WASHINGTON, D.C., NATIONALS PARK
Astros vs Nationals, 7/11
At this point in the trip, I was no longer traveling solo. My kids made the flight from Chicago to Pittsburgh on Thursday, and I did what any self-respecting father would do -- I gassed them up on Mountain Dew and hit the road to head to our nation's capital for a couple days of education on our nation's history and, yes, more Astros baseball. We were also joined in Washington, D.C. by the patriarch of the Pendergast Family tree, my dad Paul. Since I don't think you peruse this blog for stories about the Lincoln Memorial or the Smithsonian, I will skip ahead and get right to our Friday evening at the Washington Nationals new ball park -- the ultra creatively named Nationals Park. (How did they come up with that one???)
We arrived at the ball park right around game time. I had a media pass waiting for me, so first order of business was getting tickets for my dad and the Penderkids. I left ticket duty up to my father who is to ticket acquisition what Tiger Woods is to golf. After watching him masterfully work a scalper over for three tickets under face value (the drive), somehow talk his way into the ball park with only three tickets for four people (the chip), and then find five seats 20 rows up behind the third base dugout (the 25 foot putt for eagle), my respect level for the old man was never higher.
As for the ballpark itself, it is the newest one in the big leagues so from a standpoint of comfort, convenience, spacious concourse areas, and a vast amount of food selections, it was exactly what you'd expect. However, it was my trip to Nationals Park that made me realize that we're going to have to start grading these new ballparks on some sort of sliding scale. Since they are all being built as sort of a correction to the sterile, generic, metallic/concrete beasts of the 1960's and 70's (Riverfront, Three Rivers, Veterans Stadium, to name a few), every single one of the new parks grades out from good to excellent on the comfort and aesthetics scale. What would bring the Nationals Park grade down to something in the low B range for me was the overabundance of visual and auditory encouragement to cheer, scream, yell, or "make some noise". It seemed like the jumbotron (extra points for jumbotron in HD, by the way) and the visual screens on the front of the upper deck were constantly telling us to do something, and doing so in a blend of bright color and booming noise that made it all feel like a bad acid trip at a Metallica concert. It came off almost amateurish.
Other notes from the Nationals Park visit:
- I have never caught a foul ball in my life at a game. Not at a minor league game, major league game, little league game, or even a beer league softball game. I left my kids and my dad for a few minutes to go handle some business at the Nationals' media relations desk, and when I came back, my kids were celebrating their grandfather snagging a fly ball off the bat of Nationals CF Willie Harris. When I'm 61 years old, I hope I am snagging foul balls at major league games. And sober, too. That would be good.
- The game itself was a complete waste if you are an Astros fan (which I am, my kids are, and my dad sort of is now after visiting Houston in late June for the Red Sox series). Roy Oswalt (and his 4.56 ERA) started the game and pitched one inning before leaving with a recurrence of this mysterious hip ailment that he has. So that means the game was left in the hands of the Astros bullpen, which is a little like leaving a spelling bee in the hands of Jessica Simpson. Anyway, Chad Paronto came in and gave up three runs in two innings. Then Dave Borkowski came in and did his best impersonation of a golf tee, giving up seven runs including two mammoth home runs.
Dave Borkowski, who as of this typing is no longer with the Astros, is absolutely brutal. Quick actual sports take, I am not nearly as offended by guys like Alex Rodriguez making $28M/yr as I am by guys like Dave Borkowski making $400K/yr. I mean, at least Alex Rodriguez is really good at what he does. At least people pay to see Alex Rodriguez. Dave Borkowski absolutely sucks at his job, he is the absolute worst, a total laughing stock. If he disappeared from the face of the earth, major league baseball wouldn't feel a thing. In short, nobody has ever bought a ticket to see Dave Borkowski, and no one has ever TIVO'd a game because there may be a Borkowski sighting. Yet he will make 10 times what a teacher will make this year. That bothers me. Not A-Rod, or Puma, or even Carlos Lee getting paid big bucks. (Ok, maybe Carlos Lee a little bit...)
- Once Borkowski gave up runs 9 and 10 in the sixth inning and we were firmly in the apocalyptic aftermath of another Astros pitching meltdown, I decided to email my friend Alyson Footer. For those of you who don't live in Houston, Alyson covers the Astros masterfully for MLB.com and is the perfect sounding board during 10-0 blowouts because she will respond with just the right combination of sarcasm, wit, and clarity. Fortunately, in addition to being a baseball guru, she can capably discuss topics like kiss-cam, Billy Joel, and Tom Cruise's epic performance in "Top Gun". Alyson was sitting up in the press box at Nationals Park so we got onto the topic of the ball park itself. We agreed that maybe the Nationals audio/video folks were a bit over the top in presentation, but that the one thing that was a five-star winner was the Dead Presidents race that they do between (I think) the fifth and sixth innings.
They have people in Presidential costumes with huge, oversized heads racing around the perimeter of the ball park, starting in centerfield and ending at home plate. You can see in the picture to the left, the presidents involved are Teddy Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, Abe Lincoln, and George Washington. This event is very similar to the sausage races at Miller Park in Milwaukee. Truth be told, costumes with oversized heads are never "not funny". They are ALWAYS HILARIOUS. Without exception. Kind of like claymation characters. The fact is dudes made out of clay are always ten times funnier than the exact same dude in flesh and blood. It's a fact. Anyway, the Presidents race is a surefire winner. Alyson and I collectively lamented the fact that we have no "oversized headed costume race" in Houston, and decided that maybe it's time we started a movement to get one. Astros fans deserve it. We briefly debated who the contestants would be, knowing full well that they had to in some way capture the rich tradition of the city of Houston and in particular the ballpark itself. From there, the choice was obvious -- each night, the Astros need to conduct Disgraced Enron Executive Racing. Go get some costumes with oversized heads of Jeffrey Skilling, Andrew Fastow, and Ken Lay and race them around the yard between innings in orange jumpsuits. "Skilling is coming up around the oustide, Fastow is trying to hold him off ... meanwhile Ken Lay is going the WRONG WAY!!!"
- Food wise, at the recommendation of Brian Powell from the uber-blog Awful Announcing, I went to the Ben's Chili Bowl concession stand and went with the Chili Bowl Chili Dog. Ben's is a D.C. institution and their franchise inside the ballpark is their second location, adding to their historic site at 1213 U Street in D.C. As ball park chili dogs go ... hell, as ANY chili dogs go, this one was a beauty. Mustard, onions, chili, oh my ....
BEN'S CHILI BOWL - WASHINGTON, D.C.
FOOD: CHILI DOG
GRADE: a very spicy, hot A