. Upon completion of tonight's game--there was no problem returning back to RFK Stadium. The moment we stepped on The Nats Express--we were back inside our car at Lot 8 and driving on The Southeast/Southwest Freeway heading back to Alexandria--in 10 minutes total time--no backups. The Nats Express worked for us and it was free. Although, Lot 8 lighting seemed significantly dimmer than the previous three years when Our Washington Nationals played at RFK Stadium.

Along the way--walking into the ballpark tonight--we stopped by The Newly Renovated West Entrance to The Navy Yard Metro Station. Although, Sohna and I did not use Metro Service Today--the station seemed to be running fine. Others will have to inform us how that part of the transportation process worked.

Once inside--Mayor Adrian Fenty tossed the Ceremonial First Pitch. Jason Bergmann threw the very first game pitch to Brian Roberts. And The HDTV Scoreboard looked wonderful. After a while--we wandered around the ballpark. The Centerfield Upper Terrace was interesting and the wind was absolutely howling. It was 10 degrees colder up there than down below--frigid. But, we enjoyed the view. Tomorrow--we are going to check out The Red Porch and Red Loft in Left Centerfield.

Our Racing Presidents no longer run from the right field line to home plate on the warning track. For the first time in the 4th inning's running--GW, Abe, Tom & Teddy--entered from The Centerfield Fence--were introduced individually--and raced from centerfield--around the warning track toward first base. Tom won handily--Teddy finished last.
Of course the surprising sight of "TEDDY" hanging out on the Terrace Level of The Stars & Stripes Club did not go unnoticed. Once again--"Let Teddy Win!!" was bellowed out for all to hear. How in world did they get his gigantic head up to The Club? He wouldn't fit in the elevator. But now since I have seen him there--Teddy better come surprise The African Queen in Section 218--nothing less will be acceptable.

My Best Friend Screech!! got lost tonight looking for his Best Friend. After yelling down to him directly below us--Screech visited Club Level. But, couldn't find the right section. When he finally showed up two sections over from us--the sight of Screech holding up his rather large girth to get past folks in aisles to meet up with The African Queen and I--priceless. The one aspect of RFK that many may miss at New Nationals Park was the cross traffic around the lower bowl. At New Nationals Park--there is no such movement. An adjustment that many are now making.

Of course--not all was perfect. The Concession Lines were mighty long. At one point on the Main Concourse--first base side--it was virtually impossible to pass through the queue--to walk somewhere else. The passage was blocked. On Stars & Stripes Level--the narrowness of the passage at either end of this Club--clogged up--as patrons awaited to order food at Anacostia Station and South Capitol Grille. No, that wasn't good--but I am not going to fault the tweaking that needs to be done to make the concession operation more efficient. This was just the first day of full operations.
But, what Sohna and I will not stand for--is incompetence. After checking over the choices in The Stars & Stripes Level--The African Queen decided to order the specially carved Turkey Breast Sandwich--with chips and pickle. That part of the process went fine. Then--the order took a serious turn for the worse--when the cashier had NO IDEA--how to operate her register for a Credit Card Payment. After 10 swipes of my credit card, she calls over someone else. That person--could not figure it out. Now 10 minutes into this process--the original cashier wants us to wait another 15 minutes for a "SUPERVISOR" to show up and figure out the problem. You can bet the lineup of customers behind was stacking up. Eventually, we decided to pass on the meal--later a Centerplate person personally cleared up the matter with us.

But that snafu is just a minor detail. Overall--we enjoyed our experience tonight in the first Major League Game at New Nationals Park. What was your experience like?

PS--We bought the new Nationals Gamer Jackets today. The Therma Fleece lined weather model with Red Curly "W" on the side. Nice and comfortable. Even in the brisk winds tonight--this jacket held out the air.

PSS--Sohna and I appreciated the many fans who approached us tonight to thank us for the effort put forth in The Nats320 Blog. Thank you all so very much for the nice compliments.


