Some tips for Nats Park visitors

This is the reality of Nats Park: Tourists sometimes tie their DC visits to the time their home baseball team is visiting here, and many local fans who do come to the park are casual at best. As a result, you might be visiting there on a very irregular basis, or you’re coming to the park for the first time. I’m here to help.

Nats Park is a great place for the casual fan. It may have little of the “cathedral of baseball” feel that you get at Fenway or Wrigley, or even newer parks like PNC in Pittsburgh or AT&T in San Francisco,  but it does have its advantages. Sightlines are fantastic from most seats, tickets are generally easy to acquire, you probably won’t get any crap for showing up in your home team’s gear (everyone here is from somewhere else and people are nice), and ballpark food is decent, if not memorable. Here’s a few tips on coming to the park:

1. TAKE THE SUBWAY. Parking is poor and is obscenely expensive, traffic is often awful and you’re in an Eastern city with decent public transportation (despite Metro’s current woes). Take the subway and enjoy it. You’ll be able to chat up other fans — most Nats fans on the train will be happy to talk to you. And everyone here is accustomed to tourists, so don’t be afraid to ask questions. The walk from the Navy Yard Metro stop into Nats Park is one of the best things about the experience here. It’s a kind of a cattle chute of hawkers, scalpers, hot dog merchants and fans. You don’t see that sort of thing elsewhere.

2. WALK AROUND. Few parks have as many great standing room sightlines as Nats Park. In the last few games, I’ve bought tickets on the top 400 level along the baselines or behind home, then watched part of the games from my seat and part of the games from the many good standing room viewpoints around the park. Some of them include chest-level lean-to shelving that is the perfect place to put a hot dog and a beer and enjoy a couple of innings. There are great views of the Anacostia River from the long ramp that goes up the park on the third-base side, and there’s also a really good view of the Capitol if you head down the same side on the 300 level.

3. CHECK THIRD-PARTY TICKET SITES. Tickets often are sold *below* list here on third-party sites, especially early in the season. I use SeatGeek these days because you can set it to disclose any fees up front, it searches multiple sites and StubHub now throws on an absurd level of fees that aren’t disclosed until checkout. It’s not unusual to get a decent seat for less than $10 through May here if you buy it through a third-party site.

4. THERE NOW ARE GOOD RESTAURANTS AND HOTELS NEARBY. The construction of Nats Park was a key part of the redevelopment of the Southwest/Southeast waterfront, and when the park opened, the surrounding area was a wasteland of concrete plants, garbage truck parking and transmission shops. But there’s been a bunch of development in recent years, and there are good restaurants and hangout spots within easy distance of the park. (Still, the closest joint to the park is a Buffalo Wild Wings, so not everything is perfect.)

5. FOOD HERE IS OK, NOT GREAT. I’ve never been a fan of Ben’s Chili Bowl, but the Ben’s chili half smoke is the best-known “local” food at the park. My personal fave dish is the burnt-ends-and-mac-and-cheese dish you can get at Blue Smoke on the 200 level, but that varies a lot in quality from game to game and it is *very* heavy. There are also decent Virginia ham and chicken biscuits available at a couple of locations, a forgettable crabcake and some unusual options (Greek food or Pad Thai). The Taste of the Majors stands, which offer the favorites of other ballparks, often provide some of the best food in the park. There are some decent microbrews available and if you dig around, you can find a few other dishes that aren’t bad. The Nats Dogs are completely forgettable but also completely OK. The Curly W soft pretzels are fun but just like every other soft pretzel you’ve ever had except for the shape.

6. SOMETIMES YOU CAN MAKE IT A TWO-FER. Camden Yards in Baltimore is only about 45 miles away. It *is* a cathedral of baseball, with smarter/more dedicated fans and a tremendous setting. Not all of the seats are great — they all face directly ahead, so if you sit along the foul lines past first or third base, you spend the whole game twisted in your seat — but it has better food and the Inner Harbor, along with a spectacular setting that features the C&O Warehouse. It also has AL East baseball, so you can see the O’s play better teams overall than you may see roll through DC on a regular basis these days. If you’re a big baseball fan, definitely check it out if you can.

Hopefully, this helps. Enjoy your time at Nats Park. It may not make a massive impression but it’s still a good place to see a game.

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