Food, parking, organ music, and other changes at Nationals Park for 2013

The swagger that comes with high expectations wasn’t the only new thing on display at Nationals Park on opening day Monday. The Nationals have made a number of small changes to the ballpark experience for 2013.
Championship banner at Nationals ParkNationals Park Scoreboard Walk PhotoNationals Park Clubhouse Team StoreNationals Park Organist - Washington Nationals

In the park itself, NL East Champion banners now hang above the centerfield gate entrance, above the center field HD scoreboard, and outside the Presidents Club. The giant Scoreboard Walk photo has also been changed to feature Jayson Werth’s walk-off home run in the 2012 playoffs. In the scheme of things, the signage changes are small, which makes the recent whining by a prominent Phillies blogger all the more perplexing.

More significant are the retail changes. One of the two banks of ticket windows on N Street NW has been replaced by a flagship team store, and several team concessions inside the park have been renamed “Clubhouse,” with new locations added around both the main and mezzanine concourses. In some cases, these new concession locations block formerly open views of the field from the concourse.

For those who drive to Nationals Park, expanded retail development in the area is taking its toll on Nats’ official parking lots. Since Nationals Park opened, lots G, J, M, N, V, and HH have disappeared from the Nationals’ official parking options.

This season, the disappearance of $5.00 lot HH from the official parking map caused concerns for budget-minded drivers. We recommended this parking option in previous years, so it was some relief to find that the lot is in fact still operating on a cash basis. The price is now $10, and still a bargain.

The Nationals had an organist playing in the center field plaza before Monday’s game, and word on the street is that it was a trial run, with the Nats’ brass considering making it a permanent fixture at games. Notably absent from Monday’s opener were persistent scoreboard cheer-starters, noise meters, and other artificial enticements we’ve come to expect. Logic holds that if the Nats keep winning and selling out, it shouldn’t take more than a little organ music (and a couple of Bryce Harper home runs) to get the crowd going.

Nats fans still mourning the departure of slugger Michael Morse via trade got a bittersweet surprise during the seventh inning stretch. After “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” fans were treated to A Ha’s “Take On Me,” Morse’s walk-up song that became a crowd favorite in 2011 and 2012. Morse may be in Seattle now, but if fans continue to sing along, expect the Nats to keep using it.

Turkey Hill Ice Cream and Papa Johns Pizza at Nationals ParkShawafel at Nationals Park - Felafel SchwarmaShawafel at Nationals Park - Felafel SchwarmaShawafel at Nationals Park - Felafel SchwarmaPresidents Race Intro Video2013 brings new food options to Nationals Park, some of which may not be welcome. On the pizza and ice cream front, Flippin’ Pizza and Breyers have been replaced by Papa Johns and Turkey Hill. Papa Johns was the team’s pizza purveyor from 2005 through 2009, and fans cheered its departure three years ago when their bland mini pizzas were replaced by actual slices by Flippin’ Pizza. Unless the product has changed, this feels like a step backwards.

In the centerfield food court, local favorite Red Hot & Blue has been ousted in favor of H Street Lebanese mainstay Shawafel. Shawafel serves a selection of Lebanese wraps containing shawarma (chicken or beef/lamb), felafel, or fried cauliflower, plus french fries that are unquestionably the best at Nationals Park.

Shawafel is a nice, if redundant, addition. Max’s Kosher Grill serves superior felafel and shawarma on the other side of the concourse, but being kosher, they are closed on Fridays and Saturdays.

Up in the Club level, we’re told to expect cupcakes from Fluffy Thoughts Bakery in McLean. These are hands down the best cupcakes in the DC area, and Fluffy Thoughts is concocting some special baseball-themed flavors for Nationals Park. More on that later.

Of course, 2013 brings a major change to the fourth inning presidents race, where the Nats have introduced a fifth racing president, William Howard “Bill” Taft. The presidents are being introduced by a new video that was created during February’s cross-country trip to Mount Rushmore, with presidents dashing from Mount Rushmore through various landmarks on their way to the starting line at Nationals Park.

Perhaps the biggest change to the off-the-field experience is the introduction of Ultimate Ballpark Access cards for season ticket holders. The program promises many benefits that have yet to be introduced, so we’ll withhold judgment for now. The Nats have been very quick to fix early mistakes with the way cards are managed, so as flawed as it may be, it may be wise to wait a few months to see how the the program develops. One exception: Season ticket holders looking for a souvenir paper ticket are being charged $3.00 each for something that looks like it came out of an inkjet printer. The Nats should kill this fee if they can’t at least improve the quality.

What do you think of the changes so far?

Changes for 2011 at Nationals Park

The new-look Nationals begin their first extended homestand at Nationals Park tomorrow, bringing a 4-5 record and a renewed sense of confidence to face the Philadelphia Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers beginning Tuesday night.

