I like Washington, D.C., but it’s too bad I can’t do one of these as “How to Be a Met Fan In Montreal.” Instead, we’ll have to settle for the Nation’s Capital.
Well, maybe I can do a piece where I "find" a blog post I wrote in 2004 about traveling to Montreal. And advise you to ignore the fact that I didn't start writing this blog until 2007.
Before You Go. The Washington Post website is predicting rain for next week, during the Mets' visit. So there may be rain delays or rainouts. They are not yet forecasting for a week after the following weekend, when the Yankees visit. Washington can be pretty hot in June. Actually, it can get pretty hot pretty much anytime during baseball season. So while the Post isn't projecting temperatures any higher than the mid-70s for the Mets' visit, keep in mind that this could be an underestimation, and remember to stay hydrated.
Getting There. Getting to Washington is fairly easy. However, if you have a car, I recommend using it, and getting a hotel either downtown or inside the Capital Beltway, because driving in Washington is roughly (good choice of words there) as bad as driving in New York.
It’s 229 miles by road from Times Square to downtown Washington, 238 miles from Citi Field to Nationals Park, and 236 miles from Yankee Stadium to Nationals Park. If you’re not “doing the city,” but just going to the game, take the New Jersey Turnpike all the way down to the Delaware Memorial Bridge (a.k.a. the Twin Span), across the Delaware River into the State of, well, Delaware. This should take about 2 hours, not counting a rest stop.
Speaking of which, the temptation to take an alternate route (such as Exit 7A to I-195 to I-295 to the Ben Franklin Bridge) or a side trip (Exit 4, eventually leading to the Ben Franklin Bridge) to get into Pennsylvania and stop off at Pat’s Steaks in South Philly can be strong, but if you want to get from New York to Washington with making only one rest stop, you’re better off using the Delaware House Service Area in Christiana, between Exits 3 and 1 on the Delaware Turnpike. It’s almost exactly the halfway point between New York and Washington.
Once you get over the Twin Span – the New Jersey-bound span opened in 1951, the Delaware-bound one was added in 1968 – follow the signs carefully, as you’ll be faced with multiple ramp signs for Interstates 95, 295 and 495, as well as for US Routes 13 and 40 and State Route 9. You want I-95 South, and its signs will say “Delaware Turnpike” and “Baltimore.” You’ll pay tolls at both its eastern and western ends, and unless there’s a traffic jam, you should only be in Delaware for a maximum of 15 minutes before hitting the Maryland State Line.
At said State Line, I-95 changes from the Delaware Turnpike to the John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway, and you’ll be on it for about an hour (unless you want to make another rest stop, either the Chesapeake House or the Maryland House) and passing through Baltimore, before seeing signs for I-895 and the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel, Exit 62.
From here, you’ll pass through the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel. Take I-895 to Exit 4, and you’ll be on Maryland Route 295 South, the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. Crossing into the District of Columbia, M-295 will become the Anacostia Freeway. Take Exit 3B for South Capitol Street East, go over the Frederick Douglass Bridge over the Anacostia River, and you’ll be right there. (The official address is 1500 South Capital Street SE.) If all goes well (getting out of New York City and into downtown Baltimore okay, reasonable traffic, just the one rest stop, no trouble with your car), the whole trip should take about 4½ hours.
Washington is too close to fly, just as flying from New York (from JFK, LaGuardia or Newark) to Boston, Philadelphia and Baltimore, once you factor in fooling around with everything you gotta do at each airport, doesn’t really save you much time compared to driving, the bus or the train.
The train is a very good option, if you can afford it. Washington’s Union Station is at 50 Massachusetts Avenue NE, within sight of the Capitol Building. But Amtrak is expensive. They figure, "You hate to fly, you don't want to deal with airports, and Greyhound sucks, so we can charge whatever we want." New York to Washington will run you anywhere from $80 to $145 each way, depending on what time you go, and that’s before you add anything like Business Class or, God forbid, Amtrak’s overmicrowaved food. Still, it’s less than 3 hours if you take the Acela Express (formerly known as the Metroliner, this is the $145 option), and 3 hours and 15 minutes if you take a regular Northeast Corridor train.
