Nationals unveil RFK changes

Nationals unveil RFK changes

WASHINGTON -- Trying to spread the word about the "Grand Re-opening" of Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, the Washington Nationals hosted roughly 30 members of the media as they offered a tour around their newly improved ballpark.

Nationals vice president of communications Chartese Burnett opened the tour standing on one of the changes that the Lerner Group has implemented in hopes of improving fan experience at the 45-year-old stadium. A freshly installed section of red carpet led up to the main gate and, Burnett says, along with other improvements, shows the importance the new owners place on the club's fans and their experience at RFK.

"This is the first step, right out of the gate," Burnett said. "Showing the commitment to Washington Nationals fans, and we're excited about it."

Burnett and Greg Costa, Aramark general manager at RFK, led the media group past the old food stands and through the concourse of the park, hitting the high points of what changes the Nationals hope will increase fan involvement and improve the fan experience at home games.

Starting Friday, there will be a new Red Hot and Blue stand, along with a Papa John's Pizza stand, on the 500 level. On the 200 level, a new Glatt Kosher stand will appear on the third-base side. That will open Sunday.

On the whole, 100 new concession points of sale will open for permanent use at RFK. But the largest single change is on the mezzanine level of the stadium, where the Terrace View Food Court will open. It will feature five new vendors from the D.C. area, including: Capital Q, ARs, Cluck University Chicken, Cantina Marina and Hard Times Cafe.

The five vendors were chosen from a pool of 25, and even with construction noise in the background as the tour was ongoing, Costa said they will be ready for Friday's game.

"It's a work in progress," Costa said. "There are still some TVs and things like that to go out here, but we'll be ready tomorrow."

Costa said that he had heard some criticism regarding the ballpark last year and believes that the Lerner Group and Aramark are headed in the right direction.

"I think the criticism has been reduced dramatically this year over last year," Costa said. "With that being said, there was a call for adding additional variety. Again we started the beginning of the year with Red Hot and Blue and Papa John's, and this is building upon that foundation."

Not all of the changes are designed to keep the fans well-fed. A new "Fan Zone" will open Friday on the 300 level, featuring a pitching area, a photo station, a virtual swing-away batting station and XBOX 2K6 station.

The fans will also be able to participate in giveaways, but not just those that were announced previously. Team president Stan Kasten had announced at an earlier press conference that red hats, t-shirts and rally towels would be given away for all three games, and Burnett said that the gestures to fans would expand over the three-game series with the Cubs.

"Starting this weekend, we're going to be giving away gifts to entire rows and sections as well as individuals," said Burnett, outlining what the Nationals are calling "Random Acts of Kindness."

But the changes aren't limited to those paying to get into the ballpark. Those who are paid for their time on the field are also seeing a few perks. The Nationals' clubhouse has also undergone a face-lift, with the comfort of the players in mind.

New, blue carpet has been installed and new furniture adorns the clubhouse, which is now revolving around a recently purchased 42-inch plasma screen TV.

"We want the players to be comfortable," Burnett said. "And that improves everything."

The players, as well as the Lerner group, will meet the fans face-to-face this weekend. They will greet fans entering RFK before all three games in an effort to bring the players closer to the fans and the community.

As for the red carpet outside the stadium, it will only last through the weekend before being removed. But Burnett and the rest of the organization hopes the fans that come this weekend will become fixtures at the ballpark, even if they aren't baseball fanatics.

"We want to reach moms, we want to reach women," Burnett said. "We want to reach people that aren't sitting in their seats watching the game with a scorecard."

Michael Walsh is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.