Last weekend the Nats completed a four game sweep of the Reds at the Great American Ballpark. The Power Boater family traveled out to Cincinnati to see how their ballpark compared to ours here in DC.
Inside the Great American Ballpark
The ballpark is gorgeous, very similar to PNC in Pittsburgh, just a step down, but still up there with the top parks in the league. A perfect mix of new ballpark amenities and old time baseball history. The legacy of Rose, Bench, Morgan, and the rest of the Big Red Machine are everywhere, from the statues as you walk in to the jerseys on the fans. The big 1869 behind home plate is a constant reminder of the baseball tradition in Cincinnati.
Beyond the ballpark itself the first impression you get walking in is the friendly greeting from the security and ticket staff, so much more efficient and pleasant than at Nats Park, to be welcomed as as guest rather than screened as a potential suspect. I then walked into the nearest snack shop and opened one of the six beer coolers and picked out a Sierra Nevada, not much different than having the cashier grab it for me but just a nice touch. Having six cashiers meant there was never a line.
From the beer stand I hurried over to my seat, in the front row directly next to the ball guy. Not a single interaction with an usher, fans were assumed to be able to find their own seats without having their tickets checked. The only time I spoke with the ushers was with the guys in center field on Sunday who offered first visit certificates for my kids. Really a refreshing experience from the at times over controlling atmosphere at Nats Park.
Everyone there was as friendly as could be. Speaking with the ball guy was a lot of fun, he told us a few stories about what it’s like working with the players and had a lot of comments and questions about the Nats. The beer girl asked if the Nats were that good or the Reds were that bad. Tons of Curly W gear in the stands, which I mistook for representing Nats fans, turns out they were mostly Harper fans, I knew he was popular but had no idea.
The best food deal at the ballpark is the $20 “All you can eat” stands. They actually had a limit of five hot dogs per purchase, but unlimited popcorn, peanuts, and drink refills. A fantastic deal for a family. The best tasting food item was Mr. Red’s Smokehouse, a very generous portion of your choice of meat and a fine sauce, delicious. The most over-rated item was the Coney Dog from Skyline Chili, it was a regular size hot dog bun with a tiny little dog, a little bit of chili, and a giant pile of cheese, it was OK but it didn’t match up with Ben’s (and I’m not even a Ben’s fan, bring back Hard Times).
The beer selection was very good, on par with Nats Park. Lots of local brews in addition to all of the regular Bud family of brews. It was nice to be trusted to be able to carry my drink into the team store. Only complaint was that the vendors were limited to Bud and Bud Light so you had to leave your seat for a decent beverage.
The Great American Ballpark really does it right with the stuff for kids. Giveaways every Sunday (not just one Sunday a year). The kids club space was open every day and not just on weekends with giant lines. There was a big climbing playground similar to Nats Park, but also a big slide, and basketball hoops.
The highlights of the kids areas were the whiffle ball field and the batting cages. The whiffle ball area was a full baseball diamond where the kids could take turns hitting and fielding, with balls flying over the fence and into the concourse area. Nats Park used to have batting cages, they were a big hit, a lot of fun to take a few swings (I sucked, my nine year old made better contact).
GAB In Game Entertainment
Lots of cool stuff that the Nats Park staff could steal and take home. I liked the Family Feud game a lot better than plinko at Nats Park, much more interactive. The dog nose and tongue emojis animated on fan’s faces were also a big highlight. My daughters liked Rosie, could be that Nats Park needs to mix in a female mascot (and not Screech’s mother). The fireworks before the game were a nice reminder of what we used to have, better than a canned sub horn. I also liked the salute of a single solder, with a short biography.
The two big items that stood out were Redzilla and the giant smokestacks in centerfield. Redzilla is a four wheel ATV that hauled a– around the ballpark shooting what seemed like a hundred or more tee shirts into the upper deck. The smokestacks shot flames into the air with each strikeout by a Reds pitcher, you didn’t want the Nats to make an out, but if they did you wanted a K.
GAB Other features
Overall I prefer the scoreboards at Nats Park, but GAB does have one fantastic feature that would be nice to add, two narrow upright scoreboards. The first showed the box score for the current inning, so if you get distracted and missed an at bat you don’t have to ask how the last out was made or how the runner got on base. For upcoming batters it shows R/L/S. The other one showed the box score for all of the batters previous ABs during the game.
I was not a fan of how they hid away the bullpens, it was difficult to see if anyone was warming up and impossible to tell who it was. Before the game there was a nice area for fans to watch the starter warming up but it just wasn’t great for during the game.
A nice perk for fans was the social media area that included tons of outlets with USB plugs for chargers and even charging cords at the tables. Nats Park has these, next to the bathrooms, with short cords so you have to crowd around and wait. Much nicer when there is room for a hundred fans or more to sit, relax, eat, and charge your phone.
The Reds version of the At Bat app was a heck of an improvement over the Nats Park one (buy $200 worth of stuff and get a free hat). Among other cool features their At Bat offered the chance to exchange your seats for ones in the shade (for free!) or to purchase better seats down near the field for a reasonable price.
The Reds even have a “Re-entry Gate” in case you left something in your car and need to run out.
Around the Great American Ballpark
The Ohio River view from the GAB isn’t quite as spectacular as the river view from PNC, and the Kentucky shoreline doesn’t match the Pittsburgh skyline but still it is really cool to be able to look out of the ballpark at such a gorgeous view. Nothing to be done in DC now, just a real shame that a ballpark built along a river has minimal river views and a park in the city like Washington with one of the most iconic skylines in the world was designed to not stand out or have views of the city.
What a blessing Cincinnati has to not have a subway, with that in mind plenty of parking was built around the ballpark. $5 to park a mile away, $20 closer in. But get this, the team lots, right next to the ballpark, were $10. I laughed at the fools paying such a low price, how will they ever afford players like Harper and Scherzer? I guess that since the team lot was so cheap that fans with seats in the upper decks could even afford to park there, so they had a walkway from the top of the garage to the 400-500 levels, with ticket takers right up there.
The ballpark area in DC is on the way to matching what they have in Cincy, and may even surpass it in a few years, with plenty of spots to hit up in the area. Right next to the ballpark is Moerlein Lager House, just another brew pub, except for the fantastic view of the ballpark and the river, from walking by you feel drawn inside, like it must be the world’s most happening spot to chill before or after a game. Along the river is Smale Park which contains all sorts of fountains, exercise equipment, and kids play areas, a great model for what the Yards Park area could be.
A couple blocks up the street is Fountain Square, with daily concerts and a bunch of nice restaurants and bars. Graeter’s Ice Cream is a must have treat when in town. Right across the bridge is Covington, Kentucky, for a mellower, younger, and more blue collar vibe.
Obviously I would highly recommend the Great American Ballark for any Nats fans who have the chance to make the trip. But I’d also really like for the Nats Park staff to take some notes and copy as many of the great features and policies and bring them home to DC.