When you get to Union Station, pick up copies of the Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun. The Post is a great paper with a very good sports section, and in just 6 seasons (now into a 7th) has covered the Nats very well, despite the 1972-2004 era when D.C. had no MLB team of its own. As a holdover from that era, it still covers the Orioles well. The Sun is only an okay paper, but its sports section is nearly as good as the Post's, and their coverage of their town's hometown baseball team rivals that of any paper in the country -- including the great coverage that The New York Times and Daily News give to the Yankees and Mets.
Do not buy The Washington Times. It was founded by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon in 1982 as a replacement for the bankrupt Washington Star as the area’s conservative equivalent to the “liberal” Post. (That’s a laugh: The Post has George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Jim Glassman and Bill Kristol as columnists!) Under editor-in-chief Wesley Pruden, the Times was viciously right-wing, “reporting” every rumor about Democrats as if they were established, proven fact, and giving Republicans a free pass. Moon’s “Unification Church” sold the paper in 2009, and Pruden retired the year before. But it has cut about 40 percent of its employees, and has dropped not only its Sunday edition but also its sports section. And now, there’s another paper, the Washington Examiner, owned by the same company as the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard, and it is so far to the right it makes The Washington Times look like the Daily Kos. It is a truly loony publication, where Michael Barone of the American Enterprise Institute and Byron York of National Review are considered moderates.
So avoid the loonies and the Moonies, and stick with the Post. Even if you don’t agree with my politics, you’re going down to D.C. for baseball, and the Post’s sports section kicks ass.
If you don’t want to spend all that money on Amtrak, could you take the bus? Greyhound is much cheaper, $64 round-trip from New York to Washington. But, in this case, you really get what you pay for. While Union Station is a magnificent Beaux-Arts structure that is fit for a major world capitol, the Washington terminal for Greyhound is considerably less than that. It’s a glass and steel box: The 1960s were a great decade for lots of things, but architecture was not one of them. It’s too small: It’s roughly the same size as the one in Richmond, Virginia (a city half the size) and the one in Atlantic City (even with tourists it’s probably got fewer people than D.C.). The location stinks, almost literally: It’s at 1005 1st Street NE, in the middle of a ghetto, and while it’s just 6 blocks to Union Station (easily the closest Metro stop), none of those six is a block you’re going to want to walk. Want a taxi from there? Good luck. And getting back, the lines will be ridiculous: Whichever bus you were planning on riding back to New York, presume they’ll run out of room and make you wait for the next one.
At least they've cleaned the terminal up considerably in the last couple of years. Still, forget the bus: Leave the driving to a friend, or to Amtrak.
Washington’s subway, the Metro, was not in place until 1976, far too late to help either the “Old Senators” at Griffith Stadium or the “New Senators” at RFK Stadium (though both locations are now accessible via Metro), but it works just fine for Nats games. Take the Red Line from Union Station to Gallery Place, and transfer to the Green Line to Navy Yard station. (Those of you who watch the TV show NCIS will recognize the Washington Navy Yard as home base for Leroy Jethro Gibbs & Co. Rule Number 14: Never go anywhere without a FareCard.) Since this week’s games will take place on weeknights, and you’ll be arriving during rush hour, it’ll be $2.15 on your FareCard, but $1.60 on your way back.
Coming out of the Navy Yard station, you’ll be at M Street and New Jersey Avenue SE. Turn right on M, and walk past 1st Street and Cushing Place to Half Street. Yes, between Capitol Street (in effect, the city’s north-south “zero line”) and First Street is “Half Street.” Make a left on Half Street, and in one more block, there is Nationals Park. From Union Station to the ballpark, via subway and then foot, should take 25-30 minutes, about as fast as it does to get from Midtown Manhattan to Yankee Stadium and slightly less than to get to Citi Field.
