Nationals Park: Baseball Gameday Guide
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But when the Nats are in town, Navy Yard—or the Capitol Riverfront, or the Ballpark District; you'll hear the area called all of these names—swells with people starting two or three hours before a game. It then generally empties out after the ninth inning (or before, depending on the score or when the last Metro train is departing).
About a mile south of the Capitol Building, Nationals Park has done much to revitalize the Southeast D.C. neighborhood it's anchored since 2008. There's still plenty to remind you that the streets along the Anacostia River were once better known for subsidized housing, take-out joints and liquor stores, but the continued emergence of sleek restaurants and bars, including both local-born institutions as well as new outposts for big-name concepts—join a growing forest of new apartment buildings and offices for young professionals and government workers.
A newly landscaped waterside park and industrial-style shopping complex provide other activities besides eating and drinking. Baseball fans can now choose among a pre-game picnic, sit-down dinner or dance to live bands at an outdoor venue just a pop fly from the centerfield gate.
Still one of the newer ballparks across Major League Baseball, Nationals Park has grown up and emerged as the fan base supporting the team has. Washington, D.C., has indeed become a baseball town, and Nats Park is the focal point. Catching a game while gazing at historic landmarks in view of the stadium is what D.C. is all about. The District is also well represented from within the ballpark, with iconic food institutions such as Ben's Chili Bowl, along with some of the area's hottest chefs and concepts offering their own bites, and plenty of D.C.'s best craft beer, from DC Brau, Port City, 3 Stars, and more.
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Thomas Cizauskas via Flickr
Nats Park is home to two distinct crowds: the folks from the suburbs in Virginia and Maryland who take the afternoon off, don their Bryce Harper or Stephen Strasburg jerseys and head to D.C. early to beat the rush-hour traffic, and those who stay at their desks until the very last minute and arrive at the stadium in their work clothes as the Star-Spangled Banner is playing. For those who choose the former option, the best advice is to pick out a spot and get comfortable, because there are plenty of pre-game specials on tap at nearby restaurants and bars.
WHERE TO GET A BEER
Bluejacket | Just a quick walk from the stadium, this brewery's inventive offerings and massive beer list isall brewed onsite in a former factory that built boilers for ships. There's enough to explore here that you'll consider missing the first inning in order to savor the last drop of the dozen plus beers which will be available. The food from The Arsenal, the restaurant housed within the brewery, has built its own strong reputation as well.
WHERE TO GO WITH A GROUP
Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant | Right above the Navy Yard station, this brewpub is the most convenient place to go before the game since, if you leave when the announcer begins reading the starting lineups, you can make it to your seat before the first pitch is thrown. It's great for people-watching if you get a table on the large outdoor patio, plus a wide range of pre-game happy hour offerings makes this a good base if you're meeting people, though it does get crowded right before the game starts.
INSIDE NATIONALS PARK
Nats Park is designed for convenience—the field is actually below sea level so the main concourse level are even with the street outside. That means fewer stairs and ramps to shuffle up for many fans.
WHERE TO SIT
All seats at Nationals Park have clear views of the field; there aren't sections with limited sight lines. If you want a view of the Capitol Building and D.C. skyline, sit in the right field upper deck. If it's a night game and you don't want to squint into the setting sun, consider seats along the third base/left field side. The sun can be intense for fans sitting along the first base side during day games. It's a good idea to apply sunscreen before heading into the park.
Nationals Park Seating Chart
Shake Shack | On a hot D.C. day, the lines of milkshake-seekers are long at Shake Shack. The outpost, in Section 240, carries favorites: burgers and fries, plus the Shack take on a hot dog.
BEST LOCAL VENDOR
Ben's Chili Bowl | The lines at the original Nats Park's Ben's Chili Bowl (section 110) were so long they opened a new full-service location this year in section 141 to cut down on wait times. Get the half-smoke ($8.50), the sausage/hot dog hybrid Ben's is known for.
District Drafts | Put down the Bud Light and drink local at District Drafts carts, which serve local microbrews ($10.00) from Atlas Brewery, DC Brau, Port City, 3 Stars and Mad Fox in four locations around the stadium.
WHERE TO EAT HEALTHY
Field of Greens | This spot in section 136 features vegetarian and vegan items, including heartier options like a vegan crab cake ($10). Also consider local spot Shawafel, with shawarma and falafel sandwiches.
BEST STADIUM BAR
Red Loft Bar | Casual fans who don't need to watch every pitch head to the Red Loft, the upper level bar at the Red Porch restaurant in the outfield (Section 244); it's the best place to sit outside and enjoy a cold one. It's open to all ticket holders, so buy the cheapest seats (or even standing room) and watch the action from this bar.
