A Little More Love for the Ballpark

Scott Watson

I thought I would use last week's beautiful spring games to readjust my attitude. On the last home stand, I had become so apoplectic because of the ballpark and its concession problems that I feared for my health, and the safety of others.

Well, my frustration is gone. Poof!

Yeah, right.

First things first: Nationals Park is a beautiful site. It's a comfortable place to see a ball game. Transportation, while still experiencing growing pains, is working out. Although the Brooke family ran into some Metro problems that show how much needs to be done, a lot of travelers made it to some heavily attended games with no reported riots. The stadium staff is largely friendly. And the Nats Express is still free.

As much as I'd like to offer a punch line, those things are all true. Add to that the unexpected pleasure of seeing the architect's design fully realized; the park really is a comfortable place to stroll. I frequently found myself returning to the "First Base Platform," between sections 221 and 223, and just leaning on a railing, watching the game with the Capitol dome glowing above centerfield. Any walk to a concession stand gives you the chance to stroll over and watch the game from every conceivable angle. You can't underestimate how pleasant that is when you've been to the park a lot, sitting in the same seats.

But inevitably, the walk to a concession stand leads to . . . a concession stand. There, the pleasure ends. This home stand, with the big crowds for the Mets and Cubs, saw the service at concessions unchanged. Even with a line of 20 people or more, the attendant would take an order, then put a hot dog in a bun, then pour a soda. All with a smile, all with some other concession employee just watching. Has the concept of an assembly line wholly escaped Centerplate, the food service concessionaire for the Nats?

As angry as it makes me, and (from my observations) lots of others, my frustration at the food service can't quell my growing appreciation for the park. I might someday actually learn to love it. But I'll do so with my own chow, brought in to protest the shortcomings at concession stands everywhere.

Well, everywhere except the Cantina Marina behind section 240. Apparently, blackened crab cakes and the like aren't ballpark food, since I have yet to encounter a line. So as long as they can stay in business selling me diet sodies three times a game, I have a place to go to escape my frustration. With the tiny lines, I give them a month before they have to pull the plug.

By Scott Watson  |  April 28, 2008; 12:00 PM ET  | Category:  Scott Watson
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Went to my first game at Nats Park Saturday, with 35K+ in the ballpark. Spent most of the time walking around, observing sight lines, concessions, etc. Seeing the long lines, I was thankful that I ate before the game. Just getting a dog and a beer looked like a 30 minute experience, at least.

With the current homestand being the longest of the season, I'm hoping the kinks can be worked out by the NEXT homestand...and I also I hope the Lerners or "somebody in charge" over at the ballpark is reading these WashPost blogs.

Posted by: Annandale Annie | April 28, 2008 12:43 PM

I too am mystified both by the inability of the concessionnaires to handle a crowd, and the the inability of Cantina Marina to attract customers. My seats are on the opposite side of the park and down one level, but I'll head to Cantina Marina before braving the crowds behind third base and left field. By the way, the Gumbo may not win awards in New Orleans, but it's outstanding for ball park food, particularly at a cool night game.

Posted by: LetTeddyWin.com | April 28, 2008 12:57 PM

I too am mystified by the lack of lines at Cantina Marina. I now make a point of (quickly) grabbing a cajun corndog there every game. Definitely a great twist on a baseball staple.

Posted by: JD | April 28, 2008 1:08 PM

Stop telling people about Cantina Marina! If you blog it, they might come.

Posted by: Shhhhhh! | April 28, 2008 1:53 PM

Gotta agree about the concessions. I stood in line for 25 minutes on Friday night waiting for a half smoke in right field. There were three people handling orders and then 4 other people just wandering around. I didn't see those 4 do anything the entire 25 minutes I was in line. The three that were working were incredible nice and pleasant but the whole experience was so frustrating I'll probably just start eating prior to the game or bring in some snacks.

Posted by: Alexandria, VA | April 28, 2008 2:03 PM

On Saturday and Sunday my experiences were similar - slow moving lines at the concessions in the left field upper deck.

Part of the problem seems to be that pouring a beer is very difficult for many of the workers, so it can take a few attempts to get it right. The taps seem to move the beer very quickly and, if the person is not familiar with the operation, produce a significant amount of foam. Often they have to go for help.

I also saw the same standing around, but it seemed that they did not know what to do. They may not get much training, and it looks quite cramped behind the counter.

