Some cheers and a few jeers for the new food options at Nationals Park

When the Washington Nationals brought in the Levy Restaurant group to replace Centerplate a year ago, expectations were high for a major improvement in concession variety and service.

Perhaps they needed a year to get their bearings, because Levy has followed the incremental changes of 2009 with a number of very large wholesale changes for the 2010 season that begins today at Nationals Park.

THE GOOD

Nationals Park Red Porch RestaurantRed Porch Expansion. Rows of seats were removed to create more in-stadium dining tables for the centerfield Red Porch restaurant, and the menu was expanded to include new items like a Southwestern Steak Salad that’s big enough for two. You can reserve one of these tables in centerfield for one hour of any game during the season by calling 202.640.7947. [2011 UPDATE: The Red Porch no longer takes reservations.]

Flippin PizzaNo more Papa Johns. Since RFK days, Nats fans — especially Nats fans with kids — have suffered with tiny, doughy, Papa John’s mini pizzas, while Club level ticketholders enjoyed the option of Flippin’ Pizza slices.

Thankfully, Papa Johns has been banished from Nationals Park, replaced by Flippin Pizza stands selling actual slices on every level of the Park (behind Sections 115, 214, and 311).

Nationals Victory Knot PretzelVictory Knot Pretzel. Only available in the Red Loft, this popular item imported from other stadiums where Levy runs concessions is a 2 pound pretzel in a pizza box with three sauces for dipping — a sweet cinnamon creme, a spicy chipotle honey mustard, and savory beer cheese. You definitely want to share this item.

Healthy Cart. Give the Nats high marks for listening and trying. Fans on restricted diets, or who just want to eat healthy — even at a ball park — will find gluten free items, chopped vegetable salads, low fat wraps, and yogurt parfaits at this cart which moved to a better spot on the very busy main concourse behind the 3rd base stands. Alas, on Saturday afternoon, when the lines were 15 minutes deep at every concession stand from hot dogs to beer, the Healthy Cart was the only visible vendor in the Park with no waiting.

THE BAD

Ridiculous waits. You really want to cut these people some slack since it’s the beginning of the season, but 2 years of experience tells us not to chalk this up to “working the bugs out.” As in previous years, we saw people reach the front of the line and still have to wait 5 minutes for simple food orders while a more-than-capacity staff stood around waiting for the next guy to fill the order.

Hard Times Cafe at Nationals ParkReally, people. The limited menu at your food stand is designed to keep things efficient and fast. So why do I wait several minutes for a hot dog after I’ve reached the front of the line? A notable exception continues to be the Hard Times Cafe concession, where every employee seems to understand why they are there, and the line always flies.

Signage.The menu signage continues to prioritize adherence to corporate design standards over actual usefulness. The reimagined Taste of the Majors stand is a case in point. Gone are the wonderful garlic fries and other goodies from major league parks. Now pretty much all they sell is foot-long hot dogs. The menu, unfortunately, lists “DC Dog,” “Phillies Dog,” “Braves Dog,” “Mets Dog”… You can wait in line for 15 minutes to get to the front before finding out what the difference is between these various foot longs. By the 4th inning of the exhibition game, the staff had already given up on explaining the menu, and was just asking people when they got to the front what they wanted on their hot dogs.

Bottomless popcorn. A new gimmick this year is the Bottomless Popcorn available at any Nats Dog stand. For $5.75, you can get a huge bucket of popcorn — enough to make anybody sick. For $7.00, you can get the “Bottomless Popcorn,” which comes with free refills throughout the game. The catch? You can keep coming back for refills, but the Bottomless bucket is about 1/3 the size of the regular-sized bucket. Is this a smart way to please your customers and keep lines short? Adding insult to injury: my sister just asked for the smallest size popcorn, and was sold the bottomless variety.

Nationals Park Chicken & Waffle sandwichThe Chicken and Waffle Sandwich. OK, I’ll admit I haven’t tried it, but I really am scared of this thing. Available at the new Change Up Chicken stand behind Section 130 on the main concourse, it features fried chicken on top of waffles, covered in syrup. Defibrillator not included.

Running out of food. When you charge $11 for a sandwich or $9 for a hot dog, I assume your margins are high enough to account for a little waste, so it’s really frustrating when you run out of food in the 5th inning. The Dupont Deli behind section 227 used to have some very nice salads, but notoriously was supplied with only 4 or 5 of them to last the whole game. This year, the salads have been replaced with hot panini sandwiches — grilled cheese, italian, or turkey. They were out of grilled cheese before Saturday’s game even started.

Nats lose. Teddy disqualified. Good thing this was an exhibition.

A huge crowd filled Nationals Park for this afternoon’s game between the Washington Nationals and Boston Red Sox. The year’s only exhibition game in DC was meant to be a final warm-up for the season that starts Monday. Nats fans were simply grateful that this one didn’t count.

With Craig Stammen spotting Boston an early lead, and Tim Wakefield shutting down the Nats on the field, the faithful looked to the 4th-inning presidents race for signs that 2010 would be different.

Instead, what transpired suggested that the conspiracy that continues to deny Teddy Roosevelt his first presidents race victory is alive and well.

Teddy had raced out to an early lead over the other presidents when That Cat, who has foiled Teddy numerous times in the past, appeared from the centerfield fence. Chasing down the presidents, the Cat tackled Abe, Tom, and George in succession, but ran into a stiff-arm from Teddy Roosevelt.

Teddy held off That Cat, pushing him to the ground just before crossing the finish line, but Screech stepped in and immediately disqualified Teddy for “unnecessary roughness.” For the first time ever, That Cat was declared the presidents race winner.

Video courtesy of YouTube member lfahome

Dave Matthews Band coming to Nationals Park

Dave Matthews Band will perform at Nationals Park in Washington, DC on July 23, 2010Dave Matthews Band will perform at Nationals Park on July 23, as part of its tour for the its album, “Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King”. They are joined on the tour by Zac Brown Band.

The Washington Nationals announced the concert today. Tickets and parking will go on sale to the general public on Friday, February 26 at 10:00 a.m. through tickets.com.

This is the 2nd concert in Nationals Park history, following last year’s successful Billy Joel and Elton John concert.

Photo by Flickr member Dena Flows

Natsfest and Winter Caravan Schedule Announced

The Washington Nationals today announced the schedule for their 2010 “Winter Caravan”, in which members of the team will tour the Washington, DC area to meet fans and promote the upcoming season before heading south for spring training.

Participating players and front office staff include new acquisitions Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, Brian Bruney, and Matt Capps; manager Jim Riggleman; and players Adam Dunn, Ryan Zimmerman, John Lannan, Nyjer Morgan, Josh Willingham, Tyler Clippard, and Craig Stammen. Prospects Danny Espinoza, Ryan Speier, and Drew Storen will also participate in the first 3 days of activities. Nats broadcaster Rob Dibble will moderate the sessions.

The 10-stop tour will run from January 27th to January 31st, culminating in the second annual Natsfest on January 31st at Nationals Park.

Wednesday, January 27
11:00am – 12:00pm
Unity Health Care’s Southwest Health Center, Washington, DC
Meet-and-Greet and Book Donation

1:00pm – 3:00pm
Hard Times Cafe, Arlington, VA
Autograph Session

5:00pm – 7:00pm
Build-A-Bear Workshop, McLean, VA
Autograph Session

Thursday, January 28
12:00pm – 1:00pm
Ben’s Chili Bowl, Washington, DC

2:00pm – 4:00pm
USO of Metropolitan Washington Warehouse, Ft. Belvoir, VA
Care Package Assembly

6:00pm – 8:00pm
Potomac Nationals Pfitzer Stadium, Woodbridge, VA
Autograph Session

Friday, January 29
1:00pm – 4:00pm
Hot Stove Luncheon hosted by David Gregory,
Nationals Park, Washington, DC (Ticketed Event)

5:00pm – 8:00pm
Washington Capitals Game, Verizon Center, Washington, DC
Autograph Session

Saturday, January 30
11:00am
Children’s National Medical Center, Washington, DC
Atrium Visit with Patients

1:30pm – 3:30pm
Prince George’s Sports & Learning Complex, Landover, MD
Press Conference and Skills Demonstration & Autograph Session

Sunday, January 31
11:00am – 4:00pm
NatsFest, Nationals Park, Washington, DC (Ticketed Event)

If the second annual NatsFest is as good as the first, it will be a guaranteed good time for Nats fans. Expect long lines for to get autographs and take photos with Nationals players, but fans will otherwise roam freely in Nationals Park, tour the clubhouse, participate in question-and-answer sessions with the likes of Stan Kasten, Mike Rizzo, Jim Riggleman and George Will, and even take your shot in the Nationals batting cages for a $1 donation to the Nationals Dream Foundation. Nationals Season Ticket Holders will receive up to four complimentary tickets per account and additional tickets should be available soon for purchase at Nationals.com.

