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Nationals Park Review [Wednesday Morning Quarterback]
Apr 22nd, 2009 by Dan

It’s time for Wednesday Morning Quarterback, your weekly sports round-up.

The American Ballpark Tour continues this month with my first visit to a relatively new baseball stadium, Nationals Park. First opened for the 2008 season, the park is home to the struggling Washington Nationals (3-10 as of today) and actually presents one of the better baseball stadiums I’ve ever been to.

As part of the new park boom kicked off by Camden Yards, Nationals Park features a lot of those quirky design choices that are standard in new ballparks. The new “it” thing is to give each stadium something unique to them to make them stand out from everywhere else. This is clearly an inspiration from the most classic and iconic baseball parks, like Wrigley Field with the Ivy or Fenway with the Green Monster. This is why Minute Maid Park has a bizarre hill in center field, Camden has those great warehouses, and Citi Field has that Ebbets Field-esque rotunda and facade. The Nats didn’t go as much for the retro-feel of Camden or any of those brick ballparks like Citi, but instead went with a more modern, clean, American look. In the shot below you can see some of its features, the curly W mowed into the field, the blue seats, red, white, and blue banners, the glass walls, and the Presidents Race, but the American feel is completed with cherry blossom trees, view of the Potomac, Capital Building, and Washington Monument, depending on where you sit, and statues of baseball greats Walter Johnson, Josh Gibson, and Frank Howard.

Nats vs Marlins 19 April 2009

In the top-right of this shot you can see the Red Loft, a bar section of SRO seats that has a pretty neat circular LED display that shows varying information about the game. This shot also shows aforementioned cherry blossom grove.

Nats vs Marlins 19 April 2009

The scoreboards are state-of-the-art and have a pretty neat glowy, curly W clock on them. You can also see the out-of-town scoreboard in the bottom of this shot.

Nats vs Marlins 19 April 2009

One of the best parts about the park that isn’t really conveyed in my pictures is the open feel of it. There exists only the bare minimum of outer walls to keep the park structurally sound to keep an open air feel within the park. This allows a refreshing breeze to flow into the park (a little too refreshing on Sunday for the upper decks…brrr) and also ensures that you, more or less, have a view of the ballpark no matter where you are in the complex as you walk around. The lower decks also have neat little SRO counters that you can lean against to enjoy your food and get a more intimate view of the ballgame than your $5 tickets might allow in the grandstands.

The Nationals, back when they played at RFK, birthed the greatest event ever with the Presidents Race, which continues in Nationals Park today. At every home game, during the fourth inning, the giant caricatures of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt come bounding out from center field and go racing toward the home dugout. Here’s an idea of what the caricatures look like, but with smaller heads:

Nats vs Marlins 19 April 2009

In this shot you can see what Jefferson actually looks like on the field along with part of Lincoln:

Nats vs Marlins 19 April 2009

As you can imagine, ridiculous antics usually ensue. At the game I went to, Jefferson totally checked Lincoln into the wall, allowing Washington to take an easy win. For some hilarious reason, the organization decided that Teddy Roosevelt should never win. For the three seasons that the president caricatures have been racing, Teddy has NEVER won a race. The few times that he’s managed to actually not get distracted and make it in first, he’s usually disqualified for cheating by driving a golf cart or taking a zip line in. He’s also been sabotaged by various other mascots to keep him from winning. Another hilarious personality comes from Lincoln. Turns out that Honest Abe isn’t so honest when it comes to a footrace. Lincoln has a strong desire to win and will do whatever it takes to get his way, cheating by tripping or even, as some suspect, juicing! You can see more pictures and footage about the Presidents Race at the Let Teddy Win blog.

Is Nationals Park more charming than Camden? No, but I get the feeling that it’s on purpose. Rather than go with the traditional retro-baseball look of Camden, the designers opted to architecturally match DC instead and create something uniquely American in their ballpark. There are also tons of great food options in the ballpark, many of them are even restaurants that you can find throughout Maryland, Northern Virginia, and DC. I’d rank this ballpark up there with the best on my list. It’s a far improvement to RFK and it’s close to Camden on my list of favorites. For $5 a ticket in the grandstands, you really have no excuse not to go.

Nationals Domo

Oh yeah, Domo-kun made his way to this park too.

25 Random BASEBALL Things About Me
Feb 22nd, 2009 by Dan

When Schneider tagged me in her version of this I almost pulled a Linus Torvalds (http://torvalds-family.blogspot.com/2009/02/25-things-about-me.html), but instead I decided not to do one at all.

