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Marc Fisher

Unofficial Guide To Baseball At the Bobby

By Marc Fisher
Thursday, April 21, 2005; Page B01

You weren't going to shell out the big bucks for Opening Day tickets on eBay. But now you see Washington Nationals tickets floating around the office, and the team seems better than anyone had expected, and the city is awash in red caps, so you figure it's time to check out the scene at RFK. You need the Incredibly Unofficial Guide to Baseball at the Bobby.

Getting there: Ignore the official advice about how you should take Metro because there's not nearly enough parking. Hogwash. Even on Opening Night, despite the sellout crowd, I found plenty of empty spaces in the vast lots that surround the stadium. By all means, take the train -- it's easy and it's great fun to be on board with all those good-natured fans. But if you want to drive, don't let phony warnings scare you off.

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If you drive, instead of sitting in traffic on East Capitol Street or Constitution or Massachusetts avenues, wend your way to RFK on any of the lettered streets. I drove from downtown to ballpark at 6 p.m. on successive nights and made it in 14 and 17 minutes.

Saving money: Save $10 on the absurdly overpriced scorecards by picking up a free one outside the stadium. (Disclosure: They're published by The Washington Post's Express freebie.) Save even more by bringing your own food, which is now allowed, despite early statements to the contrary by team officials.

Avoid the stadium food: This will not prove much of a challenge, given that some food stands still close or run out of product in the sixth inning.

Sadly, Aramark, the company that supplies edible materials at RFK, offers none of the more ambitious ballpark foods you'll find in other cities. Aramark sells smoked brisket at Texas Rangers games, Skyline Chili in Cincinnati, Gates Bar-B-Q in Kansas City, Geno's cheesesteaks in Philly and cafe Cubano in Miami.

But at RFK, there's nothing local -- not even half-smokes! -- except a nice little bar behind home plate serving Foggy Bottom Ale from Washington's Olde Heurich brewery. Traditionalists won't even find Cracker Jack.

For now, alas, vendors in the stands sell only beverages, not food, though peanuts and hot dogs may be added later. Dave Freireich, spokesman for Aramark, says food at RFK will improve by the All-Star break in July, when the company hopes to have deals with D.C. restaurants to offer local favorites. As for the service, he says Aramark's 900 employees at RFK "have learned from Opening Day, and we're in the process of making improvements. It's an old stadium."

Stay in your seats: There are no TVs to keep you up on the game while you wait in the food queues. (There's hardly any TV coverage at home either. Channel 20 is televising only two of the 10 games from this Monday through next Friday, but that's another story.)

Stretch your legs: When the new stadium is built, we will all pine for the Bobby's generous legroom. This is a pre-greed ballpark, constructed before it became acceptable to make fans sit with their knees in their mouths.

Bring binoculars: The scoreboard's tiny numbers are tougher to read than any vision test chart. But the sightlines to the field are excellent, except from the abysmal seats my group got. We're at the back of the lower deck, so deep under the overhang that anything hit in the air might as well have happened in Fauquier County. Go for the bargain seats in the front half of the upper deck or lower-deck seats in the open air.

Even the $7 seats are decent; I sat in the very back row of the upper deck Opening Night, with no complaints.

Tip your usher: The RFK ushers are unfailingly polite and helpful, and best of all, they let you move down and fill in better seats. But be respectful: Give the season ticket holders an hour before you declare them to be no-shows.

Jumpin' at the Bobby: No matter where you sit, this is the rockingest ballpark in the majors. The upper deck sways when fans jump, and the lower bowl seats in the portable sections have metal floors that bounce dramatically, which is why fans can be seen pogoing through Nats rallies. But don't tell the city building inspectors.

Oh, no: Please, for goodness' sake, please stop shouting the Baltimore team's "Oh!" at the climax of the national anthem. Those who feel so compelled may go to Camden Yards, where plenty of seats are available.

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