Nationals offer half-price coupon code to Teddy fans to kick off “Screech Week”

The Washington Nationals have once again released a coupon code “for Teddy’s friends”: Order online at Nationals.com using Coupon Code “TEDDY” and get half-price tickets in select seating sections for the series starting Tuesday night vs. the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Washington Nationals T-Shirt TuesdayThe coupon code is valid only for online orders and may be used to get outfield box seats, outfield corner, or mezzanine seats for $15.00 to $18.00 each.

This homestand is your last chance to cheer on the Nationals — and Teddy — in 2009, while getting a glimpse of young September call-ups including hot infielder Ian Desmond.

Tuesday night kicks off “Screech Week” with T-Shirt Tuesday, and a free Screech t-shirt for the first 10,000 fans.

The Screech theme continues with a new promotion on Sunday, September 27. The first 5,000 kids age 12 and under entering Nationals Park will receive a Build-a-Bear Workshop Screech doll — possibly the highest-value promotional item we’ve seen given away at the ball park.

Note also that $5.00 walk-up grandstand tickets have been readily available before the game for the recent series’ vs. the Marlins and Phillies. Grandstand tickets are available before the game at the Nationals ticket windows outside the Center Field Gate.

Teddy Roosevelt Scratched from Presidents Race, listed as “Day to Day”

Washington Nationals Teddy Roosevelt Scratched Injured Day to DayIn an unprecendented turn of events, the Washington Nationals announced during Saturday night’s game that racing president and fan favorite Teddy Roosevelt had been injured during pre-game warmups and would not participate in the presidents race.

With the Nationals trailing the Florida Marlins in the top of the 4th inning, the Nationals Park announcer said that Teddy’s status was “day to day.”

Sure enough, when the presidents race began, Teddy was nowhere to be seen.

It was “Pups in the Park” night at Nationals Park, with the Washington, DC Humane Society running its adopt-a-pet program for fans in the outfield picnic area, and dog owners invited to bring their dogs to the game. The sold out promotion filled up section 201, where Humane Society volunteers helped keep
George Washington Fire Hydrantan eye on the pets and their owners.

In keeping with the spirit of the evening, George Washington took the early lead in the 4th-inning race, and dropped a fire hydrant along the outfield warning track. Abe Lincoln tripped on the hydrant, leaving George with a clear path to another first place finish.

Photo of Teddy Roosevelt by Anthony Gualtieri
Video by YouTube member TheTeddyRoosevelt

Teddy dresses as Santa for Christmas in July

Washington Nationals racing president Teddy Roosevelt dresses as Santa Claus for Christmas in JulyIt was Christmas in July tonight at Nationals Park, with the U.S. Marines Corps Reserves on hand all weekend collecting toys for the Toys for Tots Foundation; and for a brief time, it appeared that the fans in attendance were in store for an early gift in the form of victory for Teddy Roosevelt.

But a day after Teddy failed to win even after tackling the other presidents, only the most optimistic of Teddy supporters could be convinced that the second half of the season would be different for #26.

Washington Nationals racing president Teddy Roosevelt dresses as Santa for Christmas in JulyWashington Nationals mascot Screech provided a clue about what was in store when he appeared in a Santa Suit to take his customary place at the finish line.

When Teddy burst out of the centerfield gate in full Santa regalia, he looked unbeatable, staking a big lead as he approached the first base stands.

Unfortunately, Teddy has never been good at multitasking, and when he reached into his big red bag and began tossing Webkinz stuffed animals to the fans, the other presidents passed him by. Teddy never finished the race.

The 4th annual Toys for Tots drive continues for Saturday’s and Sunday’s games at Nationals Park. The U.S. Marines will be stationed at all gates to accept donations from gate opening until the end of the fourth inning. The toys collected will be distributed to non-profit organizations and pediatric wards in the D.C. metropolitan area.

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