My solution now is to wait until the fifth inning to get on line. By then it is a bit easier.

Posted by: TRF | April 28, 2008 2:19 PM

I went to my first game at the new park Wednesday. Knowing the problems with concessions, I waited for beer vendors to come around to get my beer. One problem (other than the ridiculous price): A beer costs $7.50, but none of the beer vendors seemed to have quarters on them. I don't know how you can have something cost somewhere between whole dollars and not carry around coins for change. I'm sure it's not the vendors' faults, it's probably management not giving them the proper change when they go out.

Posted by: Ian | April 28, 2008 2:26 PM

My understanding of the vendors in the stands is that while the prices are regulated by the team, they are otherwise independent business people. They buy a tray of beer or snacks, and are on their own to sell it. The more they sell, the more they make. So all things being equal, I always try to buy from those guys.

Posted by: LetTeddyWin.com | April 28, 2008 3:27 PM

I was at the game on Sunday and missed an inning and an half waiting in a concession line behind the grandstand seats. There was a whopping dozen folks in line in front of me. So, including my girlfriend and I, they served 12 people in the time the ballgame served up 11 outs.

The guy at the register was speedy and extra friendly. He can stay.

The folks behind the counter were slow. They can use some more training or a better manager.

Posted by: Pompous Magnus | April 28, 2008 3:29 PM

While we're ragging on the concessions, may I point out that all the TVs are OUTSIDE the concession/register areas, so if you are among the first 1/2-dozen or so people waiting in a food line, you can't see what's going on on the field. And with no sound being piped in like they had at RFK, you are completely out of the loop.

I'm not sure why it was designed this way. Maybe they don't want the employees watching the game, or maybe they want customers at the front of the lines to focus on ordering and paying without distractions.

This would be fine if the lines actually moved, but when 6 customers can take an entire inning, well... to be honest, it makes me long for RFK!

Posted by: LetTeddyWin.com | April 28, 2008 3:38 PM

Well, nothing can really make me long for RFK after a 1/2 dozen games at the new park but the concessionaires really do need additional training. I don't have anything to add that hasn't been said already but waiting 20 minutes for the workers to make their way through 8 people is just absurd.

Posted by: Arlington, VA | April 28, 2008 4:00 PM

The seats in the lower bowl of the new stadium are smaller and have less leg room than the seats at RFK. Furthermore, the rise of the seats in the lower bowl is not steep enough and this makes it hard for people to see over the heads of the people in fromt of them. In addition, the aisle are narrow and there are constantly people moving up and down the aisles and this also makes it difficult to watch the games.

As for the food all of the comments people have made about the lines are spot on. However, Giffords seems to be able to process a long line in a reasonable time frame.

Finally, the food in general really isn't that good. Some of the hotdogs looked steamed. An addtional $2.50 for some runny chili on a hot dog is a rip off. Food is often sold out without any notification being given to people in line. The $9.50 "steak" burrito was dried out stringy "meat".

Of all the new stadiums that have been built since Camdem Yards, this is one of, if not the worst one.

Posted by: dc | April 28, 2008 4:21 PM

Went to the game on Saturday. Pleasant experiences in food lines all around. On the lower level, there was no line at Noah's (the pretzel stand) and a fairly short line at Hard Times. (I guess it pays to get there between 30 and 40 minutes before the game.) Upstairs (where our seats were) there was no wait longer than 5 minutes. We did see the HUGE lines at Five Guys during our pre-game stroll, but we can get that food closer to home and for much less money.

Posted by: Gaithersburg Girl | April 28, 2008 5:51 PM

I had the pleasure of accompanying my husband for my first visit to the new ballpark on the occasion of my 244th 1/2 wedding anniversary. I can not think of a more wonderful place to have been on such a wonderful evening.
As we strolled the concourse, we were struck by the spectacular views from the railings. The sky was effervescent as it
melted into the familiar surroundings of Washington City, a place we hold near and dear to hearts.

In truth, I would have loved to have sampled a senator sausage but did not want to ruin the mood of our outing by dealing with those insipid long lines.

Overall, it was a wondrous occasion which I shall hold dearly in my heart forever.


Abigail Adams

ps and what the heck you say!?? where in the world was john in the president's race??? what the....???

Posted by: abigail adams | April 28, 2008 8:56 PM

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