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.

R.I.P. Teddy’s Barbeque

Baseball fans know that change is an inevitable rite of spring. One can only hope that the gains outweigh the losses — that for every lost Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham, there’s a Jayson Werth or Bryce Harper to get excited about.

The Rough Rider at Teddy's Barbeque, Nationals ParkSo, too, is the case with the rest of the ball park experience, especially at Nationals Park, which is revamping some of its foodservice offerings for the fourth consecutive season, eliminating both Five Guys Burgers and Fries, and my personal favorite, Teddy’s Barbeque.

Teddy’s Barbeque was a mid-season acquisition in 2009, and was home of the Rough Rider — a jumbo beef short
Xtreme Loaded Dawgs at Nationals Park in Washington, DCrib brined for 12 hours then smoked for 12 hours more. Five Guys you can get anywhere, but the Rough Rider was ours — the Park’s closest thing to a unique signature dish. It looked like something Fred Flintstone would eat. It was delicious, and there was always a line.

The big steel smokers still stand in the same centerfield location, but
The Nach-Yo Dog at Xtreme Loaded Dawgs, Nationals Park, Washington, DCbeginning this season they’re being used only for hot dogs — or should I say Dawgs.

Yes, Teddy’s Barbeque has been replaced by yet another hot dog stand. I can confirm that those smokers impart a great flavor, but the real twist at Xtreme Loaded Dawgs is the toppings.

Choose from The Deli Dog with kraut
The Big Kid Dog at Xtreme Loaded Dawgs, Nationals Park, Washington, DCand thousand island dressing; The Heater with buffalo wing sauce and blue cheese slaw; the Nach-Yo Dog (top right) with pico de gallo, peppers, cheese and sour cream; the Frito Pie Dog with chili, cheese, and Fritos; or the most outrageous of them all: The Big Kid Dog (bottom right) with macaroni and cheese and Fritos on top.

Whether you find the concept cute or disgusting depends on your perspective, but one thing’s indisputable. The flimsy buns can’t hold all those wet toppings, so grab plenty of napkins.

New restaurants at Nationals Park, Washington, DCWhile it feels like we’ve traded down in the centerfield concourse, the team has been working to upgrade the fare just up the escalator at the Miller Lite Scoreboard Walk, with the addition of four new stands from Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group in New York.

Coming soon are four established concepts imported from New York’s Citi Field: burgers and custard from the Shake Shack, pit barbecue from Blue Smoke, Belgian-style fries from Box Frites, and Mexican food from El Verano Taquería.

Nats fans should welcome any attempts to upgrade the foodservice and the fan experience, yet these off-season moves leave a bad taste in my mouth. It feels like we’ve traded away a unique signature player for some journeyman ones that will just help Mets fans feel more at home at Nationals Park.

UPDATE: While the new Miller Scoreboard Walk restaurants aren’t open yet, Teddy’s Barbeque has been set up under a tent up there. Unfortunately, they do not have the Rough Rider rib, but they do have the pulled pork and pulled chicken. Location is on the upper level directly across from the scoreboard under a white tent.

Rough Rider photo courtesy of Flickr member Kevin Harber

Teddy’s BBQ opens tonight at Nationals Park

Teddy's BBQ makes its debut at Washington Nationals Park tonightThe blog’s been quiet with both the team and me out of town for the last week, but the week ahead should be packed with action as the Nationals return home to continue their interleague series against the American League East.

Tonight, with the Blue Jays arriving at Nationals Park, the team will officially unveil some new fan concessions, including another reason to favor our favorite racing president.

Teddy’s Barbeque is located on the centerfield concourse, near the kids’ play area and the Build-A-Bear workshop. The team says to expect “authentic Carolina-style barbeque” including beef brisket and pulled chicken sandwiches.

Teddy’s Barbeque will also feature what the team is calling a new Nationals Park “signature item” — the Rough Rider Rib — a jumbo beef short rib brined for 12 hours then slow-smoked for 12 hours more.

Flickr photo by afagen

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