Anonymous said...

wow. 19 pictures of you/wife. Is this a baseball blog or a "home movie"?

Edward J. Cunningham said...

I'm sorry I wasn't able to meet you or the African Queen yesterday. Unlike RFK where you could walk up to Section 320 or at least go the the concourse area behind the section, that is impossible in the new stadium layout. But I did have a good time even though I badly underestimated how cold it would be. Hopefully, this game is a sign we'll take the MASN Cup this year!

Anonymous said...


Great post, great pics! I hope you don't mind, I borrowed one but I linked you :)

I happen to be a Mets fan but truth be told if there's a single team other than the Mets in the NL East that I'd want to win the Pennant, it would be the Nats! I think it would be great for baseball!

Well, enjoy the season! Mayhaps I'll drop in on ya from time to time during a Mets-Nats series!

See ya :)

Anonymous said...

SBF: Was great meeting you and Sohna yesterday! My wife Cyndi and I took the Nats Express as well and believe it is the way to go as it only took an average of 15-20 minutes door to door from our car to the Centerfield Gate, a free ride to boot! A couple of observations: The park is beautiful with lots of interesting things to do and see. Our favorite was getting a cocktail at the "Red Loft" bar and then standing at the Miller Lite "Beerpen" in straight-away centerfield watching batting practice. Awesome! Only negative: The concessions were jammed as you noted, with Ben's Chili Bowl being the cause of quite a logjam. Other than the rude female server at Ben's who insisted on screaming at people "Next in Line!", we found virtually everyone to be friendly and helpful. I'm sure things will improve as adjustments are made throughout the first few games. Overall, DC and the Nats get an "A Plus" for creation of a great venue that will only get better. A word to the wise for this evening - dress warmly! Most in the stands froze once the sun went down and it was just 50 degrees. Forecast for tonite is in the 40's at game time, so bring those gloves and blankets!

Anonymous said...

Nice shaking hands last night after reading the blog religiously for the last year.

I agree with you about how wonderful the stadium is and I am excited about the team this year.

But... the people running the concessions have a lot of work to do to improve, or tonight will be exactly the kind of failure they really don't need on opening night.

1. Queuing Theory: Get some red velvet ropes or whatever they are making them from today (alot of them), and place them in an intelligent pattern in the main concourse around Ben's, Red Hot & Blue, Hard Times, etc. You just can't have lines that stretch from the concession across the concourse and into the stands. People waiting for several innings for an overpriced hot dog is a double shame. The club level needs these too because the grills are in the corners where everyone is walking through - the lines need to snake from the river, not the seats.

2. Prices - what are they? Several places were completely unmarked, like the great-looking carving station in the club area. I would have considered the roast beef if I had a clue what it cost without having to ask someone. Also, the team store outlets had a remarkable absence of price tags on T-shirts; if you are hanging a display of 8 or 9 shirts (not the jerseys, the t-shirts) you should put a big $22 sign on them or whatever.

3. Giffords - the Dinger was not advertised, rather something called "gourmet ice cream sandwich" was. Don't know what that is - if it is the Dinger, say it that way. Also, they had 2 prices for ice cream - single scoop $5, and double $7. I asked for a single for my 9-yr old. They put it in a cup, he complained, I asked them to put it in a cone, they did, and then I was charged for a $7 double. Sure, there was more ice cream in the cone, but I didn't want that. The woman at the register said that when they put it in a cone it is a double. Okay, I can live with that, but PUT UP A SIGN THAT SAYS "WAFFLE CONE DOUBLE SCOOP $7, SINGLE SCOOP IN A CUP $5." How hard is that?

Otherwise a great time. And just wondering - those open spaces on the club level behind the bars where you can stand and watch the game from behind the plate - is that what it is for, just hanging out and watching from there instead of your seats? That was nice, especially for those of us who were seated at RFK behind the plate and were forced to the sides in the new park.

