Recently I was contacted once again by Kurt Smith of Ballpark E-Guides. Kurt and I had exchanged emails last season, and he had offered me and Birds Watcher readers his take on Baltimore’s jewel of a ballpark, Oriole Part at Camden Yards. Since 2005 mid-Atlantic region baseball fans have had two big league teams to see in person with the Washington Nationals coming to town. The Nats opened a new park - Nationals Park – in 2008, and while the two teams don’t compete directly it’s always an interesting argument as to which park is better for fans. Kurt compared various aspects of the two parks in a piece he sent me, and I’ll pass a few of his thoughts along:
- Seating and views: Both Camden Yards and Nationals Park have padded seats behind home plate, luxury suites, club level areas, party areas and lots of cheap seats that are further from the action. But Camden Yards wins this one on several counts; the high-end seats cost significantly less, the views of the warehouse and Baltimore skyline are much more aesthetically pleasing than the parking garages that now block the view of the Capitol in D.C. (not that I ever want to look at the Capitol these days given the people that work there), and the low-end seats at Camden Yards are much closer than the upper level seats at Nationals Park, thanks to the overrated “open concourses” that push the upper level much higher. Easy win for the Yard.
- Getting to the ballpark: Whether it’s easier to get to the ballpark in Baltimore or Washington depends on how one arrives. By car, neither ballpark is easy to get to—they may be right off of the highway but one still has to deal with city traffic to get there. By car though, Camden Yards is a little better…parking is more plentiful and much cheaper, and there are some good spots for an easy exit. At Nationals Park, to park anywhere within two blocks of the ballpark costs a nice chunk of change. On public transit, however, Nationals Park fares much better…the WMATA Metro is generally efficient, clean and drops riders off right on Half Street where they can pass by plenty of cool vendors and view the ballpark from the center field entrance. The MTA Light Rail is an inexpensive way to get dropped off at the front door of Camden Yards, but being a light rail, it can be agonizingly slow going through town.
- Food and Drink: Three years ago, I would have given this one to Nationals Park hands down. The Ben’s Chili Half Smoke and the Hard Times nachos are among the best food items I’ve ever had at a ballpark, and Five Guys, my favorite burger chain, once had a presence in Nationals Park. Meanwhile, the Orioles were still under the yoke of Aramark, with Boog’s as the highlight of the ballpark food. But Five Guys exists at Nats Park no longer, and the upper outfield concourse is now filled with Citi Field favorites—the Shake Shack, Blue Smoke, Box Frites. They’re great, but come on, put some D.C. institutions there…don’t celebrate New York of all places. Meanwhile, the Orioles really stepped up their culinary game…adding Dempsey’s, Stuggy’s and Gino’s for local flavors, not to mention a great crab cake stand, Polock Johnny’s and the Birdland dog with pepperoni hash. And of course, there’s the venerable Boog’s BBQ…the original place that popularized the idea of eating something besides a hot dog at the game. So to decide this, we’ll add in the outside vendor scenes at both parks—where Camden Yards, with the crab cake sandwiches and $2 Natty Bohs outside of Pickles and the great deals on grub on Conway Street, wins easily over the plentiful but fairly unexciting choices on Half Street in D.C.
- Post-game scene: Outside of Nationals Park, there aren’t many places to enjoy a post game drink or meal, other than the Bullpen picnic area which isn’t anything special. Camden Yards, on the other hand, has Pickles Pub and a few other places to grab a meal within walking distance from the Yard, and of course the ballpark is just steps away from the fantastic Inner Harbor. The Nationals Park area is getting built up a little bit at a time, but it’s not going to rival the tourist attraction that Camden Yards is anytime soon.
- Extras:Camden Yards, of course, added the spectacular statues ofspectacular Orioles, including the statue of the beloved and recently departed Earl Weaver, complete with the cigarette pocket. Nationals Park honors Washington baseball greats like Walter Johnson and Frank Howard, but the statues are made to look like they’re in motion, which is not only creepy looking but kind of the opposite of the point of a statue. Nationals Park has the Red Porch, the Red Loft and the Scoreboard Walk, so it’s got plenty of places for a gathering of friends if you’re so inclined. The Orioles have added a center field party area, with a great view, and quite a few picnic areas, so they’re catching up there. The Nationals may have plenty to explore in the ballpark, but there’s really nothing there similar to Eutaw Street as far as a ballpark using its surroundings. Camden Yards’ exterior of red bricks is what a ballpark is supposed to be, but give the Nats credit for not going the route of so many ballparks these days and constructing a steel exterior.
One thing on which I would disagree is getting to the ballpark. First off I believe that the Baltimore Light Rail is very adequet, however parking at the yard is much easier than at Nationals Park. Having said that, I do feel that the food and beer selection at Nationals Park is excellent. Local favorites such as Ben’s Chili Bowl are pretty solid aspects of the fare. I would say that Camden Yards is a great park, while Nationals Park is very decent. But both parks have great teams, if 2012 is any indication.