Last season, the Interleague schedule meant that the Yankees also played a series there. This season, they will not.
Before You Go. Check The Washington Post for the weather. D.C. can get really hot in summer, and I'm definitely counting early June as "summer." 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, and 238 miles from Citi Field 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 of Nationals Park 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 $82 to $149 each way, depending on what time you go and how fast you want to get there, 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 $149 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, Michael Gerson and Kathleen Parker 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, you could take the bus. Greyhound is much cheaper, $76 round-trip from New York to Washington. And Greyhound has moved its D.C. operations from the glass-and-steel 1960s box in the ghetto behind Union Station (at 1005 1st Street NE) to Union Station itself. This is a tremendous relief.
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-Ballpark 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 $2.10 on your FareCard going in, but $1.70 on your way back.
Coming out of the Navy Yard-Ballpark 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 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 2011, the Nats were terrible. But now, they're defending National League East Champions. No Washington baseball team had been in first place late in the season since 1945, and none had finished in 1st place since 1933. In 2011, a losing season, they averaged 24,256 fans per home game. In 2012, they jumped to 30,010. This season, so far, it's 32,990, making them one of only 4 teams in the majors with an increase of over 1 percent. (Everyone's attendance will get better after school lets out.) Better than most of their seasons in Montreal, though 8,500 or so short of a sellout at Nationals Park (officially, capacity 41,487).
So getting tickets for a baseball game in Washington is a bigger problem than it's been since the 1924-25 Pennant-winning Senators, and 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. (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 it remains to be seen if winning will prove to be a long-term cure.)
Field Level seats will run you from $45 to $80, but in the Mezzanine Level, you can see a game for $36. In the third deck, the Terrace Level and the Gallery Level, tickets run from $26 all the way down to $10.
Going In. The city, of course, was named for George Washington, although its "Georgetown" neighborhood was named for our previous commander-in-chief, King George III in England. Both the city and the "District of Columbia" -- named for Christopher Columbus and, to their chagrin, not a State -- were founded in 1800.
Like a lot of cities, Washington suffered from "white flight," so that, while the population within the city limits has seriously shrunk, from 800,000 in 1950 to 630,000 today; the metro area went from 2.9 million to double that, 5.7 million. As a result, the roads leading into the District, and around it, the Capital Beltway, Interstate 495, are rammed with cars. Finally, someone wised up and said, "Let's build a subway," and in 1976, the Metro opened.
In spite of what some movies have suggested, you won't see a lot of tall buildings in the District. The Washington Monument is 555 feet high, but other than that, no building is allowed to be taller than the Capitol. Exceptions were made for two churches, the Washington National Cathedral and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, and the Old Post Office Pavilion was built before the "unwritten law" went into effect. In contrast, there are a few office buildings taller than most D.C. buildings across the Potomac River in Arlington, Virginia, and in the neighboring Maryland cities of Silver Spring and New Carrollton.
The centerpoint for addresses is the Capitol Building. North and South Capitol Streets separate east from west, and East Capitol Street and the National Mall separate north from south. The city is divided into quadrants: NW, NE, SE and SW, although because of the Capitol's location, NW has about as much territory as the other 3 quadrants put together. In fact, the Navy Yard and the Nationals Park area take up about half the SW quadrant.
Remember: On street signs, 1st Street is written out as FIRST, and I Street is written out as EYE, so as to avoid confusion. And for the same reason, since I and J were virtually indistinguishable in written script when D.C. was founded in 1800, there is no J Street. Once the letters are expended, they go to to 2- and then 3-syllable words beginning with the sequential letters: Adams, Bryant, Clifton, etc.
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 76, 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?
Seating capacity is listed as 41,418. The field is natural grass, but the dimensions are not symmetrical: 337 feet to left field, 377 to left-center, 402 to center, 370 to right-center, and 335 to right. The park seems to favor pitchers, but not by a lot.
The longest home run yet in the new park was hit by Adam Dunn, then with the Nats, in 2009, 458 feet. Frank Howard hit the longest at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, a 500-foot shot in 1970. The longest at Griffith Stadium is hard to figure: Although Mickey Mantle was credited with a 565-foot blast in 1953, every quoted eyewitness confirms that the ball hit a scoreboard at the back of the left-field bleachers before flying into a backyard a block away. Since you're only supposed to measure from home plate to where the ball first hit something, that was more like a 460-foot homer; still, it was the only ball ever to clear those bleachers. Babe Ruth may have hit a longer homer at Griffith in the 1920s, and Josh Gibson may have done so while playing a home game there for the Negro Leagues' Homestead Grays (who divided their home games between Washington and Pittsburgh -- Homestead is a town outside Pittsburgh), but this isn't clear.
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 1st 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, let alone the early June of this roadtrip, 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 their own Blue Smoke stand. 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 Theodore Roosevelt. 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 until last season, it was all in Montreal.
Nevertheless, there is a tribute, not just to the history of Washington baseball but to all of Washington sports. The Washington Baseball Ring of Honor, patterned after the multi-sport Hall of Stars at RFK Stadium, was erected at Nationals Park in 2010.
It honors these figures from the “Old Senators”: Pitcher/manager/owner Clark Griffith, pitcher Walter Johnson, 2nd baseman/manager Bucky Harris, left fielder Henry "Heinie" Manush, right fielder Sam Rice, shortstop/manager Joe Cronin, left fielder Goose Goslin, catcher Rick Ferrell, pitcher Early Wynn and 3rd baseman Harmon Killebrew.