It’s an exciting time to be a Nats fan. The many changes on the field have the Natosphere buzzing, and fans heading to Nationals Park have a number of off-the-field changes to look forward to as well. Some of the highlights:

R.I.P. Natstown

With Stan Kasten officially out of the way, the Nationals Marketing department appears to have gotten its act together for 2011.

As we first saw when the new uniforms were announced, and observed on opening day, the team’s cacophony of colors, logos, and slogans has been wisely narrowed to a simple focus on the “Curly W” and the color red.

Yes, the seats are still painted blue, but that remains the exception as the curly W and the new, brighter red have taken over the flags, banners, uniforms, scoreboard, and ad campaigns for the team. For a team still building its identity, it’s a welcome evolution of the Nationals brand.

Accordingly, the original block “Nationals” logo has disappeared, as have all references to “Natstown.”

If you are an official citizen of Natstown, it appears that your passport will not be renewed.

In-between the action

Every new season brings a few changes to the complement of “down time” distractions for the casual fan. Among those is the player’s annual selection of personal walk-up music. If you’re wondering why you’re hearing Guns n Roses and Metallica at Nationals Park, take note. Some of the team’s newest players have brought a little different edge along with their walk-up themes.

Most front-and-center is the addition of radio personality Sarah Fraser to the in-stadium entertainment crew. As I wrote previously, I think she’s a real upgrade and hope readers agree.

Most exciting to fans of the presidents race may be the return of the “classic” racing presidents. Last year, during the All Star Break, the presidents received a significant facelift, with no explanation offered by the team.

It was the last we’d seen of the original, more menacing-looking presidents — until now. The “classic” presidents reappeared at this year’s auditions, and on opening day reclaimed their position as regulars at Nationals home games. Meanwhile, it appears that the “new look” presidents have been relegated to emergency backup and other command appearances.

Where to Park Yourself

New casual seating areas have been added outside the Red Loft, near the Miller Scoreboard Walk, and behind the centerfield plaza, in what was formerly the Kids Zone.

For those driving to Nationals Park, the team’s two discount parking options remain in place at lots HH ($5.00) and W ($10.00), but the private MarcParc lot at M and Half Streets has raised its
rate to $20/game.

Lots of Food Changes

Pastrami at Nationals Park? For the fourth time in as many years, the Taste of the Majors stands have been revamped, but the latest version of the menu is the truest to the original concept — with specialties from around the Nationals League East: a Philly hoagie, Atlanta Chicken and Waffle, Miami cuban sandwich, and from New York, that grilled pastrami on rye.

I can report that the latter was made with authentic Romanian pastrami and swiss, but despite coming right off the grill, was cold as ice.

Fans of the Rough Rider are mourning the elimination of Teddy’s Barbeque, but for a limited time, the popular stand has reemerged in a tent at the Miller Scoreboard Walk. You can get pulled pork and pulled chicken, but alas, no Rough Rider.

The tent will disappear soon, as soon as New York’s Blue Smoke, Shake Shack, Box Frites, and El Verano open behind the Scoreboard Walk.

Also new to the scoreboard walk is Jammin’ Island BBQ, adjacent to the Red Loft, featuring jerk chicken and jerk ribs cooked on an open grill. The menu mirrors some new options being offered to Club and Suite ticketholders in the Stars & Stripes Club, but it’s pricey for an outfield stand, with combo platters costing as much as $16.00.

Other new items at the Stars & Stripes Club include barbeque chicken nachos, braised short ribs, sweet potato fries, pork wingettes, and fish & chips.

Nationals Park regulars know that the most reliably speedy food line can always be found at Hard Times Cafe in the otherwise busy left field concourse.

This season, Hard Times has expanded to two additional locations within the main concourse, behind the first and third base lines. The stands offer all of your Hard Times favorites except for Chili Mac. This should put an end to the oh-so common question “Where’d you get those nachos?”

Along with Budweiser, two other long-time sponsors — NJ’s Curly W Pretzels and Giffords Ice Cream — appear to have completely disappeared from Nationals Park, leaving the Ben’s Chili Bowl Half Smoke as the only remaining local signature item (sorry Hard Times, your chili recipe is from Cincinnati).

The former Giffords stand has been replaced by Breyers Ice Cream, which features a knockout Caramel Cookie Dough, but alas, no more milkshakes.

There is one bit of good news for Nats fans looking for a local treat. The popular but elusive DC food truck District Taco has just been awarded a license by the city to park on the street near the Nationals Park centerfield gates on game days.

District Taco offers outstanding homemade tacos, burritos, and quesadillas that put Chipotle to shame.

The Nationals do allow outside food, as long as it’s packaged in a single serving soft-sided container (no hard plastics). Let’s hope the line at District Taco isn’t too long.

Race photo courtesy of Flickr member afagen.

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