Tickets. From their 2005 arrival through the end of last season, the Nats were terrible. But now, they're in first place in the National League East -- no Washington baseball team has been in first place this late in the season since World War II. Last season, a losing one, they averaged 24,256 fans per home game. This season, so far, it's 27,331, a 13 percent increase. Better than most of their seasons in Montreal, though 14,000 or so short of a sellout at Nationals Park (officially, capacity 41,487). So getting tickets shouldn't be a big problem, but a lot of New Yorkers & New Jerseyans may have the same idea as you – and many of them are federal government employees or college students already living and working in the D.C. area. So, for games against the Mets, and maybe also the Phillies, getting tickets might be harder than for any other Nats games. (In fact, the transient nature of the federal government was a big reason the Senators never made it: People came in from places that had teams, and rooted for them, not the Senators; only went to Griffith Stadium and its successor RFK Stadium to see their hometown teams; and rarely went back home having been converted to Senators fans. The Nats seem to have the same problem, and we don’t yet know if winning will cure it.)
Field Level seats will run you from $50 to $100, but in the Mezzanine Level, you can see a game for $43. In the third deck, the Terrace Level and the Gallery Level, tickets run from $38 all the way down to $15.
Going In. You're likely to walk in at the center field gate, at N & Half Streets. There, you will see three statues: Walter Johnson, “the Big Train,” the great pitcher for the “Old Senators” from 1907 to 1927, the game’s former all-time strikeout leader with 3,508 and still its all-time shutout leader with 113; Josh Gibson, the catcher for the D.C.-based Homestead Grays of the Negro Leagues, the man so powerful he was known as “the Black Babe Ruth” – although some black fans suggested that Ruth be called “the White Josh Gibson” – and Frank Howard, the slugger for the “New Senators” known as “Hondo,” “the Monster” (he was 6-foot-7 and 280 pounds in his prime, and was also played basketball at Ohio State and was drafted by the NBA’s Philadelphia Warriors) and, due to D.C.’s status, “the Capital Punisher.” You might remember Howard as a coach for both New York teams and, briefly in 1983, the Mets’ manager immediately before Davey Johnson came in and turned the franchise around. Now 75, Howard works for the Yankees as a player development instructor.
You might also notice the Racing Presidents, four men dressed as the Presidents whose faces are on Mount Rushmore in South Dakota: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. When I visited on July 26, 2009 (a 3-2 Nats win over the San Diego Padres in 10 innings), the huge-headed Presidents were dancing outside the gate, while “oldies” played over the stadium loudspeakers.
This was bad enough, until “Billie Jean” was played – this was within days of the death of Michael Jackson – and, cue The Awkward Moment, the guy dressed as Jefferson danced right into my line of sight as soon as Jacko got to the words, “The kid is not my son!” I also noticed that the costumes, all four of them, were filthy. Doesn’t the club wash them?
When the location for Nationals Park was chosen, the idea was to have a view of the Capitol dome and the Washington Monument. Unfortunately, they can only be seen from the first base/right field half of the stadium. But in the outfield, they planted another Washington trademark: Cherry blossom trees. That’s nice, but by late April, the blossoms are already gone.
Food. Very good. Not only do they serve good hot dogs and other standard ballpark fare, but “Frozen Rope” (Section 135) serves good ice cream, and they also have that “futuristic” ice cream known as Dippin’ Dots. The Red Loft Bar, in the second deck in left field, is their version of a McFadden’s. They serve pretzels in the shape of the script "W" logo that they inherited from the "New Senators."