It also honors some Homestead Grays: Catcher Josh Gibson, 1st baseman Walter "Buck" Leonard, center fielder James "Cool Papa" Bell, pitcher Ray Brown, 3rd baseman Ernest "Jud" Wilson and outfielder/manager/owner Cumberland Posey (who had the retroactively obscene nickname "Cum").
And it honors the 2 Hall-of-Famers from the Nats' Montreal Expos years, Gary Carter and Andre Dawson. Oddly, while Frank Robinson, manager of the Expos/Nationals franchise during the switch, is in the Hall of Fame (for his accomplishments as a player), he is not on the Ring of Honor. He deserves to be honored at Nationals Park at least as much as Casey Stengel deserved to be honored by the Mets at Shea Stadium.
Old Senators Joe Judge, Ossie Bluege, George Case, Cecil Travis, Eddie Yost, Roy Sievers and Mickey Vernon (who also managed the New Senators) were honored on the old Hall of Stars, but not yet on the new Ring of Honor. This is also true of New Senators Gil Hodges (he managed them between retiring as a Dodger and Met player and becoming Met manager), Frank Howard, Chuck Hinter and George Selkirk (the former Yankee outfielder had been their general manager).
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 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 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 the mascot 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.
The only decent book yet written about the team was published earlier this month: Beltway Boys: Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper and the Rise of the Nationals, by Elliott Smith and Bob Carpenter. Although, with both of those players, and, really, the team as an instutition, being so young, the book may be a bit premature. After all, it's not like the Nats won the Pennant.
During the Game. You do not need to fear wearing your Met gear to Nationals Park. Despite the boisterousness of Washington fans when they watch their NFL Redskins and soccer's D.C. United, there’s a far more relaxed atmosphere at Nats games.
That could, of course, be due to the fact that, until last season, you had 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 more than one season -- let's wait until they put together a 2nd all-year-old run before we start considering the current Nats to be "for real" and last year to not have been a fluke -- 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, '12 and '13 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.” After "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the 7th Inning Stretch, they play "Take On Me" by A-ha. 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. They do, however, in tribute to their Navy Yard location, blast a submarine's horn for each Nats home run.
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.
However, on October 3, 2012, the season finale, in honor of the Nats finally winning the Division, Teddy was allowed to win. And he got on a winning streak: He was allowed to win all 3 races at Nats home games in the NL Division Series.
This season, a 5th contestant was introduced: William Howard Taft (BILL 27). Why him? He's the only President to also be a Supreme Court Justice, and, along with John F. Kennedy, one of only 2 Presidents buried at Arlington National Cemetery. (There is a JACK 36 character, but so far he hasn't raced.) But I'm guessing the main reason is that, on April 14, 1910, Taft became the first President to throw out the ceremonial first ball on Opening Day, starting the tradition. (The story that, on the same day, he started the tradition of the 7th Inning Stretch has long since been debunked: That tradition was already long in place.) Bill won his first race on May 11, followed the next day by Teddy winning for the first time since October.
As of this writing, May 30, 2013, the season standings are as follows: George has won 14 races, Tom 9, Teddy 2, Bill 2, and Abe only 1. Overall, according to LetTeddyWin.com, Abe has won 215 races, George 176, Tom 170, Teddy 6, Bill 2. Even Jayson Werth has been credited with a win -- funny, I don't recall Werth ever having served as President. Tom was the overall leader in 2006, George in 2007 and 2012; Abe in 2008, 2009 and 2010; and Tom and Abe tied for the overall lead in 2011.
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 to 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 10:10 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. (Though at the rate both the Mets and the Nats are going this season, that is a distinct possibility.) 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.
51st State, at 2512 L St. NW at Pennsylvania Avenue, is a known hangout for Mets, Yankees, Giants, Knicks and Rangers fans.
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 National Park (no S on the end) 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, Mickey Mantle hit a home run there 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 an impressive 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.)
The plan for a new D.C. United stadium is for one at Buzzard Point, on land bounded by R, 2nd, T & Half Sts. SW, 2 blocks from Nationals Park. Prince Georges County had a proposal for one near FedEx Field, and Baltimore offered to build one, leading New York Red Bulls fans to mock the club as "Baltimore United." With the economy still slow to recover from the conservative-caused recession of 2008-09, don't expect DCU to get a new ground anytime soon.
* 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. 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.)
If you're into looking up "real" TV locations, the Jeffersonian Institute on Bones is almost certainly based on the Smithsonian. And the real NCIS headquarters is a short walk from Nationals Park, on Sicard Street between Patterson and Paulding Sts. Whether civilians will be allowed on the Navy Yard grounds, I don't know; I've never tried it. I don't want to get stopped by a guard. Or "Gibbs-slapped." And neither do you.
Of course, The West Wing was based at the White House, at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Prior to NCIS, the best-known D.C.-based show that didn't directly deal with government officials was Murphy Brown. The FYI studio was said to be across the street from Phil's, whose address was given as 1195 15th St. NW. Neither the bar nor the address actually exist, but if the address did, it would be at 15th & M Streets. This would put it right down the block from 1150 15th, the headquarters of The Washington Post.
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 a Concorde, the space shuttle Discovery, and the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the first atomic bomb.
Have fun in the Nation’s Capital. And if Teddy wins, that’s okay. If the Nats win, well, maybe not. But a loss in Washington is usually a better experience than even a win in Philly.