For Nats' Home, a Rapid Ascent

Nine months after groundbreaking, the Washington Nationals' baseball stadium is on schedule. A D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission spokesman says it will be ready before Opening Day, a year from April.
Nine months after groundbreaking, the Washington Nationals' baseball stadium is on schedule. A D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission spokesman says it will be ready before Opening Day, a year from April. (By Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)
By Paul Duggan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 11, 2007

During the 2005 baseball season, long before construction began on a stadium for the Washington Nationals, architect Marshall Purnell and others involved in the project toured SBC Park, now AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants.

The stadium, overlooking San Francisco Bay, was five years old then and "just really beautiful," Purnell recalled recently, as he strolled the now-bustling site where the Nationals' ballpark is taking shape. Work on the stadium in Southeast Washington has come a long way since spring, and as Purnell offered an update on the progress and described details of the design, he spoke of a lesson he learned in San Francisco.

The one aspect of the Giants' ballpark that gave him pause, he said, was the ordinary, rectangular layout of the home team's clubhouse.

"They were showing us Barry Bonds's locker," said Purnell, referring to the Giants' slugging left fielder, an aloof and imperious figure who is close to breaking the major league record for career home runs.

"Barry being the star that he is, he had grabbed a whole corner of the locker room and claimed it for himself," Purnell said. "He was all spread out over there. He had his big La-Z-Boy reclining chair and everything set up. It was his space."

Purnell said it occurred to him then that in building a ballpark, a detail seemingly as inconsequential as the shape of a clubhouse could influence the way teammates related to one another and how they performed as a unit over a long season. As a result, when the Nationals settle into their new locker room next year, they won't find any corners.

"We decided we'd make it circular," said Purnell, to help discourage cliques and hierarchies among the mega-rich stars and lesser-paid journeymen and younger players who typically compose a big league team. "Then we decided on an oval," he said, because "the oval has to do with the city. You have the Ellipse, you have the Oval Office.

"It's a Washington thing," he said. And it's an all-for-one, one-for-all thing: "If you have a circular table," he noted, "then there is no head of the table."

Nine months after D.C. officials posed with shovel blades attached to Louisville Sluggers in a ceremonial groundbreaking for the project, Purnell and other experts responsible for bringing the Nationals' ballpark to fruition led a tour of the busy construction site along the Anacostia River. They shared anecdotes, including the clubhouse story, and declared themselves delighted with the progress since May.

As always with the stadium plan, though, uncertainties linger.

Will the bitterly debated, publicly funded project stay within the $611 million spending cap set by the D.C. Council? As for economic development, ballpark proponents envision a retail, residential and office-space boom generated by the stadium in the stagnant blocks near South Capitol Street and Washington Navy Yard. But will a revival actually come to pass?

The issue of traffic also remains unsettled. Slightly more than 1,200 parking spaces will be available for premium-ticket holders in three soon-to-be built garages. But to accommodate a sellout crowd in the 41,000-seat stadium, planners say, as many as 8,000 more spaces will be needed for fans who don't use Metro.


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