And the Nats do not have to look up I-95 at Boog’s Barbecue in Baltimore, Bull’s Barbecue in Philly, Brother Jimmy’s at Yankee Stadium or Blue Smoke at Citi Field, and feel any envy. In the right field corner is Teddy’s Barbecue, named for Theodore Roosevelt. I kid you not: They serve the best piece of ballpark food I have ever eaten, a big hunk of meat named “the Rough Rider” in honor of TR. Eating that gave me more pleasure than any ballpark experience this side of the Aaron Boone homer. It’s $12, but it will be worth every flick of the tongue.
Team History Displays. The “old” Washington Senators played from 1901 to 1960, and moved to become the Minnesota Twins. The “new” Senators played from 1961 to 1971, and moved to become the Texas Rangers. The Nationals have history, but it’s nearly all in Montreal.
Nevertheless, there is a tribute, not just to the history of Washington baseball but to all of Washington sports. The Washington Hall of Stars, originally in place at RFK Stadium, has been recreated at Nationals Park. It honors lots of Redskins, from Sammy Baugh in the 1930s to Art Monk and Darrell Green in the 1990s. It honors Abe Pollin, who moved the NBA’s Bullets from Baltimore and made them the Washington Wizards, founded the NHL’s Washington Capitals, and for these teams built both the Capital Centre in suburban Landover and the Verizon Center in downtown D.C. It honors legendary Boston Celtics coach (and Brooklyn native) Red Auerbach for being a star player at George Washington University and the coach of D.C.’s first NBA team, the Washington Capitols, who made the 1949 NBA Finals. It honors boxer Sugar Ray Leonard for having grown up in nearby Silver Spring, and Olympic Gold Medalist swimmer Melissa Belote. It honors legendary sportswriters Shirley Povich of the Post (father of journalist Maury Povich) and Morris “Mo” Siegel of the long-gone Washington Star.
The baseball figures it honors are:
* “Old Senators”: Clark Griffith, Walter Johnson, Bucky Harris, Joe Cronin, Goose Goslin, Joe Judge, Ossie Bluege, George Case, Cecil Travis, Early Wynn, Eddie Yost, Mickey Vernon (who also managed the new Senators), Roy Sievers, Harmon Killebrew.
* “New Senators”: Gil Hodges (he managed them between retiring as a Dodger and Met player and becoming Met manager), Frank Howard, Chuck Hinton and George Selkirk (the former Yankee outfielder had been general manager of the new Senators).
* Homestead Grays: Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard.
The Expos retired Number 8 for Gary Carter, Number 10 for both Rusty Staub and Andre Dawson, and Number 30 for Tim Raines. All of these numbers were returned to circulation after the move, and, except for the Number 42 retired for all of baseball for Jackie Robinson, the Nats have no retired numbers. Nor do they yet have any Hall-of-Famers of their own, unless you want to count their first manager, Frank Robinson, who was already in the Hall of Fame for 23 years when the team arrived in D.C. And, unlike the Mets, who retired 37 for Casey Stengel even though he won nothing for them – far too close to being literally true – the Nats have not retired Robinson’s 20.
Stuff. There’s a team store called Rushmore’s in the left-field corner. It’s got loads of jerseys, T-shirts, caps, and stuffed toys such as the Racing Presidents and Screech the Eagle.
Looking for team DVDs? You’re out of luck: All they had on my 2009 visit was a commemoration of their first season back in Washington, 2005. They can’t even sell official World Series highlight films, like the Mets’ package of the 1969 and 1986 films, because the only Senators’ World Series, in 1924 (won), ’25 (lost) and ’33 (lost), came before MLB started making official highlight films in 1943. The Nationals franchise never made it to a World Series in Montreal, and they’ve never yet had a winning season in Washington. So there’s nothing celebrating anything like that, because, so far, there's nothing like that. If you’ll forgive the near-Yogiism.
During the Game. You do not need to fear wearing your Yankee or Met gear to Nationals Park. Despite the boisterousness of Washington fans when they watch their NFL Redskins, there’s a far more relaxed atmosphere at Nats games.
