On game days, passionate fans converge on D.C.’s Nationals Park to cheer on the team. (©Brooke Sabin)
America’s two most historic ballparks—Chicago’s Wrigley Field and Boston’s Fenway Park—each opened more than a century ago. Having hosted its first game in 2008, D.C.’s Nationals Park is just a baby, but it’s mature far beyond its years.
One case in point? The park’s commitment to sustainability. As the country’s first major professional stadium to become LEED Silver certified, Nationals Park has lots of eco-friendly features, like water-conserving plumbing, drought-resistant landscaping, energy-saving lights and even a 6,300-square-foot green roof atop a concession area.
The ballpark is also located near a Metro station, meaning many of the red-clad fans—more than 2.4 million last season—who flock to the Southeast Washington venue use public transportation to get there. And cyclists take advantage of the free bike valet.
The stadium has spurred revitalization of the surrounding neighborhood, drawing restaurants, bars and green spaces like The Yards Park and Riverwalk, a one-mile path beside the Anacostia River, that give fans a reason to come before the game and stay after.
Of course, it helps that, led by superstars like Bryce Harper and Max Scherzer, the Nats in recent years have become one of baseball’s best teams. The Scherzer snow globe and Harper action figure are certain to be among the most sought-after promotional giveaways this season, but events like Yoga in the Outfield, an LGBT night and an opportunity for senior fans to stroll the bases also prove popular.
Back by “pup”ular demand, as the team likes to say, is Pups in the Park, six dates during the season when fans can bring their dogs to the game. All proceeds from dog tickets benefit the Washington Humane Society.
Every year the franchise adds food and beverage options to a mouthwatering lineup that already is ranked in the top 10 among baseball stadiums by Thrillist.com. On the menu this season, find new items including chicken fried steak and an Italian sausage burger, plus perennial favorites like the half-smoke from local legend Ben’s Chili Bowl. Fans can wash down their food with a cocktail from the new Distilleries of the DMV or a beer from Devils Backbone Brewing Company Left Field Lodge.
Nationals Park continues to be among the most technologically advanced stadiums in the country. This year the team collaborated with Major League Baseball to launch a customized app for iPhone and Android on which fans can buy tickets, order concessions and access news, promotions, in-game activities and discounts.
“We’re constantly looking for ways to enhance the guest experience,” said Valerie Camillo, the team’s chief revenue and marketing officer. “From partnering with leading brands to creating unique spaces for fans to expanding our concession and beverage options, we’re always striving to make Nationals Park the premier sports destination.”
For a behind-the-scenes look at places like the press box, dugout, bullpen—throw a pitch—and visiting team clubhouse, take one of the tours offered April through November—$15-$25, children $10-$20.
At its core, baseball is a kids’ game, and the Nationals focus much of their attention on entertaining the youngest fans. After all Sunday home games, kids ages 4 through 12 can run the bases, and on July 30, the first 10,000 fans 12 and under receive a free coloring book. The stadium has a Family Fun Area with a jungle gym, and there are special concessions for youngsters.
Matt and Lauren Hirt of Bethesda, Maryland, take their three children—Gibson, 12; Sullivan, 11; and Eliza, 8—to several games each season. “The main thing that brings us back is the quality of the team,” Matt said. “But the kids also really like the size and space of the center field promenade where we hang out before games. The presidents’ race is always a highlight. They also do T-shirt tosses, which the kids love. We already caught one this season and it was a big thrill!”
Ah yes, those Racing Presidents. No matter what flashy technology the team employs or savory treat it offers hungry fans, the giant George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and Herbert Hoover mascots who sprint—and often topple over—during the fourth inning continue to set Nationals Park apart. They’re a sight to behold, one you can’t experience at Fenway or Wrigley—or anywhere else in baseball.