Photos By Jonny Grave, Words By Brandon Wetherbee
Baseball is America’s past time, especially in an election year.
The game that seemingly never ends (spring training begins in February and the World Series sometimes goes as long as early November) is able to yield excitement each and every year, especially on opening day (which is also fluid, the Nats played some exhibition games last weekend, MLB Opening Night was Sunday, most teams played their first regular season game on Monday, most away teams have their opening today, Thursday, April 7 and some aren’t until next week). Though it was below freezing this week, we’re excited for baseball in Washington, D.C. And by we I mean me. No one else in the office cares.
I get it. Baseball is a long game, both in terms of time played and amount of games (162 regular season plus playoffs if you’re good), but it’s getting more and more digestible, both attending games and following a team. For example, I missed some opening day games but caught up with MLB produced recaps. I saw the highlights of every game I wanted. As a casual fan, it’s perfect. If you’re less than a casual fan, just Google “Washington Nationals” and watch the most recent recap before you head to a game. It’s a great primer for attendees that want to have a basic idea of who’s on first.
Nationals Park, home of your Washington Nationals, has undergone some slight improvements and some slight annoyances. There are now more metal detectors. There are going to be more metal detectors at every MLB ballpark. It’s a league wide and understandable but unnecessary measure. That’s a debate for another time.
The metal detectors are the only downgrade. The stadium is more family friendly, with a new party zone for kids parties (it’s just for kids and their adult chaperones, we asked), a nursing mothers’ lounge and more safety netting.
The biggest difference from 2015 to 2016 is Budweiser. Goodbye, Miller Lite Scoreboard Walk, hello Budweiser Terrace. You may have seen some local media bitching about having to drink Budweiser. What’s important to remember about every Major League Ballpark is 1) they all have beer agreements with major beer distributors and 2) you don’t have to drink Budweiser. There are Goose Island, Shock Top, Stella and Blue Point Toasted Lager options. Hate those? Go to Bluejacket before the game. I’m a fan of the switch from Miller to Bud, not because I prefer one over the other, but because it’s now cheaper to drink in the stadium before the game than at The Bullpen. Happy hour at the Terrace now goes until 30 minutes before first pitch and includes $5 beers. Once again, it’s not mandatory to drink beer at a baseball game. If you want to complain about sports and beer, complain about Verizon Center and FedExField prices.
The best upgrade for the average BYT reader? Shake Shack has expanded. The line will most likely still be the longest in the park, as it has for the last few years, but there’s now an e-cash line so hopefully that will decrease waits. Other good food news includes the addition of Haute Dog and Fries and Pinch Dumplings. The dumplings are slightly (and only slightly) better but not-at-all typical ballpark food. Because it’s not encased meat, it might not be that appealing for the average fan. The Haute Dogs are great and I wish they were available closer to where I work and live. These aren’t baseball game good, they’re real life food good.
Our favorite new merchandise isn’t the college colored Nats gear, Bryce Harper plushy or racing presidents dolls. It’s the pin trade. Modeled after the Disney pin trade, anyone can trade their pin for a pin on the board. Pins will also be available for purchase. The week before first pitch, some of our favorite pins include a Ken Griffey Jr. commemorative pin of his first 6 years as a Seattle Mariner (Bad teams don’t have much to celebrate.), Mark Prior Cubs jersey (Historic bust.), Joey Cora Mariners jersey (Who bought this?), Baltimore Orioles Camden Yards/Three Times World Series Champions (This thing folds!), Greg Maddux Atlanta Braves throwing (Action pin!), Welcome Back Kenny Lofton #1 Cleveland Indians (Lofton played for 16 different clubs), Chicago White Sox 1990 and 1991 2nd Place A.L. West (Who celebrates 2 consecutive 2nd place finishes?), Mark McGwire’s Record Breaking Season 1998 Limited Edition Collector’s Set unmarked of 2570 (Great for obvious reasons.), Barry Bonds Five Time Gold Glove Winner 1990-1994 (Who celebrates Bonds’ defense? Or Bonds in general?) and multiple Star Wars night pins from around the league.
When it comes to promotional nights, the best include both Max Scherzer no-hitter bobblehead (these are really well done, they have one blue eye and one brown eye, like Scherzer) nights (May 23 against the Mets and August 26 against the Rockies), Nationals Music Speaker (May 14 against the Marlins), Bryce Harper Chia Pet (July 5 against the Brewers) and Nationals gnome (September 27 against the Diamondbacks). The theme nights, all of them, are unnecessary but understood. Star Wars night is always going to do well and Rat Pack Night is for Bryce Harper (really) but they’re never really any good. Nor are they really bad. They’re just there. The game is the game and no one remembers ’80’s Night when they’re retelling their friends about that game that was great. The gnome on the other hand, that’s great. The gnome sticks around, literally. I still have my 2015 Anthony Rendon gnome and it’s being used as an outdoor gnome. So less theme nights and more gnomes, please. All that being said, the Election Night theme (September 30 against the Marlins) actually sounds interesting. 25,000 fans will be able to choose between a Nationals branded donkey or elephant (12,500 will be available of each). Fingers crossed that the cast of VEEP is somehow involved.
The Nationals should be OK this year. They’re no longer the league favorite to advance to The World Series and that’s actually a good thing. Bryce Harper looks just as good as last year and last year he was the NL MVP. Max Scherzer is one of the best starting pitchers in baseball. But relief pitcher Jonathan Papelbon is still on the team and off season acquisition Daniel Murphy may help win a few games but may also lose the team some PR battles.
The 2016 Washington Nationals is an excellent representation of the state of Major League Baseball. The players on the field are exciting (Harper), impressive (Scherzer), angry (Papelbon), homophobic (Murphy) and charitable (the Nationals Youth Baseball Uniform program saved D.C. Little Leagues more than $110,000). It’s like any American family. Some family members are cool to drink beer at happy hour and some are concerned about terrorism. Some want to make American great again and some want to make baseball fun again. Baseball is America’s sport and the Nationals are America’s team.