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 One of the two banks of ticket windows on N Street NW has been replaced by a flagship team store, and several team concessions inside the park have been renamed “Clubhouse,” with new locations added around both the main and mezzanine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.

Parking Options at Nationals Park

The Washington Nationals have made some changes to the stadium parking options available at Nationals Park, and for those planning to drive to today’s exhibition game or to Monday’s home opener, it would be wise to take note and to leave a little extra time to get to the stadium.

The free Nats Express parking and shuttle service from RFK Stadium is no longer available, but the team has replaced it with some more convenient and quite inexpensive parking options. These include $5 parking in Lot HH on South Capitol Street under the SE/SW Freeway, and $10 parking in Lot W on M Street SE between 6th and 7th Streets SE.

Washington Nationals - Nationals Park Stadium Parking Map

Last season the private Marc Parc lot on 1st and M St. SW started charging $10 on game days, providing robust competition for the Nats’ official parking, but Marc Parc is raising the rate to $15 this season. The Nat’s new $10 Lot W will be a convenient alternative, and a nice walk down M Street to Nationals Park; however, we predict that the new $5.00 Lot HH will become the most popular, not only because it’s the cheapest Nationals parking option, but because there are plenty of spaces, and once you’ve tried it, you’ll realize that’s it makes for a very easy in-and-out, and the neighborhood walk is nothing to worry about.

We liked Lot HH when it was $15 back in 2008, and were even happier with it when the price dropped to $10 last season. Now, at $5 per game, we just hope it doesn’t fill to capacity before we get there. The location is on South Capitol Street underneath the I-395 ramps — not easy to find if you’re not looking for it, but if you’re heading to the game from Northwest DC or Northern Virginia, it’s very easy to get to from I 395 North. UPDATE: The price increased back to $10 in 2012.

To get to Lot HH from the I-395 N SE/SW Freeway, just take the C STREET SW Exit, follow the ramp up and to the left, and at the end of the ramp, turn right onto Washington Avenue SW. In two blocks Washington Avenue merges onto South Capitol Street. The lot is on the right, after the police lot, just under the highway overpass.

Be sure to leave plenty of time to get to the games. With the National Cherry Blossom Festival filling Metro cars to capacity and causing traffic jams around the Tidal Basin, and President Obama throwing out the first pitch on Monday, expect the bridges to be a mess and the lines at the gate to be long.

Consider Parking This Weekend at Nationals Park

You’ve heard the ads on the radio. The umpire calls “Strike One. Strike Two. Strike Three. You’re Out!” and the voice over intones “Now you know how it feels to try to find parking at a Nats game.”

Regular readers know that I’m a bit angry about the DC Metro’s horrible negative ad campaign, which has convinced people to stay away in droves by telling them that going anywhere near Nationals Park in a car is a recipe for disaster. You’ve also learned that it’s a complete myth.

In fact, after 6 weeks of ball games, I think it’s fair to say that parking at Nationals Park is at least as easy as taking the Metro.

On Tuesday, I took 20 people from my office in Reston, Virginia to a night at our Nationals’ new stadium. Most had never been, and the reason cited was the perceived transportation hassle. In fact, some said they had turned down tickets previously because it wasn’t worth the transportation nightmare.

We all had a great time. The close game vs. the Phillies kept everybody on the edge of their seats, but the thing that got the most comments from the first-timers was how shockingly easy it was to get in and out. Some took Metro, but most followed the easy parking directions at Nationals.com.

On a weekday evening, using the free Nats Express parking and shuttle from RFK Stadium, it took about an hour from the time we left Reston to standing inside the park at our meeting spot in the centerfield plaza. My boss, who couldn’t get out of the office until after 6:00pm, raced downtown, drove right up to National Park, paid for the cash valet parking and reported it was the easiest stadium parking he’d ever seen.

The Milwaukee Brewers are coming to town tonight for a Memorial Weekend series. The weather will be spectacular, and I can’t think of a better excuse to load the family in the car and drive to the ball park. See for yourself how easy it is, then join me in pleading with Metro to kill this horrible ad campaign.

The Nationals’ Big Marketing Mistake

After their first complete homestand at the new Nationals Park, the Washington Nationals are ranked 20th among Major League Baseball teams in home attendance, and averaging fewer paid spectators than the team did at this point in their first season at RFK stadium.

Perhaps most striking is the lack of bodies in the new stadium’s most visible seats — the “Presidential Seats” which sit directly behind home plate and serve as a backdrop for televised shots of the batter’s box.

Possible reasons for the lackluster attendance have been much debated. Team president Stan Kasten says he’s “very pleased” with attendance given the cold weather and the hot playoff pursuits of other DC sports teams. Others have cited the high cost of Nationals Park tickets and concessions, or the team’s losing record.

I blame it on The Myth.

