I may be the first person in history to make a trip to Washington just to see the baseball team play!  I am in New York City for the month of July, and it seems an opportune time to cross the Nationals off my list (I’m sure many others, including denizens of Washington, have also crossed them off their list).  They are playing at home twice while I am in NY, and each time there is a Sunday game at 1:30.  So I figured I might as well do it at the first opportunity, which comes up tomorrow.  The Greyhound bus takes forever, and I don(t want to get up at the crack of dawn, so I am springing for the Amtrak train to get down.  I can leave at 9:00 and get there at 12:30.  That should give me time to get to the park.  I figure the crowds that might usually attend will be diminished by the fact that the World Cup final will be played at the same time.  Then I will take a Vamoose bus back at 5:30.  So I should have plenty of time to get to the bus after a 3-hour game.  Back to NY at 10.  We will have a further report soon on whether this all worked out.

Well, it wasn’t quite to be the perfect trip, though Starbucks did well by it.  I thought I had done a great job of figuring out the alarm clock on my cell phone, which I set for 8:00 since my train left at 9:05.  I was terrified when I woke up and saw that it was 8:58.  But a closer look indicated that my bleary and aging eyes could not distinguish a 6 from an 8 (or one could charitably call it a design defect) and it was really 6:58.  I dozed off again until about 7:50, got up, had a shower, and took off. 

I got to Penn Station about 8:30 and wanted to pick up some breakfast.  I surveyed all the latte places around the waiting room, and none looked promising until I spotted Tim Horton, a favorite of Terry’s.  As I was looking at their donut display and trying to figure out what to have with my coffee, a young woman approached the donuts and put her Starbucks cup on the counter.  “Where did you find Starbucks?”  I asked.  She gave me a big smile and said, “I axed someone the same question.”  She then told me about the secret passageway that led to Starbucks.  I found it, and nursed a latte and cinnamon roll over the Times, which I had acquired for $5.00. 

The night before, I was debating what reading to take with me, and as my choices cumulated to two – the Sunday Times and a book on Payment Systems for light relief when the Times got too serious.  I then realized I was going to have to think about a container for them.  I did not bring a backpack to New York with me, and realized that I would have to take my briefcase.  This is an odd thing to bring to the park, but I figured if they let backpacks in they would also let briefcases in.  I deduced that they let backpacks in from the fact that this was backpack giveaway day – woo hoo!  For a fleeting moment I thought I could carry the stuff in a plastic bag and then switch to the backpack after I got mine, but the fine print indicated that this giveaway was only for children 12 and under.  It was also only for the first 12,000, but I didn’t think that was going to be an issue, which it was not.

I did have a flashback to a night at Yankee Stadium just after 9/11.  The Yankees would not let briefcases in.  I can’t say this was a bad idea, not because I thought some terrorist would find Yankee Stadium an attractive target, but because in my experience from the 70’s, Yankees fans were prone to take whatever objects were at hand and throw them at Red Sox fans or, in the absence of any perceptible enemy, at each other.  Yankee fans were doubtless the inspiration for the opening scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Anyway, did they have someone to inspect and pass the briefcases?  No.  Did they have somewhere you could check them?  No.  They did not let them in.  So these Wall Street types were standing outside the entrance trying to decide whether it was worth abandoning their $200 briefcases in order to see the Yankees.  Incredibly, many decided it was, and the stack of beautiful leather trash grew high. I figured times had changed, and the Nationals are not the Yankees, and I was right.  They took a quick look into my briefcase and let me in.  But I get ahead of myself.

At about 8:50 I wandered back to the waiting room and they announced the train shortly after that.  It was not crowded and I got a seat to myself.  It was also on time, arriving about 12:25.  I spotted the sign for the Metro and ventured down there.  I had checked the Metro web site the night before for directions and calculated that my two trips would cost $4.35, so I purchased a farecard with $4.35 on it.  I thought I might have a problem finding the park, but spotted other fans on the platform and figured I could follow them.  It was a short trip from Union Station to Gallery Place, and then a slightly longer one from Gallery Place to Navy Yard.  I had checked the map on the Nationals web site to see how to get from the Metro to the stadium, but I had not brought it with me.  This indeed was not necessary, for at least three reasons.  First, I could follow the crowd.  Second, there was good signage with a big arrow at the top of the escalator pointing to Nationals Stadium.  Third, when I got to the street, I could see it.

This was a pleasant introduction to what turned out to be a pleasant park.  The street was closed to vehicles, and led directly to the stadium, maybe 150 yards away.  Also, the stadium was mostly built into a depression, so the street turned into a large outfield apron from which you could see the whole panorama of the stadium.  You initially walked into a vendor area where they took your tickets and the staff couldn’t have been more helpful – in fact, a number of people carried flags indicating that the only reason for their existence was to answer your questions.  There were also sculptures in this area, though all the sculptures attempted to capture bat swinging and arm pitching motions, which I think is better left to the imagination.  There was a copyright case where the plaintiff claimed that his performance rights to a ballet were infringed by still pictures and the defendant claimed that no one could perform the ballet based on those pictures.  But the judge said that if you see a photo of a ballet dancer in the air, your mind fills in her leap to that position as well as her descent to the ground, so you do not just have a still image.  I think the same works with the swing of a bat or the throw of a pitch. 

Howard's Swing

In addition, there were lots of mascots in this area, and they were making themselves available to the crowd, unlike, for example, Mr. Baseball (or, as my nephew’s son called him “Hey, Baseball Head”) in Cincinnati, whose sightings were rare.  I saw George Washington and Teddy Roosevelt and others I’m afraid I couldn’t identify.  This welcome, plus the fact that it was a perfect summer afternoon, led me to conclude that this was a very friendly place for baseball.  From this perch, and the nearby signage, I could orient myself very easily, figuring just where to go to find my seat.  I liked that a lot.

Teddy Roosevelt on the Outfield Apron

I stopped writing to check my emails.  I got one from the Nationals called “Game Recap and Thank You from the Nationals.”  They must have read my mind, because I was going to fact check this blog after I wrote it by going to a recap of the game, and they have now provided me with one!  And thanking me for attending is a nice gesture.  I like this experience!

I stayed on the “ground level” for a while as I worked my way toward third base, and then took a flight of stairs up to the clubhouse level.  Shortly my entrance ticket was checked and I found myself in air-conditioned comfort.  There were large comfortable rooms with people clustered around the bar or sitting and watching the game on tv.  From the back windows you could see the city, though not much was visible from here.  I thought maybe this was like the clubhouse seats in Cincinnati, where you could get food for free, but alas, that was not the case.  I did get a Pilsner Urquell on draft for $7, which I thought was a good deal.  I then went to one of the food windows, and found that each has rather limited choices.  This one specialized in Chicken Parmagiana sandwiches, which sounded good at the time, so I got one.  I then headed for my seat and got to the aisle just as the National Anthem was being played.  Right after that, some Brownies took the field.  I have seen this at other parks, and it is a nice gesture.  The players then come out and greet the kids who have stood in their places, tell them to buzz off, and it is time to Play Ball!

I had a great seat in the middle of the 4th row of the first deck, right behind home plate.  It was also in the shade, which wasn’t a big deal then, but would prove to be later on as the day got a lot warmer.  And it was padded!  I munched on my food and worked on my scorecard.  I noticed that everyone in my area was white, and thought this might have been because of the $65 seat, but on my stroll around later, I also saw few nonwhite faces.  This is not good.  After about three innings (during which the Giants roughed up the Nationals starter), I decided it was time for some circumnavigation.

I headed out in the opposite direction, toward first base, but stayed on the upper level.  This led to an outfield area called the Scoreboard Walk that was very open and airy.  You could watch the game or also look out at the river.  I don’t know why I still had a hole in my stomach, but I picked up a bratwurst and an MGD there, and had a portable feast as I continued my way back, first to that outfield viewing area, and then to my seats.  I have to admit this food was not great, but the beer was good.  By this time, the fans were lining up more for ice cream than for beer, as it was getting pretty warm.  I must also mention that while I found this an extremely friendly stadium, the club did not feel obligated to entertain the fans at every moment, and particularly between innings.  While it did have the usual stuff like the race around the park with colorful characters, by and large we were left to ourselves between innings.  Thank you, Nationals, for recognizing that the primary entertainment is the game!

When I got back to my seat, the Nationals (I saw a t-shirt that said “Los Nacionales,” and while there were a few Giants fans there, no t-shirt said “Los Giganticos”) staged a bit of a rally in the 6th.  They started out with a strikeout, but then Zimmerman slashed one to third and the third baseman made a weak throw.  The umpire called the runner out at first, but I think it was a bad call – he may have beaten it out, but in any event the throw seemed to pull the first baseman off the bag.  They then got three hits in a row with two outs, but alas did not score.  That bad call seemed to kill the rally before it got started.  They then rallied again in the 7th, scoring two runs this time, but it was, as they say, too little, too late.

It was 4:30 by the time the Nats got their last ups in the 9th and I had decided to give myself an hour to catch my 5:30 bus at Rosslyn, so I decided to miss the big comeback.  As I was leaving the stadium, I saw the first out.  When I descended into the Metro station, I thought it was my good luck that a train was waiting, but this turned out to be the beginning of my misfortune.  They held the train until it filled up with fans, maybe 15 minutes.  Then when I went to make my transfer at L’Enfant Plaza, the sign said the train would not be coming for 12 minutes.  I might still have made it, but as we approached Foggy Bottom at 5:20, the conductor told us we were going to have to wait because they were doing construction and all trains had to share one track.  We sat there for 15 minutes.  I tried calling my bus operator, but couldn’t reach them from underground.  So a big Boo to the Washington Metro for being so unreliable.

I did have the map printed of where the bus stop was in relation to Rosslyn Metro station.  I thought I was going to have walk around a couple of blocks, but when I got to the open air, I could see that one block was mostly landscaping and I could walk directly across it to the bus stop.  Alas, when I got there, it was 5:45.  I called them then and got put on another one at 7:30.  To kill the time, even though the bus stop was in front of a Cosi, I had spotted a Starbucks down the street, so I went there.  Even though I was thirsty, and it was still a bit hot, I do like my hot lattes, so I got that, and nursed it over my Times and book until 7:15, when I saw that the bus was there and got on it.  It was an express, and made really good time to NYC, pulling up to Penn Station before 11:30.  I took the 7th Avenue subway down, walked across to 5th, and was in the apartment by 11:50.  Getting home a couple of hours late was the only downside to the experience, which was no big deal.

So a big Thumbs Up to the Nationals Stadium (and thank God it has a fine name as well, though the Nats probably wish they had the big bucks that come from corporate sponsorship).  May you soon have a team worthy of the stadium!