Thanks for the great work SBF and Sohna!

An Briosca Mor said...

A few comments on what was overall a great experience in a great new ballpark:

1) For anyone coming in from VA on the Orange/Blue lines, Capitol South is the way to go. 15 minute walk at most, and it's not "scary" or "dangerous" or "poorly lit" as many have said. Even after dark, no problem. Fox 5 was reporting last night that there were 12 arrests outside the ballpark yesterday. Sounds high, right? In the Post this morning, it was mentioned that nine of the arrests were for scalping. Not so big a problem then, eh?

2) I wanted to try Ben's Chili Bowl, some of the much hyped Garlic Fries, and a long-awaited helmet sundae. Waited about half an hour in the Ben's line in the hour before the game, but got my half smoke all the way in the end. Then, after the Presidents Race, I got in line for the Garlic Fries, but then someone ahead of me ordered them and the answer was "we don't have those". Not "we've run out", "we don't have them". Then why not tape over that item on the menu board? I then moved on to the Sweet Spot for the helment sundae. No line there. (I wonder why?) Oddly, though, I got my sundae in a Seattle Mariners helmet. I thought they were supposed to be either a Nats helmet or the helmet of that night's opponent?

3) Just before leaving, I stopped by the team store. I picked out a home official cap that I thought was $30 and a coffee cup that was $15. The cashier totaled it up and said $50. I thought that seemed high, especially with my MVP discount, but it turned out that the cap was $38, not $30. I had misremembered what I saw on the tag when I picked it up. So I told the cashier to forget the cap, I didn't want it. She fumbled around a while and charged me $3.95 for the mug. I took the deal on the spot before giving her a chance to revise her offer. (BTW, SBF, I got that gamer jacket online back in January for $115 including shipping, a much better deal than the $160 they were charging in the team store.)

4) You are right that it was at least 10 degrees colder in the Gallery level. Unfortunately for me, my seat is in the Upper Infield Gallery, and the wind whipping around up there made it even colder than that. At least tonight I'm in the LF Mezzanine, where hopefully it will be a bit more sheltered from the wind.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful site. Thank you for all of the information.

Anonymous said...

It's surprising that with all these food vendors, they could get that part right from day one, but it's also encouraging that the only complaints are about the vendors! They'll work that out.

Thanks for reminding everybody to DRESS WARM for the official opener tonight! I've doubled up on the socks and have my underarmor on under the Let Teddy Win! sweatshirt.

Looking forward to seeing you tonight. I have a feeling Teddy's got some big surprises in store for the 4th inning!

Unknown said...

My wife and I were in the stadium by 3:20 and took in the sights, with my identical looking pictures, as you!

I don't want to be too redundant with what you and everyone else had said, but I do want to note that I thought that I was thrilled to see the high level of customer service provided by every stadium worker we came across. The off-season training certainly paid off!

Though our experiences were overwhelmingly positive, just a couple of things I personally wish they'd address:

(1) Season ticket holders received a card permitting 10% off purchases in addition to another coupon allowing 15% off one purchase. My wife found a fleece she really liked at one of the small team store stands in the concourses that she hadn't seen at either of the main team stores. Unfortunately, when she attempted to purchase the fleece, we were informed that the discount and the coupon were only redeemable at the main stores. That seemed odd.

(2) The garlic fries. We were really looking forward to them, having enjoyed them tremendously on a visit to Petco Park a couple of years ago. The fries we sampled last night, though, were a pale imitation. Not true garlic fries, but rather regular fries with the slightest hint of garlic salt applied to them. To the poster above who didn't have a chance to order them: you didn't miss much.

But again, two minor quibbles on an otherwise amazing evening. I cannot wait to return tonight!

JK@203 said...

What a great ball park experience we had yesterday! We arrived early to explore the park and figured out how to get around the various levels.
We had a parking pass for Blue Y and the directions provided by the Nationals worked fine.

