Welcome to the latest chapter in the long history of baseball in the Nation’s Capital.
Bating practice at Nationals Park before the third game of the Nationals-Cardinals playoff series.
How big is a lifetime? Well, long enough for me to ride the street car with my father and brother to a Washington Senators Opening Day game at old Griffith Stadium, and see President Dwight Eisenhower throw out the ceremonial first pitch. As I remember it, Ted Williams, starting his goodbye season with the Boston Red Sox, hit an Opening Day homer into the huge tree on the other side of the centerfield fence. Camilio Pascual and Pedro Ramos were the Senators best starting pitchers, and one of them was undoubtedly pitching that day. (Senators owner Calvin Griffith, and later his son Clark Griffith, successfully recruited many Major League players from Cuba in those days.
Great streetcar access to Griffith, but almost no parking. Park on the street and pay a kid a quarter to “watch your car.”
A few years later, I drove my father’s 1950 Chevy to see the expansion Senators play at the “New” RFK Stadium. The streetcar era in Washington was over. It was the age of the suburbs. You could ride the bus, but the car was king. That new stadium is now old and decrepit. No streetcar service at the new stadium, but acres of parking lots.
This week I watched the third Washington baseball team of my lifetime, the Washington Nationals, play a postseason game at the newest stadium, Nationals Park. It’s spacious, but more or less surrounded by the Annacostia River and South Capitol Street. The city plans millions of dollars of urban development for the neighborhood. Parking is in multi-level parking garages, but fans are encouraged to take the Metro subway to the entrance of the stadium. The Metro did not exist when I was a kid, and I don’t think it was yet built when RFK opened. But in later years, I rode the new Metro subway to RFK.
Which stadium was best? You could sit in the stands at Griffith Stadium and smell the bread baking at the Wonder Bread bakery. You don’t get that kind of urban flavor much any more. If the Senators were losing so badly you couldn’t stand to watch, at Griffith Stadium you could go and sit behind a grandstand post that completely blocked your view of the field. The “new” RFK Stadium was modern but sterile. No obstructed seats!
The new Nationals Park, like Orioles Park at Camden Yards and other modern ballparks, is an architectural work of art. It can accommodate nearly 45,000 fans.
Your blogger, John Hayden, with a statue of slugger Frank Howard, a player for the Washington Senators American League expansion team in the 1960s. Two other sluggers who should have statues here: Roy Sievers, who led the American League in 1957 with 42 home runs and 114 runs batted in, and was later traded to the Chicago White Sox; and Harmon Killebrew, a prolific home-run hitter who moved with the homegrown Senators team to Minnesota. The second version of the Senators –the expansion team — moved to Texas in 1971, and baseball was absent from Washington from 1971 through 2004. The Nationals began playing here in 2005.
Still more photos to come. Watch this space.
— John Hayden
- Baseball History Made in Washington (National League Playoffs 2012) (johnhaydeninmd.com)
- Baseball History in Washington – I-95 World Series Possible (johnhaydeninmd.com)
- Former Mayor Anthony Williams Recalls the Struggle to Get Baseball Back in Washington (washingtonian.com)