That could, of course, be due to the fact that you have to be over 70 to remember when a Washington baseball team was in a Pennant race. Just as George Washington was said to be “First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen,” Washington the city was long said to be "First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League." The old Senators finished 1 game behind the Detroit Tigers in 1945, and that was basically their only Pennant race after 1933. The new Senators had just 1 winning season, a 4th-place finish in 1969. That being the Vietnam War era, it was said that Washington was now “Last in war, last in peace, and last in the American League.
It remains to be seen what Washington fans will do when passion for a winning baseball team is unleashed over the course of a full season -- let's wait until this year's All-Star Break before we start considering the '12 Nats to be "for real" -- but you still probably wouldn’t have to worry about your safety. When the Redskins were winning, their fans were really loud, but they didn’t really give anybody outside of Dallas Cowboys fans a hard time, unless provoked (and New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles fans, a short trip down I-95 or Amtrak, have been known to do that). Nor do the current, Alexander Ovechkin-led, Washington Capitals generate much ire: Their fans don’t much like the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins, but, as their 2011 and '12 Playoff series with the Rangers proved, they generally leave fans of the 3 New York Tri-State Area teams alone.
The Nats have a fight song, “Welcome Home to the Nationals.” It’s not exactly as stirring as “Hail to the Redskins,” or even “Meet the Mets.” They do the 7th Inning Stretch a little differently, playing a song before "Take Me Out to the Ballgame": The Isley Brothers' version of "Shout!" ("We-e-e-e-e-e-ell... you know you make me wanna... " As opposed to another song the Isleys introduced, "Twist and Shout.") And in the middle of the 8th inning, like the Red Sox, they play "Sweet Caroline."
They don’t have a postgame victory song, but at least they don’t do “Cotton Eye Joe” like the Yankees and Phillies or “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” like the Orioles.
The Nats have a mascot named Screech, a bald eagle. Sounds natural enough. They also have the Presidents Race. In a takeoff of the Milwaukee Brewers’ Sausage Race, in the middle of the 4th inning, the four guys wearing the Mount Rushmore President costumes, with the huge foam caricature heads, break out of a gate in center field, run to the right field corner, and down the first-base line, where the first to break the tape is the winner. Over their period costumes, they wear Nats jerseys: GEORGE 1, TOM 3, ABE 16 and TEDDY 26, for their places in the chronological order of Presidents. Screech is the referee, in case anybody tries any funny business.
Which leads to, literally, a running gag: Teddy never wins. Sometimes he leads and trips. Sometimes, like the minor-league mascots who race kids around the bases, he gets distracted, for example when players from the opposing Atlanta Braves caught his attention in the first game at Nationals Park in April 2008. Sometimes he gets sabotaged, as in June 2008, when, in an Interleague game with the nearby Orioles, the visiting Baltimore Bird tripped him just short of the finish line. (In a special grudge-match race the next day, Teddy outraced the Bird, but it was announced that this wouldn't count in the victory totals). Sometimes he just plain screws up: At the final game at RFK Stadium in 2007, a lot of people figured he’d finally be allowed to win, and the other 3 stayed back to “throw” the race, but Teddy went to the nearly-finished Nationals Park instead.
And sometimes... he cheats. (No doubt the real TR would have been appalled at all of this, but especially at the cheating.) When I went, Teddy got on a motorized scooter (leading me to yell, “Holy cow!” in memory of Phil "the Scooter" Rizzuto), and won the race that way. Naturally, “Honest Abe,” who finished 2nd, complained to Screech, who declared Abe the winner by default.
As of this writing, June 1, 2012, the standings for the 2012 season are as follows: George has won 11 races, Tom 8, Abe 5, and Teddy none. Overall, according to LetTeddyWin.com, Abe has won 190 races, George won 143, Tom 140, and Teddy none. Even Jayson Werth has been credited with 2 wins -- funny, I don't recall Werth ever having served as President.
