Photos By Nicholas Karlin, Words By Brandon Wetherbee
Major League Baseball’s greatest year was 2016. 2017 will be better. It might be the Washington Nationals best chance to win a World Series for a very long time.
The 2016 National League East Champions were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. D.C. was disappointed. Advertisers and Major League Baseball were disappointed. For the next three weeks, baseball fans had to sit through Bryce Harper commercials while he was back home near Vegas. The rest of the country was happy. The most dramatic World Series of the modern era ended the longest losing streak in modern sports. There’s no reason to think the future isn’t anything but bright.
Before I go any further, I should point out that there are no good old days, especially for America’s pastime. Hank Aaron’s home run record is more impressive than Babe Ruth’s because there wasn’t a separate league for black players by the time Aaron played. The worst players in 2017 would destroy the best players in 1917. The only thing better about baseball’s past is the prices. The quality of play, stadiums, atmosphere, etc. is better now. But just because things are better doesn’t mean we should ignore the past, especially with reminders of its ugly history everywhere.
Baseball is a game built on history and boredom. That’s why it’s the perfect sport for radio. But this preview is about the Nationals and Nationals Park. So here’s what’s in the stadium: reminders of past Presidents of the United States of America.
The Washington Nationals have benefited from the Racing Presidents. Regardless of your political leanings, it’s difficult to cheer against Abe Lincoln. Or Teddy. People love Teddy. The team has benefited greatly from its location and history. 2017 may be the year presidential politics doesn’t benefit the Nats.
There are quotes from former presidents all over Nationals Park. There are photos of past presidents all over Nationals Park. POTUS 43 and 44 have thrown out Opening Day pitches at Nationals Park. Will Washington’s baseball team embrace the POTUS that received 4% of D.C.’s vote? More on that later.
Nationals Park is one of the best in baseball. The location is fine, the food options are plenty (but since there’s a Shake Shack, people want Shake Shack and settle for whatever else has a manageable line because who wants to wait for more than a half inning for food at a baseball stadium?), the sight lines are very good, the beer options are some of the best in baseball and the park has the new old feel that Camden Yards perfected in 1992. What makes the team interesting isn’t the park. Or the team history (it’s hard to reminisce about club that has only existed since 2005). It’s Bryce Harper, the best player in baseball. And if you don’t care about the sport (which is at least 10% of every crowd at any regular season Major League Baseball game), the non-baseball periphery around the field is fascinating to ponder for at least a few innings. So here are nine reasons you should consider attending a few games at Nationals Park.
1. Bryce Harper
This year is most likely Bryce Harper’s last as a National. He wants to be baseball’s first $400 million dollar ballplayer. The Nats aren’t likely going to play ball during next off season’s bidding war. It’s hard to blame either party. Harper deserves to be the highest paid player in the game. It’s also very difficult to afford other quality players when one guy is taking the lion’s share of the team’s salary. So it’s World Series or bust for Washington’s ball club.
Somewhat related, there’s nothing wrong with Bryce Harper’s hair flip. He’s flipping his hair after doing one of the most difficult tasks in sports. Don’t like it? Stop watching all sports. If you reject someone else’s harmless joy, you don’t deserve sports.
This year the Nationals have a special beer available exclusively at the Left Field Lodge. Devils Backbone Earned Run Ale is low ABV (4.2%) and better than every other standard beer you’ll find in every other park. Couple that with Swing Big Beer Pen offering $5 Budweiser and Bud Light from gates until 30 minutes before first pitch and left field is the best place to drink beer before the game. If you don’t have tickets, hang out at the smaller for 2017 The Bullpen and take advantage of their third through seventh inning $5 drinks happy hour.
3. You Can Be Your Favorite Player
It’s possible to find a player or coach that aligns with your politics. If you include the minor leagues, ball clubs have more players and staff than any other American sport. If you don’t like anyone on the current squad, go with the past (learn from my mistakes, I regret buying a Jake Arrieta Cubs jersey and do not regret my Andre Dawson jersey). If any actual players aren’t to your liking, customize a jersey or hat with your name on it.
If you’re going for the game for retail purposes, the 2017 offerings are an improvement over past years. The team offers a maternity line for those expecting, college hats for people expecting and not expecting and, here’s what sets the Nats apart, author in-stores. The sport most apt for tomes about pain, suffering and redemption will soon host author signings. Makes sense to me.
5. Starting Lineup
Starting Lineup action figures were popular with fans of a certain age in the late 80s and early 90s. They’re not coming back in stores but some Major League teams are bringing them back. The Nats is one. The giveaway on August 29 against the Marlins is a Bryce Harper Starting Lineup. I want one.
6. Star Wars
You probably care more about Star Wars than Starting Lineups. The most popular theme game is back on May 27 against the Pirates. There’s also going to be a Game of Thrones night on June 23 against the Reds.
7. White House Historical Society
There’s a large billboard past left field for the White House Historical Society Christmas Ornament. It’s up all year. And for 2017 the team is once again partnering with the White House Historical Society. This year there’s a special promotion, the “Nats New Deal,” offering special perks with membership to the White House Association membership. It’s difficult not to think of who’s in the Oval Office when a giant image calling back FDR is in left field. It’s something that sets the Nats apart. I do not think any Major League Baseball teams are teaming up with historical societies.
8. 8 Seats Out
Also in left field is a new ad for MGM National Harbor.
The casino is working with the baseball team on field (kinda) as well. There’s now an eight seat box for MGM where the tarp used to be stored on the first base line. These are the closest seats to the action.
Pete Rose belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
9. First Pitch
The Washington Nationals hosted a media tour on Tuesday, March 28. If you Googled “Washington Nationals” on Tuesday, March 28, the top result was about Donald Trump not throwing out the first pitch. Like it or not, the Nationals are POTUS’ team. The forty-fifth POTUS will not throw out the first pitch on Monday. The White House claims it’s due to a scheduling conflict.
The tradition since 1910 will not be observed in 2017. It’s not the first time POTUS has not granted the Washington baseball club a first pitch on Opening Day. President Obama did not participate in 2009. (He did in 2010.) Maybe this White House wanted to keep people guessing until Opening Day 2018. Most Nats fans would rather talk about that than the large, gaping hole in right field a year from now.