Print Columns   |   Web Chats   |   Blog Archives   |  

Nats Park: Better And Worse

Good news and bad from the first weekday rush hour start at Nationals Park:

The good news is that the transportation system is working far more smoothly than anyone had anticipated. With a half-full stadium last night (that's a disappointment, of course, and despite the team's statements to the contrary, a potential sign of significant trouble ahead), Metro handled the crowds quickly and efficiently. The new Navy Yard station entrance absorbed the post-game rush far more easily than it had on sold-out Opening Night last week.

The streets were flowing with almost stunning ease, both before and after the game. Even M Street SE, the main east-west drag leading to the stadium, was moving easily just 25 minutes before the game.

Best of all, there was plenty of parking. I was happy to see the first stirrings of private entrepreneurs offering off-street parking, as guys holding cardboard signs grabbed the attention of the few who dared to drive down to the ballpark district without having first acquired a parking pass.

Now, the bad news: Those long, sluggish food queues we saw Opening Night were apparently not an anomaly. For an hour before last night's 10-7 loss to the Florida Marlins, and continuing straight through into the seventh inning, lines were dauntingly long and annoyingly slow, not only at the preposterously popular Ben's Chili Bowl stand but even at the ordinary hot dog and pizza stands, and especially at various beer and food specialty outlets.

The problem appears not to be one of staffing. To the contrary, there may even be too many staffers in some places. Cashiers stood around with nothing to do for much of the time, waiting for the workers behind the food counters to move customers along. And even behind the food counters, the problem does not seem to be lack of workers. At many stands, I saw workers doing nothing. And that's where the real problem lies: Management and supervision.

Just along the first base line concessions, I saw these problems: At a popcorn stand, three workers stood with their backs to the queue, watching the ballgame rather than serving customers. At a hot dog stand, two of the three workers had left their enclosure and were leaning over the rail, watching the Nats rally, leaving just one guy to deal with a 12-person-long queue. At a pizza outlet, two workers chatted with each other and a third ate a burger while only two service workers actually served the 17 people standing in line.

It's harder to say what the cause is of the other flaws the Nats failed to fix during the week between the stadium's opening and its first weeknight regular season game. The snazzy and alluring new scoreboard failed to function at all during the first inning and continued to have problems throughout the night. Part of the problem appears to be operator error, as the scoreboard frequently failed to keep up with changes on the field, never reflected any of the official scoring rulings and lineup changes that other major league scoreboards handle with ease (hit or error? double switch or not?) On at least four occasions, while the main scoreboard accurately showed who was batting, the secondary info screens that run along the circumference of the ballpark were showing a batter from the previous half-inning.

But there also appeared to be a mechanical or software breakdown last night, as the whole board went kablooey at the start of the game. And the PA system was spotty and balky throughout the night--it was off entirely for much of the first inning, delivering a painful buzz rather than announcements and music.

Obviously, there will continue to be start-up issues with new equipment, but the long queues at the concessions are something that the Nats management will want to get fixed sooner rather than later for fear of alienating an already soft fan base.

And that's what was most disturbing about last night. Yes, it was chilly, it was a Monday, the NCAA finals were on TV, and the opponent was the lowly Marlins. But please--this was Game Two at a spanking new stadium. The fact that the place was only half full was not a strong sign of fan support or even curiosity about the new park. I have little doubt that the stadium will fill up on weekends, but the success of this franchise depends on getting good crowds during the work week, and the Nats have lots of work to do to spread the word that getting to and from the stadium is neither a nightmare nor a chore, that the experience at the park is a load of fun, and that this team is serious about becoming a contender.

We've debated here many times about how good a sports town Washington is, and right now, there's plenty to get excited about, with the Caps and the Wizards in the playoffs and the Nats starting out at a new home. (The most unfortunate bit about last night's malfunctions is that Caps defender Mike Green was supposed to announce that it was time to "Play ball!" at game's start, but he stood embarrassed before the crowd on the jumbotron trying again and again to say the magic words and the microphone just wouldn't work.) But when the crowd immediately falls back on its old RFK ways of arriving late and leaving early--even in a tight 8-7 game with lots of action--that does not bode especially well.

More good news: The early indications are that this is indeed going to be a hitter's park. We saw some weak pitching on both sides last night, but even still, the homers were flying, there are some interesting gaps in the outfield that are making for extra-base hits (including a couple of triples from Cristian Guzman last night alone), and the sightlines are splendid.

Today on Raw Fisher Radio: National Harbor, the massive retail/hotel/office complex on the Potomac River in Prince George's County, opens after years of debate and preparation. What do its former opponents think now? Tune in anytime at to hear the discussion.

By Marc Fisher |  April 8, 2008; 12:42 PM ET
Previous: Richard Florida Responds: Leaving D.C. Was Once-In-Lifetime Chance | Next: Bolting To New York For One Lousy Buck


Please email us to report offensive comments.

