nat pack: the digs

First of all, let me take a moment to sincerely apologize for the lack of Homer action this week. I got tied up taking care of a bunch of little stuff, and will do my best to make up for lost time today. Along the same lines, we’re dedicating the next several entries to the most neglected stepchild in the Washington family tree — the Nationals.

While most of the locals were smart enough to stock up on bubblewrap and duct tape while bracing themselves for the Armageddon-like weather thrashing the region over the last couple days, I decided it was the perfect time to get out and visit the new Nationals Park. So on back-to-back nights, I risked life and limb by braving the elements in hopes of giving you, the loyal reader, an in-depth breakdown of the good, the bad and the ugly of the newest ticket in town.

For starters, I wanted to limit the first post to the new ballpark. While I enjoy baseball, I’ve probably been to about half a dozen or so Major League ballparks (and RFK) up until this point. As soon as I exited the Metro and made the left turn onto Half Street, I couldn’t help but feel we’re blessed to have such a nice, new stadium. As I walked down the block to the centerfield entrance I immediately noticed that, unlike at RFK, there were no street vendors selling hats, drinks, peanuts, etc. I was later informed that all the vendors had shown up when the stadium first opened, but were run off by the D.C. police (to which I say “not cool.”)

Back to Tuesday night, which was sweet because I met up with the guys from Skinscast, who had scored us four tickets to the Nats-Cardinals game. But we wouldn’t be sitting with the common folks – no, no – we were treated to four VIP seats in the Jefferson Suite. After grabbing some food, we hit the elevators and headed for the fourth floor where our luxurious gameday experience awaited us.

As soon as we walked into the suite, we knew we had hit the jackpot. This place was clearly fit for a bunch of hate-spewing and yet, completely-biased podcasters. There’s a nice sized HDTV, the suite is big enough for a bunch of people to fit in comfortably, and there were plenty of plush seats to sit down and enjoy the game. Here’s my only gripe — there were no food or beverages whatsoever in the entire suite. I heard rumblings that it falls upon whoever paid for the suite to kick in extra money to have anything stocked in there, but it was still startling to see nothing but ketchup, mustard and plastic utensils in the “high society” section of town.

Speaking of our seats, we were down the third base line, near shallow left field. We had a nice view of everything the ballpark has to offer and luckily, when the rain god’s frowned upon us, we remained dry (unlike the peasants who scattered like ants down below). While “enjoying” an hour-and-40-minute rain delay, we had ample time to dissect the entire ballpark. While it’s very nice, spacious and clean, we came to the conclusion that it’s too bland. Maybe some of it gets chalked up to the less-than-ideal weather conditions, but nothing truly catches your eye. There is no warehouse across the street or distinguishing feature, instead you’re stuck with a sea of drab concrete. If the Washington Monument or Capitol Building was in closer proximity and visible from your run-of-the-mill seat, then the ballpark would go from cookie cutter to memorable. Unfortunately, much like the street vendors, landmarks (unless you’re counting parking garages) are few and far between.

Wednesday night was a little bit different. My buddy Jason (a former Special Forces badass) and I headed back to the park to check out a game with the unwashed masses. We scored some seats in right field, next to the Nats’ bullpen. (We figured since the team has no pitching, we’d be guaranteed to see plenty of action). Let me say, right off the bat, had there actually been a game (we were treated to the first rainout at the new venue), these might be some of the best seats in town. There was no doubt that these would be two absolutely perfect seats, had a game actually taken place. Rest assured, once we get out to a make-up date (we can redeem our tickets for a future date), we’ll once again aim for section 139.

But once the lightning hit, we were no longer allowed to stay in the seated area, so we were off like a prom dress — to see what the ballpark had to offer. After Jason stopped to Build-A-Bear, we stumbled upon a hitting and pitching simulator. Having just lost all respectability for recreating Teddy Ruxpin, Jason wanted to earn back his manhood, so he stepped into the batter’s box against a virtual Jeremy Bonderman.

Like most of America, I am not well versed when it comes to Detroit pitchers, so I wasn’t exactly sure what he was in store for. The answer was quickly apparent — no two Bonderman pitches use the same path to the plate. The guy was everywhere.Through no fault of his own, Jason managed to make contact with just one of Jeremy’s virtual offerings. With no manhood in sight, Jason stormed back over to donate more money into the Lerner Family Piggy Bank for a battle against virtual Pedro Martinez. This time, he made contact with five of eight pitches, even earning a token “Did that guy used to play college ball?” question from one of the passerbys. I think it’s safe to say virtual Pedro doesn’t have the same goods he did when he was in virtual Boston.

Feeling good about himself, my buddy Jason strutted down to the pitching simulator. Sure, he hadn’t attempted to throw a ball with any kind of velocity since Bill Clinton put the cigar back on the map, but he was confident the goods would still be delivered. As we walk up, a 10-year-old offers a 30-mile-an-hour meatball across the plate that virtual A-Rod effortlessly crushes out of the ballpark. Clearly, virtual Rodriguez was bringing his peak “clutch in June” game, and the kid left feeling anything but good about his prepubescent self. So Jason steps onto the mound and tries not to suffer the same fate. He works up a legitimate sweat and gets all the way to a full count, when his 69-mile-per-hour heater on the high outside corner of the plate was deemed ball four by the virtual ump and virtual A-Rod earned a virtual walk. Trust me, Jason did not agree with the virtual call. And trust me, I’ll have a guaranteed sore spot to rile up my overly competitive pal over the next two weeks.

Bottom line, we were able to legitimately enjoy a more than two hour rain delay at the ballpark because this place is a paradise for the entire family. Even if we were flirting with a monsoon, we saw more than a few families sitting on a blanket, picnic style, enjoying food as if there wasn’t a place on Earth they’d rather be. Once management either builds a team worth the price of admission or figures out a way to distinguish Nationals Park from any of a dozen other Major League ballparks, this will be a can’t miss experience for the entire family.

Overall grade: B-

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