Fans Carried Away by First Encounter With Ballpark

By Nick Miroff and Jenna Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Washington Nationals opened the gates to their new baseball temple on the Anacostia River yesterday, and as soon as fans began streaming in, it was clear that the experience of watching a ballgame in the District had undergone a stunning transformation.

The dim tunnels and awkward views of RFK Stadium were gone, replaced by the wide-open design of Nationals Park, which also offered vastly improved cuisine and Major League Baseball's biggest scoreboard. Yesterday's game, played before a crowd of season-ticket holders and invited guests of the team, was a test run for tonight's season opener; many fans arrived early, some to beat the parking crunch, others simply to marvel.

On his way to his upper-deck seats, Beltsville resident Tony Corbo stopped for a moment on an open platform with sweeping views of Southeast Washington, the Anacostia River and the Washington Navy Yard. Wearing a bright red Nationals jacket and cap, he let the superlatives gush.

"It looks gorgeous," he said. "The sightlines are incredible."

The 56-year-old lobbyist was 19 when he watched the Senators play their final game at RFK, and now, with the new stadium in place, baseball's return to the Washington region seemed complete.

"This is going to be quite a section of the city," he predicted.

Fans expressed awe at the open-air concourse that faces the outfield and draws fans into the park from Half Street and the newly expanded Navy Yard Metro station. The plaza's cherry trees were bare and looked a few days removed from the nursery, but fans didn't care. They raved about the views and the free video games.

"It's smart that they have this kid zone, because it's more family-friendly," said Robert Stone, 11, who snagged a batting-practice home-run ball and tried out a PlayStation Grand Turismo racing game, a version so new that the on-screen instructions were in Japanese.

There was also Guitar Hero, video baseball and a karaoke machine called Singstar -- all at no extra cost. Nationals Park offered diversions for almost every age group, from batting cages and a shiny new playground for the young and the restless to $12 cocktails made with Grey Goose vodka, Crown Royal whisky and Hennessy cognac for the happy hour crowd.

The new ballpark's menu went beyond the usual fare. Coffee carts served espresso and cafe au lait. Concessions stocked imported beers and wine. For the traditional fan, there were, of course, Nats dogs. Some fans were rankled by the long concession lines. Many reported standing in line for 30 or 40 minutes, and a few missed much of the game waiting for food.

During the second inning, Matthew McCardle, 26, of Arlington County went with his wife to buy hot dogs and drinks. By the time they got their food, an hour and 20 minutes later, it was the sixth inning. By the time they finished eating and returned to their seats, it was the seventh inning. His superlatives were of a different sort.

"It was amazing," he said. "I literally got to watch one inning. RFK didn't have as many food options, but the most I had to wait was 20 minutes."

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