We were able to avoid most of the food lines by eating prior to the start of game (the food court behind section 142 has lots of tables for sit down eating- a luxury not available to the common Joe at RFK.

Everyone needs to visit the gallery level of the park to take in the Capitol and Washington Monument site lines.
Some negatives were noted- Although the concession staff for the most part were friendly and eager to serve, it is apparent that a significant training/learning curve will be required before we see a reduction in the long lines.
The season ticket holder discount card for National merchandise appears to be only honored at National stores on the main concourse level. We tried to buy a blanket on the gallery level, but the discount card was not recognized there.
Upon leaving Parking Lot Y after the game, the traffic attendants did not follow the published departure plan. They only allowed parking lot traffic to turn right, which does not allow you access back to 395 South (without an illegal left turn on M Street.

Besides that, the traffic leaving the stadium was not that bad.

PS- It was a nice to be able to meet and introduce ourselves to you and Sohna yesterday at the center field gate. NATS320 and JDLand have been outstanding sources of information to keep the average fan "in the know" Thanks again


JD said...

Three words:

1. Ahh
2. May
3. Zing

Amazing! The stadium was fantastic. Went about an 1 1/2 early to have a good walk around. It is great that you can see the field from basically where ever you are standing.

I hope to be able to provide a little more feedback after a few games, but for last night and tonight I am just going to sit back, relax, and enjoy the show! Leave the critiques for some other time!!

However, just some general observations:

Not so worried about the consessions issues. First real test. They will get it figured out in short order. If it's still an issue come June or so, then I'll be worried.

Concur - need to do something about the direction lines form to avoid log jams, especially in the club level, as it is tight in some places. In the club the queue definitely needs to go back towards the windows (as someone else wisely suggested) not towards the field like it did last night.

I was a bit surprised at the seeming lack of experience behind the Nats Bar in the club level.

The bartenders seemed to have a very hard time keeping up with orders and there were not very many people bellied up. Oh, here is a suggestion, I don't mind so much if you run out of certain tap beers but when you do, SOP is to put a cup over the tap (or remove the tap). I can't tell you how many people asked for Bass Ale (or some other variety) and were told, sorry, we only have this one other kind. Cover the taps to avoid this constant need for explanation and the feeling of disappointment.

The Club Level is simply great. I was a tad worried as I was really keen on being a "lower bowl" guy. I'm sure I will catch a few from the Dugout boxes at some point but catch a game from the club if you can. I was a bit worried as I was in Row 1 of 205 in RFK so pretty close to the field, but the views are fantastic and it was certainly nice to get out of the cold for an inning. Same will go for our muggy DC summer nights. Getting into the AC to cool off and have a malted beverage will be Nice w/ a capitol N... for Nats!)

The Red Loft will be the place to hang for the younger/party crowd. (For which I am rapidly losing my membership credentials for :-) )

The Red Porch is an unrecognized gem. If I were single, it would be a staple for dates!!

If Teddy does not win tonight, he may never win.

So some clown in the paper complained about the wait at Ben's. Look here buddy, if you are stupid enough to wait 1.5 hours for a Ben's half smoke you deserve to miss 1/2 the game. Move to another stand and get something else. Guess what - Ben's will be there for many seasons to come.

Plus you should think to yourself, "Hey I went to a baseball game and the had a Ben's there!" Not, "Hey I went to Ben's and there was a baseball game being played behind me!"

You are there for the game not a glorified hot dog you can get any day of the week numb n*ts.

paul said...

I also got there early, since tonight I am opting not to bear the trauma of watching our President honored by throwing out the first pitch.

I really enjoyed walking around the stadium (twice), talking to the employees, and trying to figure the place out. At first all the vendors were eager to sell stuff, and then as was reported by earlier posters, some of them got overwhelmed.

