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November 20, 2007
by Jeff Pyatt
As a DC-area resident, I have worried since the release of the stadium design that Nationals Park would be lame. Without any unique features -- a big wall, a warehouse, a cove -- what would make this stadium special?
But last week, Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell put my mind, at least slightly, to ease:
[F]or a city with almost no buildings more than 14 stories high, and no mountains or bays, this park has maximized what Washington has to offer. And it's plenty. There may be no other spot in this area where you can get a 360-degree sense of place and sweep that rivals this park.
The Nats' new home may also evoke the unique architectural style of its city as successfully, and bravely, as any in the majors. The park's classic modern design mirrors the motif that has won praise at the D.C. Convention Center. Constructed with the same materials by the same builder, its vast panels of glass behind home plate and along South Capitol Street allow the park to glow from within at night. "On-time and on-budget," plus more than $40 million in upgrades by the Lerner family, means that the park's exterior already looks like a glistening knockout. Wraparound views from the club suites behind home plate look across the Potomac River to landing planes at National Airport and landmarks in Northern Virginia.
Of course, red-brick retro worshipers may disagree with this light-suffused look. But the District's world-famous monuments aren't 19th-century industrial. The park, with an administrative building that pays triangular homage to I.M. Pei's East Wing of the National Gallery of Art, looks like it belongs in this alabaster city and, frankly, perhaps no place else. Just as Yankee Stadium's proud architecture says "Home of Champions," Washington's new park isn't afraid to say "World Capital."
One of the benefits to growing up with Robbie was that his parents were among the most generous people alive and always seemed to have an extra Orioles season ticket. Luckily for the Gillies family, I was (and still am) a terrific leach.
I mention this because when we were ten, Camden Yards opened. And, upon walking in, taking my freeloaded seat and staring over at that perfect warehouse, I remember logically concluding, as well as a ten-year-old could, that this was the greatest place on earth. It turns out, despite a youthful tendency for overstatement, I wasn't far from the truth. 2131. Is there another moment in sports history for which you can look at a picture of a stadium without any distinguishable players and precisely answer who, what, when and where?
So when Boswell mentions "Red-brick retro worshipers," he's talking about people like me -- those of us who were completely blown away the first time we approached and walked into Camden Yards, and wished to have that feeling recreated in DC.
But perhaps Boswell's right, and we should cast doubt upon the red-brick faith. Camden Yards isn't special strictly because of the brick or some other gimic; it's special because it suits and amplifies the personality of Baltimore. We'll see if that's what Nationals Park does for DC.