Previous game: Camden Yards in Baltimore
Next game: Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago
Miles traveled to get here: 38
Miles traveled total: 3,950
Final Score: Diamondbacks 5, Nationals 0
On a rainy night in D.C., I was able to see six innings of no-hit baseball from Zach Greinke, who got through seven and a third before it started pouring. On a trip that’s been noteworthy mostly for lopsided games and rain, this was the rainiest and probably most lopsided. I’m also the king of the six-inning no-hitter: I’ve seen probably 10 no-no’s go about that far and no farther. Just enough to get kind of excited. [note: I saw ANOTHER one get to the sixth after returning home: Chris Bassitt for the A’s against Baltimore].
One of my favorite aspects of any city’s ballpark is when the subway gets you straight to the stadium. D.C. is a solid easy-transportation park, even if you’re staying in Hyattsville MD. I woke up this morning in Baltimore, checked out the Babe Ruth museum, got lost trying to figure out the right train to Penn Station, and eventually figured out how to catch a $7 MARC train to New Carrollton MD, where I could pick up the $2 F4 bus to get the rest of the way to Hyattsville. One of my rules on this trip (of course, I make up all of the rules as I go) is to try to take Lyft/Uber as little as possible. I’m far more intrigued by public transportation routes, plus the people-watching is way better. This was a good example: the two trains and the bus might have taken me two hours, but it also only cost $11, instead of what probably would have been about $50 by car.
On the bus I sat near a toddler with one of those big red rubber bouncy balls that you play dodgeball with in gym class. I always thought you were required to be super happy and smiley when you had one of those balls, but this kid was sad. I mean, really sad; he cried the entire trip, although I never figured out why. His mom and sister were not all that interested in his crying, which also made me sad, but of course, I don’t know the backstory. Maybe he’s really a total jerk, who knows.
The final bus stop in Hyattsville was only a couple of blocks from my AirBnB, where I dumped my bag and then headed out again for the Metro stop, which was about a mile away. The Green Line went directly to the ballpark from there.
The second I got through the turnstile and headed toward the park, it started to sprinkle. Then rain. Then full-out deluge of biblical proportions. The entire escalation took about a minute or two. I had gotten to a fun outdoor bar area called The Bullpen before the heavy stuff started coming down, and there was a cool cover band playing “Sweet Home Alabama,” but it was kinda dead because of the iffy weather. I thought about staying but I hadn’t eaten all day and the beer selection seemed way better than the food selection, so I strolled back out after about five minutes. I was there just long enough to get ID’ed at the door and get one of those paper wristbands that I can never get back off. I probably should have just gotten a hot dog and stayed under cover, because my leaving coincided with the downpour, and I knew that I’d be sitting in these wet clothes for the rest of the night.
But I headed over toward a Mexican restaurant/bar directly across the street from the park, where I sat at the bar next to Kristin, a kind and cheerful D.C. resident originally from North Carolina. She was waiting for her friend Brittany, who came by just before I left to meet my friend Bill at the game. Brittany’s husband (or boyfriend? I can’t quite remember) was working at that night’s Warriors/Raptors game in Oakland: coverage had just started on the TV over the bar. “He’s probably out on the court somewhere,” she told us. Later that night at the Buffalo Wild Wings directly across the street, I would watch Klay Thompson tear his ACL and the Warriors hopes for a three-peat championship come to an end. Well, kind of. I had to catch my train back about halfway through the fourth quarter so I was forced to try getting updates via ESPN app. That only made the game more depressing.
Anyway, I told Kristin that I was headed over to the game and told her to check out the blog. And then just as I emerged into stunningly bright sunshine, I saw the only thing brighter than the sun: the brim of an Oakland A’s cap!
Across the street I spotted a couple who were also walking toward the ballpark; once I saw that A’s hat, I didn’t really have any choice but to say hello. And man, I’m glad I did.
Juan and Daniella were in town from their home in Tulare, CA, because Juan had just donated bone marrow at Georgetown University Hospital. “Wait. What?” were my first two words. Prior to his work at a correctional facility, Juan had been a journalist in Northern California for a while and had once reported a story about a little girl who needed a bone marrow transplant; this was about eight years ago. He was inspired enough by her story to join the bone marrow donors’ list, and his number had been called. A 15-year-old was in need. Bone marrow transplants from the donor to the recipient happen on the same day, so you are sort of ‘on-call,’ waiting for whichever hospital across the country might need you. Georgetown needed Juan, and he answered the call. The transplant itself had taken place on Tuesday; he spent the next day mostly resting, and felt good enough to head to the Nationals’ game on Thursday. Daniela took our photo, we shook hands, and I told him I’d love to have him come out and tell his story at the high school journalism conference we put on each fall at my high school in Palo Alto. We traded numbers and I hope that we can connect again.
I didn’t tell Juan that I was a two-time cancer survivor myself. But I did tell him he was my new hero.
The closest stadium entrance is through the outfield, and I was on my way to meet Bill, my second Twitter-friend meetup in two days. Bill had messaged me earlier, told me he’d love to say hello and have a beverage. So that’s what we did. Bill, a sports attorney who once worked for Orioles’ owner Peter Angelos, was fairly instrumental in bringing the Nationals to town. And he’s also a fellow cancer survivor. I was meeting a serious number of amazing people today.
You can read more about Bill’s story and hear the audio of our interview by going here.
