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 One of the two banks of ticket windows on N Street NW has been replaced by a flagship team store, and several team concessions inside the park have been renamed “Clubhouse,” with new locations added around both the main and mezzanine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

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.

Parking at Nationals Park? Piece of Cake!

The presidential primaries have got nothing on the Washington Metro when it comes to negative advertising. Every day, I am bombarded by radio ads telling me that if I choose to drive to Nationals park, I will not find parking, miss the entire game, and regret it for the rest of my life.

What’s wrong with this picture?

As thousands of fans can testify, the free Nats Express parking has been a piece of cake since opening day. Simply drive to Lot 8 at RFK Stadium, hop on one of many
waiting shuttle buses, and be at the park in 10 minutes. There is never a traffic problem getting to Lot 8 via 395, and even after a game, the buses move quickly.

This week, as promised, my son and I decided to try one of the new cash parking lots which surround Nationals Park.

We chose Lot HH, because at $15.00 per game it’s the cheapest cash parking option, and while valet parking sounds convenient, it’s not likely to appeal to the masses.

Cash Lot HH at Nationals Park feels like one of those secrets reserved for DC residents in the know. The location is on South Capitol Street underneath the I-395 ramps — not easy to find if you’re not looking for it, but easy to get to from the C Street exit on the Southeast-Southwest Freeway.

Yes, it sounds like a scary location, but as you can see it was all well-lit, with it’s own traffic light and crosswalk to set you on your way to Nationals Park or back home without any hassles.

The parking lot was practically empty despite a near-sellout game, and the walk to the Nationals Park gate was a safe and leisurely 10 minutes, accompanied both ways by fans heading from the Capitol South metro stop.

As for traffic, here’s South Capitol Street right in front of Nationals Park a half hour before the first pitch on a dreaded weeknight.

So Metro, I have to ask, “Where’s the beef?” In reality, the worst backups I’ve seen near Nationals Park have been at the entrance to the Navy Yard Metro station.

I’m a big fan of Metro, but the team has got to put a stop to this scare campaign, which is keeping people away from the park. Stan Kasten and Adrian Fenty should both be calling for Metro to fire its ad agency and start over.

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.

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

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