After the Game. If you’re looking for a postgame meal (or even just a pint), you’re probably not going to find it. Although there are condos going up adjacent to the stadium, it’s not exactly a neighborhood hopping with nightlife. If you’re only down for the one game, the best thing to do is get back to Union Station, grab a bite there, and hop on your train; or, if you’re driving, just hit one of the rest areas on the way back up I-95.
If you’re staying for the whole series, your best bet may be to head downtown, near the Verizon Center (home of the Wizards and Capitals) at 6th & F Streets NW, on the edge of Chinatown. You’ll find a lot of good (and maybe one or two great) nightspots there. I recommend Fado, an Irish-pub-themed place nearby, at 808 7th Street NW. (One of several around the country, including the Philadelphia one I’ve also been to; they’re the same company as Tigin, which has outlets at JFK Airport and Stamford, Connecticut.)
If you came to Washington by Amtrak, and you're not spending the night, you’ve got a problem: The last train of the night leaves Union Station at 10:00 PM (and arrives at New York's Penn Station at 1:50 AM), and since MLB games tend to last around 3 hours, you’re not going to make it unless it’s a pitcher’s duel. The next train leaves at 3:15 AM (arriving in New York at 6:40 AM), but do you really want to be in downtown D.C. from 10 at night to 3 in the morning? Better to go for a weekend series, to come down on Friday afternoon or early on a Saturday, get a hotel, enjoy the sights on Saturday afternoon, see the game on Saturday night, and then on Sunday, choose between going to a second game and seeing something away from downtown. You'll be glad you did.
Sidelights. There aren’t a whole lot of sites in the District related to baseball other than Nationals Park itself. The Ellipse, just south of the White House on the National Mall, has baseball fields. (If you’ve ever seen the original 1951 version of The Day the Earth Stood Still, that’s where Klaatu’s ship landed.)
* Griffith Stadium. There were 2 ballparks on this site, one built in 1892 and one in 1911, after the predecessor burned down – almost exactly the same story as New York’s Polo Grounds. The second one, originally called League Park and Nationals Park before former pitching star Clark Griffith bought the team, was home to the old Senators from 1911 to 1960, and the new Senators only in 1961. The Redskins played there from 1937 to 1960, and won the NFL Championship there in 1937 and 1942, although only the ’42 title game was played there. There was another NFL title game played there, in 1940, but the Redskins were beaten by the Chicago Bears – 73-0. (Nope, that’s not a typo: Seventy-three to nothing. Most points by one team in one game in NFL history, slightly ahead of the ‘Skins’ 72-49 victory over the Giants at RFK in 1966.)
While the Senators did win 3 Pennants and the 1924 World Series while playing at Griffith, it was not a good home for them. The fences were too far back for almost anyone to homer there, and they hardly ever had the pitching, either (except for Walter Johnson). In 1953, the Yankees opened the season there, and Mickey Mantle hit a home run that was measured at 565 feet – though it probably shouldn’t count as such, because witnesses said it glanced off the football scoreboard at the back of the left-field bleachers, which would still give the shot a distance of about 460 feet. The Negro Leagues’ Homestead Grays also played a lot of home games at Griffith, although they divided their "home games" between Washington and Pittsburgh -- "Homestead" is a town outside Pittsburgh. Think of the Grays as the original Harlem Globetrotters, who called themselves "Harlem" to identify themselves as a black team even though their original home base was Chicago (and later moved their offices to Los Angeles, and are now based in Phoenix).
By the time Clark Griffith died in 1955, passing the team to his son Calvin, the area around Griffith Stadium had become nearly all-black. While Clark, despite having grown up in segregated Missouri during the 19th Century, followed Branch Rickey's path and integrated his team sooner than most (in particular going for Cubans, white and black alike), Calvin was a bigot who wanted to move the team to mostly-white Minnesota. When the new stadium was built, it was too late to save the original team, and the “New Senators” were born. Griffith Stadium was demolished in 1965, and Howard University Hospital is there now. Florida & Georgia Avenues NW. Green Line to Shaw-Howard University Station.
* Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium. Originally named District of Columbia Stadium (or “D.C. Stadium”), the Redskins played there first, from 1961 to 1996. The new Senators opened there in 1962, and President John F. Kennedy threw out the first ball at the stadium that would be renamed for his brother Bobby in 1969. (There was a JFK Stadium in Philadelphia, formerly Municipal Stadium, where the new arena, the Wells Fargo Center, now stands.)
The new Senators played at RFK Stadium until 1971, and at the last game, against the Yankees, the Senators were up 7-5 with one out to go, when angry fans stormed the field, and the game was forfeited to the Yankees. The ‘Skins moved to their new suburban stadium in 1997, after closing the '96 campaign without the Playoffs, but with a thrashing of the hated Cowboys in front of over 100 Redskin greats.
The Nats played the 2005, ’06 and ’07 seasons at RFK. D.C. United, the most successful franchise in Major League Soccer (although they’re lousy at the moment), have played there since MLS was founded in 1996, winning the league title, the MLS Cup, 4 times, including 3 of the first 4. Previously, in the North American Soccer League, RFK was home to the Washington Diplomats, featuring Dutch legend Johan Cruyff. And the Beatles played there on their final tour, on August 15, 1966.
It was the first U.S. stadium specifically designed to host both baseball and football, and anything else willing to pay the rent. But I forgive it. It was a great football stadium, and it’s not a bad soccer stadium, but for baseball, let’s just say Nationals Park is a huge improvement. And what is with that whacked-out roof? With the Nats and ‘Skins gone, United are the only team still playing there, and plans for a new stadium for them are on hold, so it will still be possible to see a sporting event at RFK Stadium for the next few years. 2400 East Capitol Street SE. Orange Line or Blue Line to Stadium-Armory. (The D.C. Armory, headquarters of the District of Columbia National Guard, is that big brown arena-like thing across the parking lot.)
* Uline Arena/Washington Coliseum. This building was home to the District’s first NBA team, the Washington Capitols, from 1946 to 1951. They reached the 1949 NBA Finals, losing to the Minneapolis Lakers of George Mikan, and were the first pro team coached by Red Auerbach. Firing him was perhaps the dumbest coaching change in NBA history: By the time Red coached the Boston Celtics to their first NBA title in 1957, the Capitols had been out of business for 6 years.
The Coliseum was last used for sports in 1970 by the Washington Caps (not "Capitols," not "Capitals," just "Caps")of the ABA. It was the site of the first Beatles concert in the U.S. (aside from their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show 2 nights before), on February 11, 1964. It still stands, and its interior and grounds are used as a parking lot, particularly for people using nearby Union Station and the Greyhound Terminal. Unfortunately, it’s in a rotten neighborhood, and I wouldn’t recommend visiting at night. In fact, unless you’re a student of NBA history or a Beatlemaniac, I’d say don’t go at all. 1140 3rd Street NE, at M Street. Red Line to Union Station, and then it’s a bit of a walk.
* Capital Centre. From 1973 to 1997, this was the home of the NBA’s Washington Bullets, who became the Wizards when they moved downtown. From 1974 to 1997, it was the home of the NHL's Washington Capitals. The Bullets played in the 1975, ’78 and ’79 NBA Finals there, although they’ve only won in 1978 and clinched that at the Seattle Kingdome. The Cap Centre was also the home for Georgetown University basketball, in its glory years of Coach John Thompson (father of the current coach, John Thompson III), Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo and Allen Iverson. Remember those 1980s battles with the St. John’s teams of Louie Carnesecca, Chris Mullin and Walter Berry?
Elvis Presley sang there on June 27, 1976 and on May 22 and 29, 1977. (He never performed in the District.) It was demolished in 2002, and a shopping mall, The Boulevard at the Capital Centre, was built on the site. 1 Harry S Truman Drive, Landover, Prince George’s County, Maryland, just outside the Capital Beltway. Blue Line to Largo Town Center station.
