The Ballpark's Hits
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
It was the top of the second inning, and Eric Castor and his girlfriend, Emily Kelly, were sipping beer, having just finished their hot dogs. Their spot overlooking the outfield of Nationals Park was cool from a soft breeze.
And it was cheap.
Castor and Kelly got through the turnstiles with $5 bleacher tickets to watch the Nats play the Arizona Diamondbacks one night last week. Instead of settling into a far-flung corner of the stands, they were standing against a marble-topped bar with a view that only a few feet away cost $45 a person.
"I've only ever bought $5 seats, and I've never seen my seat. I always come here," said Castor, of Centreville. "You can't beat this."
The bar next to the scoreboard and another bar nearby called the Red Loft are open to any fan and have become popular gathering spots at the new ballpark, which is nearly four months old.
Yes, the Nationals are riddled with injuries, and the team is among the worst in Major League Baseball, which resumes its schedule Thursday after tonight's all-star game. The team's owners, the Lerner family, are in a messy dispute with the city, which financed the $611 million ballpark. The stadium, meanwhile, is developing a happy following.
The reviews so far: generally good. Getting to the ballpark, along the Anacostia River in Southeast Washington, is fairly easy most nights and weekends. The stadium is winning praise for its sightlines, scoreboard and atmosphere. Food prices are another matter.
Neighbors who worried about fans clogging streets are breathing easier.
"As of now, I think it's been managed well, especially by the team," said Andy Litsky, a Ward 6 neighborhood leader. "It's not as bad as we anticipated."
If that seems like faint praise, consider that right up until Opening Day on March 30, city officials and team executives, along with residents of the surrounding neighborhood, were expecting a traffic mess. The ballpark is scrunched into a dense urban neighborhood with only two small parking garages connected to it. The team had tried to round up as many nearby parking spaces as possible and was urging fans to take Metro to games.
"We didn't know how things were going to shake down," team spokeswoman Chartese Burnett said. "We did an excellent job in scaring people."
Metro ridership is up 130 percent over the past year at the Navy Yard stop, which is closest to the ballpark. The station was expanded and is an easy walk from the stadium gates, down a street that is closed to vehicle traffic during games.