The Myth was born from a well-intentioned effort to promote the use of Metro to get to Nationals home games. Team, city, and Metro officials worked their tails off to get the word out. They talked about it non-stop, held press events, and devoted significant advertising and PR dollars to the cause.

The problem? They put the creative message in the hands of marketing amateurs, and the campaign went negative.

Why not? Negative works, right? Fear, uncertainty, and doubt are some of the greatest tools in the marketing arsenal. Attacking the competition (in this case, trying to park at the Park) is a time-tested and reliable method of getting people’s attention. Positive is boring.

So the message got delivered, and it wasn’t “Take Metro!” or “Try our free parking shuttle!” The message was clear. Parking is a nightmare. Take Metro or your life will be miserable.

Local news producers love fear, uncertainty, and doubt. It helps them invent drama where none exists. So they jumped on the bandwagon quickly with “public interest” feature stories about how terrible the parking situation is going to be.

A radio ad running non-stop for the last 6 weeks profiles a man who drives around Nationals Park for inning after inning looking for a parking spot. The man is desperate. He is miserable. He misses the entire game. The voiceover intones “Don’t drive and try to park at Nationals Park!”

It worked too well.

I know dozens of people who have shared or partial-season ticket plans. In March, as they picked their games, everybody told me that they were trying to avoid the first few homestands, “to let them get this parking and traffic mess figured out.”

The Myth is that transportation to Nationals Park is a nightmare, and this myth was created by the team itself. I haven’t seen any meaningful traffic, parking, or crowd issues. It’s time for the powers that be to pull this campaign and go positive instead.

What about you? Has perception matched transportation reality? Do you know people who have avoided Nationals Park because of traffic/parking fears? Have you done so yourself?

Nationals Park from photo by Flickr user Ouij.
Navy Yard Metro from photo by Flickr user MissChatter.

Parking at Nationals Park – The Real Tragedy

Parking at Nationals Park – The Real Tragedy

As the inaugural presidents race at Nationals Park approaches, get ready to hear Stan Kasten shouting “Take Metro!” on every media outlet in town. Parking availability will be slim to none around the new Nationals Park.

Nationals Park South Capitol StreetAs somebody who used to leave his office at 6:30 by car, and be in his seat at RFK in time for the star spangled banner, this won’t be an easy transition. But it’s a fair enough compromise. RFK Stadium was unusually accessible by car for an inner city ball park, with major highways funneling right into a parking lot. We couldn’t expect the same to be true of any other location. The Navy Yard metro stop is close enough to the new Nationals Park, and there are tens of thousands of parking spots at metro stations. In the end, I could cry about parking availability all I want, but I doubt I’d want to be exiting Nationals Park by car, since (unlike RFK) I’ll be hitting surface roads with traffic cops and post-game crowds crossing streets. The thought sends shivers of FedEx Field flashbacks up my spine.

Nationals Park Parking GaragesNo, the scarcity of parking spaces is not the real tragedy here. The real tragedy is taking shape over the left and center field walls, where construction is almost complete on the two above-ground garages that were part of the deal with major league baseball to approve the stadium site. Everybody knew that above-ground garages would be unappealing, but in a classic case of bureaucratic decision making, that’s what got approved. Major League Baseball held fast to its deadline, the city and the team held fast to their budget, and the rest of us get stuck with these two ugly behemoths for generations to come.

View from the Owner's Suite at Nationals ParkAs unforgivable acts of civic shortsitedness go, this one tops my list as a Washington Nationals fan. When I learned of the plan to build these garages above ground, I was extremely disappointed, but when I saw them for myself on a recent tour of the new stadium, I was positively stunned. If they had to be above ground, did they still have to be right over the outfield walls by the stadium’s main entrance? The photo to the right is from the location of the owner’s suite behind home plate. Yes, that’s the U.S. Capitol dome being blocked by the new garage. Sure, they’re going cover the garage with advertising posters and plant cherry trees in front of it, but is this the DC skyline view we were promised?

Nationals Park Parking Garages over the left and center field wallsFor everybody’s sake, I hope that the team, the city, and major league baseball can start thinking beyond the outfield walls. The new Nationals Park should be a source of civic and fan pride, but that can’t come 100% from the amenities within the park. New ballparks should integrate and represent the neighborhood and the city, becoming attractions unto themselves, drawing tourists when they come to town, and driving ticket sales even when the team falls short of expectations. This isn’t rocket science. You don’t have to have the Rocky Mountains of Denver or the San Francisco Bay to pull it off. New ballparks have taken advantage of the comparatively nondescript skylines of Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Milwaukee. You’d think we could have done better.

With luck, the new Nationals Park will pour in buckets of money for both the city and the Washington Nationals team, and additional parking options will built in the adjacent neighborhood in the next couple of years. Then perhaps we can have some serious discussions about ripping these things down and starting over.

Flickr photos by Scott Ableman

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,998 other followers

%d bloggers like this: