Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Real Beltway Battle: Camden Yards vs. Nationals Park

By Mark Smith
All you can prove is that I was here, not that I illegally sat here for 6 innings.
Unfortunately, I haven’t been to too many ballparks in my life. Growing up in Louisville, Kentucky is a fairly inconvenient place for such things as Cincinnati’s close but not attractive, St. Louis is farther away and would necessitate an actual trip, and everything else is at least 9 hours away. Add to that my mother’s desire to go to the beach for vacation, and you can see why I haven’t been to many parks. I, however, was in Washington, DC for the past month, and while I was there, I took in 4 games, splitting them between Nationals Park and Camden Yards.

Location: Neither place is in a great part of the city. Camden’s existence has improved the surrounding community, but if you go too far, you’re not in the best parts of town. I went with Chip Buck from Firebrand and IIATMS the first time, and after crossing the bridge right next to the stadium, he said, “Uh oh, I think we’ve gone too far,” and after I asked if I should hide, he replied, “I’ll let you know.” Not exactly reassuring. Nationals Park, however, isn’t much different, but it’s in an earlier stage of development than Camden. Located in Southwest DC, the park is in a bad part of town, but it does have some character with the Navy Yard nearby. After a few years, I expect it will improve in the way Baltimore did.

Tickets: I didn’t go big on the spending department here. We spent $9 the first night at Nationals Park with our Student IDs for a very upper-level seat, and we spent $18 on an upper-deck seat out in right field the next. At Camden, we spent around $20 the first time for an upper-deck seat behind third base and $10 for a seat close to the top the next time (though we may or may not have snuck down behind home plate after the third inning). Neither place was a huge bargain, but Camden might have been a bit cheaper.

Entrance: Camden has a clear advantage here. It’s a nice walk-up to the stadium and through the gates, especially with the prevalence of bricks for character. The warehouse is a pretty awesome sight, and the added plaques that denote home runs hit over the right field fence and into the area is a really nice detail. Nationals Stadium, on the other hand, is rather blah. The walk-up has a few vendors and a construction site look that shouldn’t be there several years after opening. Once you walk in, there’s a vanilla concrete entrance with a couple statues and some Geico and President whatchamacallits (they’re not statues; I guess over-sized bobblehead dolls is the best way to describe it) off to the left. They’re actually pretty cool, but they’re so far back in the corner in a picnic area that I almost missed them entirely.

Concourse: Both stadiums looked similar here, though it’s much more obvious that Camden is an Orioles park than Nationals Park is a Nationals park if that makes sense. There’s nothing terribly special about either place, but Camden does seem to add more local flavor (Natty-Bo stands and crab cakes) than Nationals Park. I will say, though, that Nationals Park is a bit cleaner.

Food: I tried some special food while I was there. The crab cake at Camden was a good, though an expensive, buy, but the pretzel shaped like an O with cinnamon sugar was excellent when it was fresh. Nationals Park didn’t have any real “distinct” foods, but the double cheeseburger I bought behind right field was pretty fantastic and cheaper than the crab cake.
Seats: I took a walk around the stadiums to get a good look from around the park, and both stadiums seemed to have pretty good views of the field from the seats. I had some tickets that weren’t exactly close, but I wouldn’t have considered either to have been bad seats.

Experience: I will say that this really has nothing to do with the stadiums, but the games were much more exciting at Camden. I saw 15 home runs in 18 innings while I was there, and I may not have seen 10 totals runs while at Nationals Park. As for the actual experience that the stadiums could offer, both had their moments. Camden had more fans at the ballpark, though I will note I was there on the weekends instead of weekdays while at Nationals Park, and they seemed more engaged in the game. I gathered that no one really cared in DC, except to yell at Jayson Werth for killing babies and clubbing seals. Chip also didn’t tell me about a particular quirk in Baltimore. During the National Anthem, everyone yells “O!” during “Oh, say does that star-spangled …”, and it scared the crap out of me the first time. Nationals Park felt more gimmicky. The President’s Race is nice, but it’s not exactly original. And the video montages to the hitters are just ridiculous when they play them every time, and Drew Storen’s entrance song/video is a little over-the-top for a guy whose intimidation factor is about a 4.
View: This is the most disappointing factor about Nationals Park. Here you are situated right next to all the monuments and in a city that restricts all downtown buildings to 12 stories in order to avoid being taller than the Washington Monument, and you obstruct my view of it with a damn parking garage. If you were afraid of that happening, you should have switched the thing around and given me a view of the river and Navy Yard, but you, instead, try to give me the Capitol but did nothing to protect the view of it. Now, the park just seems isolated in a corner of DC with its back to a rather interesting part of that section of the city. Big fail here. Camden’s view is a bit better with a nice, wide opening to view the downtown skyline. It’s not OMG!!!, but it does add value to the park.
Overall: It shouldn’t be a surprise that I favor Camden Yards. Nationals Park is certainly not a bad place to go watch a game, but it’s a really blah place to watch a game. There’s nothing really special about it, and they seem to have missed out on a real opportunity to make it a crown jewel of baseball parks, as they seem to have just forgot about the details. Camden has a much more comfortable atmosphere, and the detail that went into it makes it seem like the designers took a little bit more care into making it. Nationals Park seems more like they dropped it into a spot with a nice vision, but when it came to actually dealing with it, they either forgot or didn’t care that much. While Camden Yards seems to fit in with its surroundings, Nationals Park doesn't.

(I have plenty more pictures. If people are interested, I can put more of them up in a picture/caption post.)


Chip said...

Mark - I think my exact words were, "Oh great, we're gonna get shot. I hope you brought some kevlar with you." Also, you forgot to mention the Buck Showalter bobblehead doll (with the disapproving facial expression) they gave out, and the totally awesome guy wearing the Corky Miller jersey. While neither has anything to do with the ballpark, their mere existence tilt the scales heavily in favor of Camden.

Mark Smith said...

That wouldn't be fair to Nationals Park, which had $1 hot dogs and $4 beer one night. If I do the picture thing, I might include more of those stories.

Chip said...

You're right. It wouldn't be fair. Plus, Nick's Sausages has the slogan, "You'll love our sausages," which turns me into a 12 year old boy every time I hear it.

Lotaso said...

I was staying in a hotel near OPCY and walked down to see a night game with a buddy. We got lost on the way back and wandered through some of those areas... It wasn't pleasant to say the least...

Anonymous said...

Very fair, Mark. I'm a big Nats fan and hate the O's and all their works. But I was an O's fan in the 80s and 90s, used to go up there a few times a year. I think OPACY is a gem. The team had input in the design and building. Nats park was built by the city as a requirement to get a team. So a lot of the details were taken out of the budget. The finishes and materials are utterly blah, but it is a nice place to see a game. Real estate collapsed at the wrong time, so the neighborhood's gonna take a while. Once it's built out the Cap dome will be hidden by the buildings, so the parking garage isn't the crime it seems to be now, although it is hideous. Food is mediocre at best, prices higher than Balmer.

Anonymous said...

You guys must really be from the suburbs of you think Camden Yards is in a bad part of town. It's practically sitting on the Inner Harbor, and it's just north of Federal Hill which is a pretty classy neighborhood. Such determinations are inherently subjective, but if you're not comfortable down by the sailing ships, restaurants, water taxis, and bank buildings - you probably just won't be comfortable in Baltimore. Fell's Point, maybe.

Anonymous said...

Pretty accurate assessment of Nationals Park. But at OPCY I get bugged by (1) the seats in foul ground that point toward center field, rather than 2nd base or the mound, so that you're always craning your neck, and (2) that all the concession areas are buried behind the seats such that you can't see the game when you're walking around the park. DC & Philly, among other newer stadiums, learned to improve those 2 aspects.