Then I came across two “25 Random Baseball Things” articles and fell in love with the idea as a way to release pent up excitement about the upcoming baseball season. Hope you enjoy it..

1. Baseball was the first team sport I ever played. To this day I don’t really understand what motivated my father to sign me up for the game. My grandfather is afraid of playing catch due to an incident where he got beaned, my dad is mostly apathetic toward sports in general, including baseball, and my older brother hated little league baseball. My best guess is that we were living in the mostly Cuban (at the time) Hialeah where little league baseball is the predominant sport.

2. I always wanted to play catcher as a kid, but I never got the chance to. I wasn’t ever going to be a pitcher, but I figured that catching involved the second most amount of action on the field. Instead most of my time was spent in the outfield, where I did a pretty good job, and one glorious season at second base. Whenever I play softball or baseball, I will usually play catcher or second base, unless the team needs me to play outfield.

3. My favorite team is the Florida Marlins and I still remember going to a game at Joe Robbie Stadium, as it was called then, to see them play in April of 1993. This was the first professional baseball game I ever attended and was the coolest thing that had ever happened to me before then until I actually walked on the field some years later.

4. I very quickly developed an intense hatred for the Atlanta Braves that still sticks with me to this day. It’s no coincidence that I also despise the Florida State Seminoles who share the absurdly racist and obnoxious tomahawk chop chant. Last year I found out that my uncle used to be a Braves fan since they were the closest team to Florida before 1993. I still feel deeply betrayed by this fact, even though he is now a Marlins fan.

5. When my family moved to Oregon sometime in 1995, I experienced something of a baseball Dark Ages that I didn’t really kick until 2003 and didn’t fully kick until last year, despite moving back to South Florida in 1997. Between 1995 to 2003 I went to one AAA baseball game (Portland Rockies), two pro baseball games (Seattle Mariners and Florida Marlins), one spring training game (Tigers at Yankees) and watched almost no baseball on tv.

6. I’m very ashamed to say that I maybe watched one or two of the games of the 1997 World Series, neither of which were Game 7. To this day I still root against the Cleveland Indians, partly because of that World Series, partly because they remind me of the Braves, and partly because living with Ohio-native Dean Strelau in 2007 allowed me to gloat about snatching two National Championships away from Ohio State, which led to a general dislike of any team from Ohio.

7. I quit playing baseball and started swimming competitively in 1998, a decision that I regret to this day. Sure, I wasn’t a very good ball player at that point, considering I did it mostly for fun, but I wish I had stuck with it. In case you were wondering, I wasn’t a very good swimmer either.

8. In that final season, my team played in a tournament against a team that traveled over to the states from Japan. We held our own for the first two or three innings, but eventually they got the best of us. I still remember that we had to use Japanese-style balls, but we didn’t have Japanese bats, which had some sort of rough coating on them that made them a bit different. I have a sneaking suspicion that we might have played a little better with access to their special equipment or if we used the standard American baseballs and bats instead.

9. The event that led to my baseball renaissance was the Steve Bartman incident in the 2003 postseason. Bartman will always be a hero of mine thanks to his paving the way for the Marlins 2003 World Series victory. I will gleefully ask any Cubs fan about how devastated they felt back in 2003 to be robbed of a pennant.

10. When the Marlins made it to the World Series in 2003 I wore a Marlins jersey that I’ve owned since the mid-90s to school. I’ll never forget that day, because in first period AP Statistics, Dan Gollins called me a front runner because he’d never seen me wear any Marlins paraphernalia before. I stand by the fact that I’ve been a Marlins fan since their inaugural year and I still get mad thinking about him calling me that, but I also kind of understand where he’s coming from and begrudgingly admit he’s got something of a point.

11. Speaking of the 2003 World Series, I have distinct memories of watching two of the seven games at Cornell during a campus visit that DPE flew me up for. I watched one of the games in the now-destroyed Class of ’26 with two Yankees fans. The other I watched in my brother’s apartment down on Gunn Hill.

12. This is a complicated one: I attended middle school and one year of high school down in South Florida at Cooper City High and the rest of them up in Central Florida at Sickles High. After prom at Sickles, I was invited down to Cooper City for prom with my old friends as my ex-girlfriend’s date, much to the ire of my current girlfriend. I still remember being quite insensitive as I called my girlfriend from their prom and told her that I wanted so badly to stay an extra day so that I could go with Josh Kushner to see the Marlins play the Diamondbacks that Sunday (23 May 2004 – http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/FLO/FLO200405230.shtml) because Dontrelle Willis was pitching against Randy Johnson. Better sense prevailed and I ended up going home as scheduled. The Marlins lost 4-3 that day and I’ve still yet to see Randy Johnson or Dontrelle Willis pitch in person.