* Verizon Center. Opened in 1997 as the MCI Center, the NBA’s Wizards, the NHL’s Capitals, the WNBA's Washington Mystics, and the Georgetown basketball team have played here ever since. Only one Finals has been held here, the Caps’ 1998 sweep at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings. (Georgetown has reached a Final Four since it opened, but those are held at neutral sites.) But it’s a very good arena. 601 F Street NW, at 6th Street. Red, Green or Yellow Line to Gallery Place-Chinatown Station.
* FedEx Field. Originally known as Jack Kent Cooke Stadium, for the Redskins owner who built it and died just before its opening, it has been the home of the Redskins since 1997. RFK Stadium has just 56,000 seats and was the NFL’s smallest facility for years, but with close seats even in the upper deck, it provided one hell of a home field advantage. In contrast, FedEx seats 91,704, the largest seating capacity in the NFL (the arch-rival Dallas Cowboys’ new stadium can fit in 110,000 with standing room but has “only” 80,000 seats), but the seats are so far back, it kills the atmosphere. Being out in the suburbs instead of in a hard part of the District doesn’t exactly intimidate the opposition, either. (Think if the New Jersey Devils had been an old team, starting out in an old arena tucked away in a neighborhood in Newark, and then moved to the spartan parking lot of the Meadowlands, and were still there, rather than going back to Newark into the Prudential Center.)
As a result, the Redskins went from 5 Super Bowl appearances, winning 3, while playing at RFK to just 2 Playoff berths and no visits to the NFC Championship Game since moving to FedEx. 1600 FedEx Way, Landover, practically right across the Beltway from the site of the Cap Centre, although you’d have to walk from there after taking the Blue Line to Largo Town Center in order to reach it without a car.
* The Smithsonian Institution. Includes the National Museum of American History, which contains several sports-themed items. 1400 Constitution Avenue NW. Blue or Orange Line to Federal Triangle. (You could, of course, take the same lines to Smithsonian Station, but Fed Triangle is actually a shorter walk.)
In addition, the University of Maryland, inside the Beltway at College Park, can be accessed by the Green Line to College Park and then a shuttle bus. (I tried that for the 2009 Rutgers-Maryland game and it works very well.) Byrd Stadium is one of the nation’s best college football stadiums, but I wouldn’t recommend sitting in the upper deck if you’re afraid of heights: I think it’s higher than Shea’s was. Across from the stadium is Cole Field House, where UMd played its basketball games from 1955 to 2002. The 1966 and 1970 NCAA Championship basketball games were played there, the 1966 one being significant because Texas Western (now Texas-El Paso) played an all-black starting five against Kentucky’s all-white starters (including future Laker, Knick and Heat coach Pat Riley and Denver Nuggets star Dan Issel). Elvis sang there on September 27 and 28, 1974. The Terrapins won the National Championship in their final season at Cole, and moved to the adjacent Comcast Center thereafter.
Remember that Final Four run by George Mason University? They’re across the Potomac River in Fairfax, Virginia. Orange Line to Virginia Square-GMU.
I also recommend visiting the capital’s museums, including the Smithsonian complex, whose most popular buildings are the National Archives, hosting the originals of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution; and the National Air and Space Museum, which includes the Wright Brothers’ Flyer, Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, Chuck Yeager’s Glamorous Glennis (first plane to break the sound barrier), and several space capsules including Apollo 11. The Smithsonian also has an annex at Dulles International Airport out in Virginia, including the Enola Gay (the plane that dropped the first atomic bomb), a Concorde, and the space shuttle Discovery.
Have fun in the Nation’s Capital. And if Teddy wins, that’s okay. If the Nats win, well, maybe not. After all, it’s the Mets who trade in “miracles,” and the Yankees who deal in “destiny.”