After a nearly 35-year absence in Washington, professional baseball returned in 2005 when Major League Baseball's Montreal Expos relocated and became the Washington Nationals. As VOA's Jim Stevenson reports, the team has moved again for the 75th baseball season in Washington -- this time into a new $611 million stadium.
The change of venue from the 46-year-old RFK Stadium to Nationals Park is stunning. The new facility, which is designed to compliment the many national monuments in the city, is filled with state-of-the-art features. Inside the gleaming glass, steel and stone structure are 41,888 comfortable seats, a huge high-definition screen in center field measuring about 30 meters by 15 meters for replays and game information, and 49 concession stands with nearly 200 points of sale.
Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman says the Major League Baseball venue is unique.
"When I came out, I tried to kind of compare it to another park," Zimmerman said. "There is really no other park. It looks like there is not a bad seat in the whole place. You know the TV [hi-def screen] is really unbelievable. It is just really, really nice."
Compared to RFK, the seats are much closer to the field and the concourses are about twice as wide. Almost 4,600 square meters of space behind the scoreboard is devoted to batting cages for fans and video games for kids.
Team members get plenty of amenities too. A huge oval clubhouse is said to be larger than many of the players' homes. They also have access to a modern sauna and training facilities.
Zimmerman was amazed when he first walked into the clubhouse.
"This is special. This is like a [art] gallery," Zimmerman said. "I do not even want to touch anything. There are so many things I can use. We're in the weight room. How cool is the weight room? And when you are done with the weight room you can grab a bite to eat. You can hop in the sauna. You go into the hot tub. Before [at RFK Stadium] there was down time. Now there is something to do. It is unbelievable."
The stadium also has an intricate recycling system to conserve water used for maintaining the grass field.
Nationals Park sits in an impoverished area of South East Washington along the Anacostia River. While it may not seem to be a desirable location, city officials are hoping the stadium will be the centerpiece for revitalizing the neighborhood. And they have a precedent.
Built 10 years ago in similar circumstances, the Verizon Center indoor arena transformed Washington's Chinatown neighborhood. The Verizon Center is home to the National Basketball Association's Washington Wizards and the National (ice) Hockey League's Washington Capitols.