As season nears, Nationals Park forms

As season nears, Nationals Park forms

WASHINGTON -- At the new Nationals Park, it's all about the little things.

Of course, little is a relative term, one that in this case is being applied to items like an underwater treadmill, curly "W" pretzels and a Build-a-Bear Workshop that will let kids construct their own racing president.

These were among the dozens of items that team president Stan Kasten showed to reporters on Monday in a tour of the new stadium, which will be ready for Opening Day on March 30.

During the nearly two-hour tour, Kasten spoke enthusiastically about the different facets of the stadium, which now look much like they will in the finished version. He showcased the wider concourses and various amenities -- including some changes that he requested during the construction process.

Outfield plaza: The Navy Yard Metro station is located a block from the stadium's main entrance in left field. Half Street and a portion of N Street, will be repaved with larger sidewalks and closed to auto traffic on game days. Fans will enter about two-thirds of the way up the stadium, allowing easy access to all seats.

The plaza is 200 feet between the stadium's parking garages, and will include a team shop next to the ticket windows, both of which are built into the garages. The parking garages are visible from the infield seats, but will be partially covered with signs and advertising.

Next to the plaza is the "Strike Zone" kids' area, featuring games, activities, picnic tables and a baseball-themed jungle gym for children four and under. Running along the side is a series of shops, including "Build-a-Prez," a shop operated by the Build-a-Bear company that will allow kids to construct their own racing president.

There is a bank of concession stands in the area that Kasten said he had moved back to create more space in the ballpark, including a covered area that will have picnic tables. The outfield plaza will open an hour before the rest of the stadium so fans can watch batting practice.

Food and beverage: Food service will be handled by a new company -- Centerplate -- which will install a variety of options around the park. Among the items shown Monday was a pretzel shaped like the team's curly "W" logo.

The large center-field restaurant will be open to all fans, though it will include special seats for season-ticket holders. The tables are tiered to give diners a view of the action on the field. Several bars located around the concourses offer standing tables with a view of the field.

Kasten said between six and eight local vendors will offer food service, though he declined to name them until the lineup is finalized.

"In terms of variety -- with both local and ballpark food -- this is far above anything we've had," he said.

Seating areas: Virtually all the seats are now installed, though some could be moved in the final two months of construction.

The club areas are also finished and feature their own dining areas. In the President's Level seats, the interior offers a number of amenities designed to justify the $300 per game ticket price. Fans will be able to watch the Nationals practice in the indoor batting cage, as well as look in on the press conference room when reporters interview players and managers after games.

In the upstairs suites, some will be sold as party rooms on a game-by-game basis. Each room holds 30 people, and all the suites are connected with walls that can be pushed back, allowing groups to buy multiple suites and turn them into one larger room.

The clubhouse: Though it will go largely unseen by the fans, the players will move from their cramped RFK clubhouse to a spacious facility that rivals some football teams.

In the main players' area there are 48 lockers, each of which is outfitted with hooks, hangers, several cubbies, a built-in safe and two electrical outlets.

Kasten called its oval shape "generously proportioned," and there is a large gathering place in the middle with room for a giant team logo on the carpeting. That wasn't the end of the luxury, though.

Connected to the room was a large weight room, a player's lounge, a "dark room" for pitchers to take a nap in, and a pool area that featured a hot tub, cold tub and underwater treadmill, which is beginning to rise in popularity, especially in the NBA. The treadmill is in a pool that is four feet, six inches deep.

"With the low-impact resistance of the water, it's easy to get more reps in," Kasten said.

A tunnel leads from the team's first-base dugout past the clubhouse and down to the bullpen, located in right field.

Other features of note: From certain seats, fans will be able to see the Washington Monument and U.S. Capitol. But from all seats fans will be able to see construction.

The whole Southeast area is under construction, including five towering cranes that can be seen in left field. In front of the stadium is the Anacostia River, where a large walkway is being built that includes a timeline of great Senators moments. There is a mill on the water that Kasten believes will be town down soon.

In left field there will be statues of three Washington greats -- Josh Gibson, Frank Howard and Walter Johnson, but those likely won't be ready until 2009. The same goes for a planned museum, which will include items like the white Frank Howard home run seats from RFK Stadium.

Nationals Park won't take it's final form for another 12 months, but Kasten exuded excitement as he led the walking tour just 55 days before the start of the season, he's ready to open the doors and play ball.

Michael Phillips is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.