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19 June 2008

Nationals Park: Cute from afar, far from cute

A while back I expressed my disappointment at the use of lackluster materials in the Nationals Park fa├žade. Since my flight came into Dulles a little after midnight, I had a chance to quickly drive over to the ballpark in the morning after catching half a wink. It's worse than I thought.

What you're seeing here the wall next to a vehicle service entrance. It has alternating concrete and aggregate. This pattern repeats itself throughout the exterior and provides contrast. No problem if you're looking at it from a distance. Up close, not so great. It doesn't look like it's going to wear or weather well. And unfortunately, there is one place where actual stone is used...

...the tunnel to the dark, swanky, and very exclusive Lexus Club.

Years from now Nationals Park will be looked upon as a serviceable, bland venue from the outside. Thankfully, fans will pay a lot more attention to what happens on the inside. Inside, it looks alright. They're still tying up some loose ends, as evidenced by an engineering crew maintaining an office within the stadium.

It's not fair to dismiss HOK and Joe Spear for the firm's ubiquitous ballpark design, but they have patterns just like a bad poker player. The fact that they've built so many of these things only magnifies the criticism.

Nationals Park shares much with Cincinnati's Great American Ballpark, from the seemingly overbuilt structural steel to the split/uneven upper deck distribution. It certainly pushes the "neighborhood" concept that many (including the A's) are trying to capture. Unfortunately, I think neighborhoods have to come about organically. They can't be forced.

Sight lines are good from just about everywhere. Opposing team broadcasters have set about whining their entire stays in DC. To that I can only say that the same thing happened at PNC Park when it opened, and you don't hear that much about the problem anymore - though Nats Park's press box is much higher.

The Mitsubishi scoreboard looks good. In a puzzling bit of advertising wizardry, Amtrak is the sponsor on all in-house displays. Now I'm not sure if that's only when there isn't a game on. If that's the case it's a curious way to get eyeballs.

The field level concourse is enormous and easy to navigate. They've used the space well to spread out food and entertainment offerings, right down to a large, multi-attraction children's area in RF.

I will be returning to Nationals Park on the 27th and 28th for games against the Orioles. I'll look at transportation and parking, along with understanding how the design elements work practically in service of the fans. FWIW it took 40 minutes to take the Metrorail's Green Line train between the Navy Yard station (1/2 block from Nationals Park) and the Greenbelt station, which is in Maryland beyond the Beltway and College Park, the home of the University of Maryland. It also took 3 minutes from L'Enfant Plaza.

Tomorrow, I'll write the nightcap from the 19th: a visit to a game at Camden Yards.