OTHER THINGS TO SEE WHILE YOU'RE HERE
Nationals Park is home to the DC Sports Hall of Fame, which honors not only former Washington baseball players, but other prominent athletes as well. Washington Senators fans who want to pay homage to the area's old baseball squad can see a beam from the old Griffith Stadium in the right field wall.
Nationals Park Tour
NATIONALS GAMES ON A BUDGET
cizauskas via Flickr
The food and drink offerings at Nationals Park are generally on the pricey side, but you'll find some values in and around the stadium.
WHERE TO GET A CHEAP BEER BEFORE THE GAME
Miller Lite Scoreboard Walk Bar | Miller Lite Party Night is held Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Purchase your tickets in advance online, starting at $20 (up to $25 for so-called marquee games) and you'll get a beer included—or a soda or water, if you'd prefer. Before the game, anyone can find $6 beers at the Miller Lite Scoreboard Walk Bar; 1.5 hours before start time Monday-Thursday, and 2.5 hours before start time Friday-Sunday. Yes, that's a deal in this town.
BEST CHEAP BITES AROUND NATIONALS PARK
The Fairgrounds | Home to Truckeroo, D.C.'s regular celebration of all things food trucks, and the Bullpen, where Nats fans come to drink, the Fairgrounds has a good choice of cheap eats before the game. Sit at a picnic table and try the food from trucks like DC Empanadas and Red Hook Lobster Pound.
BEST CHEAP NATIONALS TICKETS
The cheapest seats in the house are in the Right Field Terrace, and typically start at $10. You'll feel far removed, but remember, you can always transfer to the standing room at the Red Loft bar for a closer view.
NATIONALS PARK WITH KIDS
The neighborhood surrounding Nationals Park is family-friendly, but definitely geared more towards a drinking and partying crowd. However, kids have plenty of options inside the stadium.
WHERE TO GO BEFORE THE GAME WITH KIDS
The Yards Park | Grab a quick fast casual bite someplace such as Potbelly's, Five Guys or TaKorean, the uber-popular local Korean taco joint. When the weather's nice though, consider packing some food and baseball gloves (you'll need 'em to try snag a foul ball) and head to The Yards Park, the riverfront park a short walk from the stadium. There's a fountain and open space for picnicking and playing catch.
BEST FOOD FOR KIDS
Rookie's (Food for the Little Slugger) | Kid-friendly meals like Jr. Nats Dogs and crust-free sammies make young fans happy in section 143.
WHERE TO GET AUTOGRAPHS
You'll have the most luck getting an autograph if you try to catch players after the game on their way out of the players' parking lot (a fenced-off area outside the stadium near first base). On Sundays, New Era sponsors "Signature Sundays," when four players are available for about 20 minutes before the game to give autographs.
NEED A BREAK DURING THE GAME?
Head to the Family Fun Area near the center field gate if the kids need to let off some steam. There are jungle gyms and a strike zone where little leaguers can practice their pitching. After the popular Presidents' Race, the characters come to the family area for photo ops.
WHERE TO BUY GEAR FOR KIDS
If you need to deck out the little ones, there's an Adidas Kids Store next to the Red Porch in center field. There are hats, shirts, jerseys and other swag in sizes to fit young fans of all ages.
WHAT TO DO AFTER A NATIONALS GAME
eschipul via Flickr
After a game, most people leave the stadium and go home or elsewhere in D.C. The metro gets swamped during the stadium exodus, and traffic out of parking lots is slow moving. Some people wait out the rush at a nearby bar, and a smaller contingent stays in the neighborhood for longer to keep drinking or have a meal—especially after a big win. You'll find a big post-game crowd looking for a chance to extend the festivities, so waits for drinks and tables can be long—but it may be a better bet than being shoulder to shoulder in a Metro line.
WHERE TO KEEP THE PARTY GOING
The Bullpen at The Fairgrounds | As it does before the game, the Bullpen lures fans off the stadium-to-metro path with live music and beer. It stays open for two hours after the game. Bottoms up.
WHERE TO GET A POST-GAME MEAL
The Arsenal | The restaurant at Bluejacket Brewery stays open late—1 a.m. on weeknights and 2 a.m. on weekends—so it's your best choice if you're hungry after a night game. The menu features contemporary American fare like short ribs and pork chops, plus burgers, pastas and sides. Pair it all with one of Bluejacket's signature beers.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE TO DO NEARBY?
Consider a short Metro ride to Gallery-Place Chinatown for all of the food and drink choices you can handle. For afternoon games, stroll to the Southwest Waterfront to take in the scene.
Dan Friedell is a freelance writer in Washington, D.C. who contributes regularly to ESPN the Magazine and Men's Journal. A Cleveland native, he's rooting for an Indians vs. Nats World Series in this lifetime.
Jess Moss is based in the D.C. area. She thinks Nats games are one of the best things about summer in the District, though she pays more attention to the ballpark's food and beer options than the pitch count.
Jake Emen also contributed to this guide.