We had a great, meandering conversation for 20 minutes or so (technically 23 minutes, as Bill points out at the very end of our audio recording) and then went our separate ways. Bill, who lives nearby and was planning on heading over to his son’s place after a couple of innings, sent me a text in the sixth inning of Greinke’s possible no-hitter: “If this turns out to be a special game after I left, I’m going to be pissed! lol.” Alas, he didn’t miss anything other than an hour-long rain delay and the Nationals eventually being shut out. Although now that I think about it, maybe BILL CAUSED THE NO-HITTER TO BE BROKEN UP BY SENDING THAT TEXT. Thanks a lot, Bill.
It was time for my typical ballpark wandering; at least once, sometimes multiple times during a game, I’ll try to do a full circuit of the park. The places where this is most enjoyable are the ones where you get a pretty good view of the game as you circle. Less interesting are the ones where you have to zig-zag back and forth through dumb ramps in order to complete the loop. Least appealing are the ones where you literally CAN’T go all the way around because of security and ticket checkpoints. I’m looking directly at you, Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago.
But Nationals Park is GREAT for this sort of thing, was built with this in mind, in fact. There are great standing-room viewpoints all the way around, similar to Philadelphia. In fact, the Bank in Philly and Nationals Park are a LOT alike: there aren’t a ton of frills, but they offer excellent and multiple vantage points for the game. I do like the bells and whistles in a lot of ballparks; I’m a sucker for the Bob Uecker commemorative seat in Milwaukee and the giant glove at Oracle and the baseball ferris wheel in Detroit and the beautiful brick facade in Baltimore. But there’s also something to be said for fewer distractions. D.C. is a place where the expectation is to sit back (or stand back) and take in the game itself. I get the appeal.
One of Bill’s best pieces of advice was to check out Ben’s Chili Bowl on the left-field concourse; we could see it from where we sat in the grandstand. I am not usually sure of anything, but I was 100% confident that this was going to happen. About halfway through the game I made my way there. While in line, I asked the guy in front of me what I should get. “Half Smoke,” he said, without hesitation. The ‘Ben’s Half Smoke All the Way‘ is a smoked sausage/hot dog concoction that’s spicier than I thought it would be, covered in cheese and onions. OMG it’s delicious. I thought maybe it was supposed to be eaten with utensils, but there were no plastic knives to be found and it didn’t really cut with a fork. So I just made like a local and picked it up. My unwashed hoodie already had Boog’s pit beef BBQ sauce on it. Now it had a little bit of Ben’s chili. I didn’t know at the time that the next day it would have Buona Meatball Sandwich sauce on it as well. I have since washed this sweatshirt, but for a while it provided a really nice roadmap of my ballpark food choices.
Since the Nationals have only been here for about 15 years, there’s not a ton of history, but there are some cool tributes to important moments, particularly Max Scherzer’s two 2015 no-hitters. I watched the game for a while from the centerfield standing room section, which was a pleasant, roomy vantage point. Next to it is a massive bar filled with younger people who seemed not-remotely-interested in the game itself but were definitely having a good time.
It was Bark at the Park night, my second of the trip. If you’re keeping track, this made two Bark-at-the-Parks and two Pride Nights. No bobbleheads, but I hit the jackpot for cool ballpark promotions this week.
In the eighth, the crew chief umpire determined that it was just TOO rainy to continue playing, and an hour-long delay ensued. At this point, the home team trailing by five, the park really cleared out, probably even more than the Orioles game the night before. I decided it would be a good time to head up to my actual seat for a change, just to see what the upstairs concourses looked like. I was able to take the elevator up, which normally doesn’t happen because they’re packed. As I got in, a dad and his kid, maybe seven years old, pushed the button to go DOWN a level. “Oooh,” I said. “What’s down there?” Dad explained that the last time they were in a rain delay they had gone down a level and were able to see some of the players hanging out. “He thinks that happens every game now,” he told me with a smile.
I headed up instead, and realized that the entire upper concourse basically belonged to me and three ushers and an older couple making out near the picnic tables. Weird.
One other guy was sitting in my section, and he looked as if he might have been there for weeks. He had an inordinate amount of stuff for someone at a baseball game. I waved, but he was too far away to see me. Or he was sleeping.
The tarp at Nationals Park is sponsored by Skittles, which is a fun choice (as I pointed out on Twitter, I might have gone with Rolo, but Skittles works too). Nothing much happened for the next hour, so I tweet-stormed about the delay and wandered. Finally, they announced that the game would be restarting soon. All 12 of us left at the ballpark were really excited.
It didn’t seem to make much sense to be THAT far up when no one else except the sleeping guy was around. So I headed back down on the elevator and decided to get as close to the field as I could. It’s kind of an East-Coast-Baseball mantra: “Buy a cheap ticket, wait for people to leave during the rain, and head for the expensive seats.” Just like in Baltimore, I could hear the chatter from the dugout and the slap of the catcher’s glove. The end of the game, after the delay, took all of about 10 minutes and I made my way toward the exit.
The final noteworthy D.C. event was catching the Warriors/Raptors game at the nearby Buffalo Wild Wings, a structure which absolutely contained more people than Nationals Park during the ninth inning; it was packed with basketball fans, most of whom seemed to be rooting for Toronto. I stood for a bit, kind of in the way, then asked two 20-something guys if I could sit at their table. I promised not to listen to their conversation and they looked at each other and laughed. But they were also rooting for Golden State, so we got along just fine. I had to hustle back to catch the last train out of town so I missed the end, but it sounded like the end wasn’t great anyway. It was about 1:00 by the time I walked back to the AirBnB in Hyattsville. I slept like a baby.