Nationals Park ready to roll
Debut closing in; stadium boasts amenities for all kinds of fans
WASHINGTON -- The last-minute work was still going on at a frantic pace Thursday afternoon at different parts of the new Nationals Park. Workers were doing things like installing parts to the red, white and blue bathrooms, planting the cherry blossoms along the Center Field Plaza and fixing various construction problems.
But there's no question that Nationals Park will be ready for its big unveiling this weekend. The Nationals give it a test in a Saturday exhibition game with the Orioles and then show it off to a national TV audience Sunday night in their season opener against the Braves on ESPN.
The Nationals gave the local media a tour of their new home Thursday, and team officials looked a whole lot like proud parents throughout the walk around the stadium. This was not an easy project from start to finish, and there were many who doubted if this could be completed on time. But the job got done.
"It was an ambitious schedule," said Nationals team president Stan Kasten. "But we were all committed to it, so I think everyone involved in it ... worked together, pushing and pulling. There were days we would have conflicts. We'd work through them -- and here we are 48 hours away, and we're going to get it done."
There truly was a sense of accomplishment by the major players involved in making Nationals Park a reality. Playing at RFK Stadium for three years seemed to have felt like, at times, as if the Nationals were kind of renting a home.
Now they've got their very own house.
"There really has been a lot of great cooperation," said Mayor Adrian Fenty. "I think it's fantastic. I really do. I think it's an A-plus job by the [DC] Sports and Entertainment Commission, by the workers and by the Lerners. They deserve all the credit."
The stadium will have a capacity of 41,888, but will likely be much more comfortable than RFK Stadium for many reasons. Simply put, there's a whole lot more room.
RFK's concourses were very small, about 15-20 feet wide, according to the Nationals. But the new park is going to be 26-40 feet wide and much easier to get through.
The largest area is going to be on the main level, which features a 40-foot wide concourse that will make it very easy to talk, eat, buy food or drinks or just look around while not having to miss a pitch of the game. It's just very easy to see things because this main concourse has a 360-degree open view of the playing field.
"There's a whole lot more than just watching a game," Kasten said. "All of the new parks had things that we loved, that we tried to use, whether it was Turner Field or Citizens Bank Park or Coors Field. We looked at all of those parks. So it has some of the little bits everywhere, but there are things which are uniquely D.C."
And for those who are hungry -- well, there won't be much trouble. The Nationals built 64,200 square feet of space for restaurants, filled with every kind of foot imaginable. They also put in food selections for each National League team.
For example, they will have knishes for Mets fans, fish tacos for those who love the Padres and California Sushi rolls for the Dodgers. They've also got food for kids at the "Rookies" concession stand. Overall, there's 49 concession stands with nearly 200 points of sale.
Children also will love the selection of video games available to them.There's a 15,000 square foot area behind right-center field -- which will open three hours before the game -- where kids can spend hours playing on Playstation 3, Guitar Hero 3, Gran Turismo 5 Prologue and other things. They can even go into the batting cages and take some swings. Mayor Fenty tried, but struggled mightily there.
"It's just an incredible sense of accomplishment and really a new era for young kids who will have a home team to root for," said Bill Hall, vice chairman of the DC Sports and Entertainment Commission. "It becomes Washington's newest monument, and one that we can truly be proud of, because it does reflect the look and the feel and the stature of today's Washington, D.C."
But there's a whole lot of little things that will give this park both a unique feel and remind Washington fans that this is their new home.
The design of the stadium will allow 55 percent of the fans to enter and reach their seats without having to get on any ramps, stairs, escalators or elevators. The reason is that the field is 24 feet below street level with the main concourse being the same height as the sidewalk.
In one of the clubs, the line score from Game 7 of the 1924 World Series between Washington and New York has been put on to the wall. Washington won that game. There's also a number of blue foundation/pillars throughout the stadium-- with the white "W" logo on each.
"Everybody just worked hard and got it done," Fenty said. "It's good to see it happen for a Major League baseball team."
Jeff Seidel is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.