20,000? For the second game in a brand new stadium?!?!

That is not good. Camden Yards was sold out for YEARS after it first opened - and those Orioles teams were not that much better than the Nats.

Jacobs Field, another example of a park that was sold out for YEARS after it first opened.

Less than half full for the second game is embarrassing.

Posted by: Matt C | April 8, 2008 2:03 PM

Is it true that it wasn't close to 20K? With season ticket purchasers counted every game, that's roughly 18K right there (whether they show or not). I read a comment on another board that it definitely wasn't 20K.

Posted by: Hoost | April 8, 2008 2:55 PM

Although I wasn't at the park on Monday (have tickets for Wed), the biggest problem from a perception standpoint is the empty seats behind home plate. When the camera panned, it looked like the lower level box seats on the baselines were occupied, but there was almost no one in those $300 per game seats that everyone sees on TV most of the time. I think the problem is that while those seats may have sold, the people who bought them aren't the types who go to baseball games on Monday nights (lobbyists, lawyers). There needs to be some system in place to fill those seats every game even if the owner of the tickets doesn't go to the game. Otherwise, it just looks bad.

Posted by: natsfan | April 8, 2008 3:01 PM

natsfan, I think they should just have the Geico caveman there every night in the $300 seats, just like opening night.

Cavemen were the first baseball players, you know.

Posted by: Pompous Magnus | April 8, 2008 3:36 PM

There were no lines at any of the concession stands up in the upper deck. I agree, the lines in the lower level were absurd. The team also needs to figure out a way to wrap the fans standing in line so that they are not jutting out into the main concourse blocking everyone walking around.

Posted by: Arlington, AVA | April 8, 2008 3:54 PM

I think the new owners have misjudged the sports culture of Washington, DC. This a winner's city. Losers (except for the Redskins) are not tolerated. If the Nats were a good team then the stadium would be jam packed with people but few people are coming to a game on a weeknight to see a new staduim with a bad team on the field. Many of us are just readjusting to baseball or are now learning the sport altogether a bad team doesn't help that process. Part of the magic of the first season was the team was far better than expected and people were so excited to have baseball back in DC. Now mediocre to bad isn't good enough. DC demands winners. In DC losers go home (or become lobbyists).

Posted by: Omar | April 8, 2008 5:06 PM

I was at the game last night, and left after the third inning. Our seats were in the upper deck and it was freezing! I kept telling myself that A) I don't care about the Marlins. And B) the game was on at 9pm in my nice warm home.

Posted by: Justin | April 8, 2008 5:17 PM

Marc, do you know of any programs--conducted by the Nats or otherwise--to teach adults about baseball in a fairly detailed way?

Posted by: THS | April 8, 2008 6:55 PM

Attn Baseball Fans!!!

DC United plays Pachuca in the semi finals of the regional North, Central and Caribbean Championship known as CONCACAF Champions Cup at 1930 on Weds. April 9th.

DC United expects 20,000 at RFK. It is going to be another test of the transportation system.

Posted by: FYI | April 8, 2008 10:38 PM

What do you think of the $2 million worth of taxpayer-funded art at Nationals Park? I haven't seen any reviews of that yet.

Posted by: Mike Licht | April 9, 2008 8:39 AM

I really would not be too worried about attendance at this point. Night games in early April are a miserable experience--especially when the air is damp. I have sat through temps in the 40s and drizzle for football games. For baseball, it just doesn't work.

Posted by: Jack | April 9, 2008 4:56 PM

I've had a Nats 20-game plan since day one, and much as I hate to say it, the team deserves it -- not so much for what's happening on the field (that will take time), but for the horrid way this team is marketed and promoted. Everything is derirative and imitative of what other franchises do -- from the presidents' race (borrowed from the Milwaukee sausage race) to the playing of "Sweet Caroline" (ripped off from the hated Red Sox). Do they actually think we're that stupid? Just because you need to appeal to casual fans doesn't mean you can't show originality. If I were Lerner and Kasten, I'd fire the in-game entertainment people (most of whom apparently only have NBA experience) and hire folks who know both baseball and Washington.

Posted by: Vincent | April 10, 2008 12:03 PM

Our seats are small and uncomfortable and there is less room than at RFK for people to exit the row. Plus the rows are almost twice as long. God help you if you have a middle seat and want to go to the restroom. I've been stepped on and had all manner of things spilled on me by people trying to get to and from their seats. My seat has a plastic back with phony slats of different widths. The next-to-bottom one sticks out and hits my back at the wrong place so it is really hurting by the middle of the game.

This is not a comfortable place to enjoy a baseball game. I'm not at all surprised the crowds are small. I won't be back.

Posted by: Carolyn | April 14, 2008 10:23 AM

fw8vnuq4c [URL=] 646c9s75th [/URL] drvtuhp4ew

Posted by: ed8dav703r | April 18, 2008 7:23 AM

The comments to this entry are closed.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company