As far as making my way around was concerned, I was reminded of trying to find my way around a department store. The stadium is amazingly difficult to circumnavigate: there are escalators up, but apparently not down. (And at times the escalators were not escalating, although never when I needed to go up, fortunately.) There are no levels on which you can walk around the stadium completely. In this way you're forced to run into opportunities to buy stuff instead of get to where you want to go. That's fine, I have no problem with that.

As we expected, similar to the Verizon Center and other new ballparks, it will be nearly impossible to fans to "upgrade" themselves by strolling into a different section. I even got asked for my ticket as I was wandering in the 400 level--unheard of at RFK, where ushers were infrequent and just there to help lost souls. All the employees I spoke to were really polite.

As far as the wind and temperature was concerned: The stadium had a stiff breeze blowing in during batting practice, and our poor Nats's sluggers, some of whom were emasculated by RFK, tried in vain to hit one out. I watched for a half hour, and the best I saw was a shot hitting the base of the wall on the fly. Strangely, if you wandered out to the edge of the stadium where you could overlook the river or one of the industrial plants, there was no breeze and the sun was warm. Is it possible the stadium is a wind tunnel, like Candlestick Park or the new Giants stadium? All that was missing was the seagulls circling ominously overhead. Although by game time the wind had died down a bit.
Charlie remarked that the wind direction was different than some previous day when the Nats took BP, so maybe the wind will blow out occasionally. BTW Charlie and Dave were good humored but struggling upstairs, in "seventh heaven" they call it (seventh floor on the elevator). A couple of times they couldn't tell if a ball was a one hopper or a line drive. I feel bad for them, and they could certainly move down to fill two or three of the $150 seats downstairs, which will largely go vacant this year. They are the two media guys who really deserve a better location.

What's the deal with the cherry trees? On the day of the peak of cherry blossoms, they all look like Charlie Brown's Christmas tree. Perhaps this will be a metaphor for the Nats' progress. In a year or two they will be blossoming?

I was also totally wrong about the sun in an earlier post. Wily Mo does not have the sun field; in fact the sun is setting on that side, so LF will be in the shade first, it seems.

And then there was the game. I'm wondering why Bergmann (or some other righty) was not penciled in to face the righty-heavy lineup of the Braves. Also, he had his best game last year against them. Perez would have been appropriate against the lefty-heavy lineup of the Phillies tomorrow. I'm sure Manny has some reason. Elijah Dukes swung at two fast balls around his eyes with the bases full and two outs. He could have had the count in his favor had he laid off. Loewen was so wild that it was difficult for any Nat to get a good pitch to hit. Guzman, Johnson, Belliard, and Kearns really look ready to go. I can't believe LoDuca is going to be the catcher, I really don't. Flores is much better defensively and not that much worse offensively. Why not just play Flores every day and have the seasoned veteran as the backup?

Anonymous said...

thanks so much for your view.....
We have season tickets in section 216 so I'll see you tonight in the Stars and Stripe Club:]

Anonymous said...

Walking into the park was an awesome experience, and the field was gorgeous. But I was seated in the scoreboard pavilion and unfortunately, the infield ribbons only had batting averages, balls and strikes, and outs. I'm hoping they'll get what inning we're in, pitch counts and scorers decisions (like the O's 2 errors) up on the ribbons soon. I think I'd have gotten GEICO's message with two geckos on each side, rather than three.

But walking around on the main concourse was a treat -- I enjoyed all the history and memorabalia, and the scoreboard did look great! I definitely enjoyed the "welcome home" signs, and I'm looking forward to making myself at home in the Nats Ballpark.

Rick Rottman said...

Great website! I'm putting it in my Favorites. I wanted to point out that I think you have the pretzel facing the wrong way. If you were to flip it the other way, it would look just like the "W" shown on the napkin.

I'm looking forward to going to a game this year where I will be buying one of those pretzels just so I can take a picture. Not like I ever need an excuse to buy a hot pretzel. :)