May 26, 2008
Since it was officially announced that Washington would get a baseball team in September 2004, I have visited the site of the new stadium several times. (December 2006, August 2007, and February 2008) On Saturday, finally, I had an opportunity to see an actual game at Nationals Park for the first time. Because it was Memorial Day weekend, attendance was a little greater than usual, just over 30,000.) Unfortunately, the Nationals wasted precious run-scoring opportunities once again, and the Brewers won, 5-2. Well, at least the weather was nice!
By amazing coincidence, the guy sitting next to me (named Brian) had visited this Web site for the first time just a few weeks ago, and we were both rather astonished. What's more, he is an expert photographer and gave me some good tips on digital cameras, which I put to good use the next day. I goofed up while reloading my ancient Pentax 35mm camera with a new film roll (lack of practice!), and he was kind enough to take a picture of Jacqueline, our niece Shary, and me with his Canon digital camera. Stay tuned!
Because I have been scrutinizing all the myriad details of Nationals Park for well over a year now, I had a pretty good idea of what to expect, unlike the vast majority of "normal" fans. The plaza in left-center field is a great "welcome" to the ballpark, and it will get better once the cherry trees grow and become leafier. The wide-open concourses, with good views of the field for the most part, are a huge improvement over RFK Stadium. Also, I have to admit that the division of the upper deck "Gallery Level" so as to create an open concourse level is a good idea as well. Even though you really can't see the field from the concourse, you still feel like you are part of the action, not it some closed-off dungeon. Another big improvement over RFK Stadium is the friendly attitude of the employees at Nationals Park. Evidently, the Lerners succeeded in driving home that message: Smiles and good service = more revenue.
Besides taking pictures, I made mental notes of several specific aspects of the stadium about which there was some doubt in my mind. For example, I learned that the right foul pole is closer to the front edge of the second deck than I had thought, just out of arm's reach. Also, the upper deck is recessed four rows from the second deck in the right field corner, twice what I had estimated. I realized that the front edge of the second deck is aligned with the front edge of the mezzanine level in the main part of the grandstand -- not with the upper deck's front edge. I also noted discrepancies with some structural details behind the scoreboard, and a few other interesting details as well. (See below!)
One of the things I noticed at Nationals Park was the vertical yellow stripe a few feet to the left of the left foul pole. What is that for? Well, by another coincidence, Sunday's Washington Post explained that anomaly (and others, such as at Wrigley and Fenway). It turns out that there is a small triangular gap between the left field wall and the wall in front of the seats, so whether a fair ball hit into that corner is in play or ruled a ground rule double depends on exactly where it hits the wall. "And that's the way the ball bounces."
There is a similar oddity with the left foul pole in Yankee Stadium, which had a big impact on a game there two Saturdays ago after a controversial ruling by the umpires. Because of the extreme angle of the fence in that corner, the foul pole is a couple feet behind the fence. Carlos Delgado hit a line drive into that corner that was fair when it crossed the fence and should have been a three-run homer, but was ruled a foul ball after the four umpires conferred, even though the third-base umpire called it a home run. The fan sitting right there showed the scuff mark on the pole where the ball hit. Fortunately, it didn't matter in the end, as the Mets cruised to an 11-2 victory over the Yankees. See Washington Post.
CORRECTION: The implicit subsidy to the owners of the Nationals from the D.C. government in paying for the new stadium was not $600 billion, as I wrote on Saturday, but rather about $600 million, with an m. My apologies.