13. The first Orioles game I went to was on 27 July 2005 against the Texas Rangers (http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/BAL/BAL200507270.shtml). I’m pretty sure it was Sammy Sosa Bobblehead Night, although I could be wrong. It was a Wednesday, so I was worried about how long it would take me to get home cause I had work in the morning, but I figured it wouldn’t be that bad. After a 97-minute rain delay, the game FINALLY got underway. The Os and Rangers tied up the game in the 9th and the game ended in the 11th with the Rangers winning 11-8. I got home at 0200AM, but that baseball game is one of the best I’ve ever experienced.

14. One of my goals in life is to see a baseball game played in every ballpark. So far I’ve seen games in Joe Robbie Stadium/Pro Player Stadium/Dolphin Stadium (Marlins), the Kingdome (Mariners), Tropicana Field (Rays), Camden Yards (Orioles), RFK Stadium (Nationals), and Shea Stadium (Mets). Of these stadiums, the Kingdome, Shea, and RFK no longer house their respective teams, the Marlins will be leaving Dolphin Stadium by 2010ish, and the Rays are trying to get a new stadium approved leaving me with one solid stadium visited out of thirty. I’ve got a lot of work to do.

15. Once I’ve visited all the MLB stadiums, barring further stadium moves, I have decided to undertake the much more ambitious and difficult goal of seeing a game in all 13 Nippon Professional Baseball stadiums. I’ve only been to Japan once and Okinawa doesn’t have a baseball team, but I will get this done some day. Koshien Stadium here I come!

16. I am absolutely opposed to the DH rule in baseball. To me, it makes sense that any player who takes the field should have to bat for himself. Sure, it allows aging players or players with poor defense to have a spot on the roster, but I just think it takes away from the spirit of the game to have a guy whose only job is to bat while you have a whole group of guys whose only job it is to pitch. You could argue that pinch hitters serve that role in the NL, but the rules state that those guys have to step onto the field after they hit, unless there’s another substitution. Lack of a DH promotes greater strategy in baseball, period.

17. Rookie of the Year was the first baseball movie I ever saw. I’ve also seen Little Big League, A League of Their Own, Major League, Mr. Baseball, Hardball, and The Sandlot. My Netflix queue includes Field of Dreams, Mr. 3000, The Bad News Bears, and Fever Pitch. I think A League of Their Own and Little Big League are my two favorites.

18. I have a man-crush on 2008 Rookie of the Year Evan Longoria.

19. I’ve been to two games at Tropicana Field, one when the team was known as the Devil Rays and one after the name change. I was initially totally opposed to the name change, but it’s amazing what a name change, color scheme change, and a winning season will do for a team and their venue. The Trop is still one of the worst stadiums I’ve ever been to, but it was a lot more fun to go this past year.

20. I boo Darek Jeter when he comes up to bat for absolutely no reason. In retrospect, I should have been booing A-Rod this whole time.

21. There’s something about eating a hot dog in a ballpark that makes it taste infinitely better.

22. I always semi-rooted for the Devil Rays, but I definitely jumped on the Rays bandwagon this year and I fully intend to continue to root for them as my AL team. My NL team is, of course, the Marlins. I will actively root against the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies, Braves, and Indians. In the All-Star game, a non-Braves/Phillies game, or any Interleague game, I will root for the National League team. I don’t mind rooting for the Cubs unless they are in the postseason. I think it’s funny that they haven’t won a World Series in 100 years and I want the streak to continue.

23. My favorite ballplayers through the years: Benito Santiago, Chuck Carr, Cris Carpenter, Brian Harvey, Josh Beckett, Dontrelle Willis, Hanley Ramirez, Kosuke Fukudome, Mike Lowell, and Evan Longoria

24. I have never caught a foul ball, ground rule double, or home run in the stands. It’s a selfish thing to do as a grown man, but I’m not sure I’d be able to give any ball I caught in the future to a kid at a game. Wouldn’t it be enough to give the second or third away?

25. Once they are old enough to enjoy it, I plan to take my recently adopted little brothers and sister to a ball game in the hopes that it will inspire the same love for the game that I have in them.

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