As if you needed to be reminded, at 11:50 p.m. the night before Halloween, the Washington Nationals beat the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park, 6-2, in Game 7, and brought the 2019 MLB World Series trophy to our region for the first time since the long-departed Senators did it in 1924.
Along the way, the Nats—with a record of 19-31 in May and a 3% chance of making the post-season—won their first first-round playoff series ever, after breaking fans’ hearts four times since arriving from Montreal in 2005. To win the title, they won not one, not two, but three post-season series and a play-in wild card game that included five heart-stopping, come-from-behind, winner-take-all games against three teams with far better records, and they did it with the worst bullpen of any team in 50 years.
Manager Dave Martinez told the players to “stay in the fight,” which became the T-shirt motto that morphed into “Finish the Fight” in the playoffs and, finally, “Fight Finished.”
Winning it all was one thing, but the importance of the accomplishment really hit home days later. Northern Virginia Magazine caught up with the team’s star players and GM and asked them what it really felt like to win big.
“At the parade, seeing people five deep for I don’t know how many miles made you realize how important it is to the fans,” ace pitcher and McLean resident Max Scherzer says.
“The most important name on this team last year was ‘Washington,’” says General Manager Mike Rizzo. “Everyone put themselves in the backseat to win this thing for the fans.”
“We’re ready to bring it all back this year,” Series MVP and McLean resident, pitcher Stephen Strasburg says. “We can’t wait.” To which outfielder Juan Soto echoes, “The team can’t wait to play good baseball for everybody.”
The wait is over: Opening Day is Thursday, March 26, against the Mets at Citi Field stadium in New York. The home opener, also versus the Mets, is Thursday, April 2.
Inside the Park
We asked Nationals insiders for tips on maximizing the fan experience.
General Manager Mike Rizzo
“Get here early. The neighborhood has grown up in the 15 years since I’ve been here. There’s an abundance of things to do, the place is immaculately clean and it’s buzzing. It’s turned into the place to be during baseball season for game days.”
His seat? “Behind home plate, above the Delta [Sky360 Club] seats.”
Stadium concessions? “You can’t go wrong with Shake Shack [Section 240].”
When the team is out of town? “My favorite place to go to watch a game is Dudley’s [Sports & Ale] in Shirlington.”
Host of MASN’s Nats Xtra Dan Kolko
Stadium concessions? “You hear ‘ballpark pizza’ and you don’t think it’s going to be that good, but Enzo’s Pizza [Section 115] is really good.”
Best chance for autographs? “As soon as the gates open.”
Radio Announcer and Former Restonian Dave Jageler
Stadium concessions? “Shake Shack, but get here when the gates open because the line gets long.”
Best seats? “I sat in the 300 level for the  All Star game; I personally like those seats. You can see the entire field, none of the corners are blocked, and you can react to a foul ball.”
Best chance to catch a home run? “The left field line, [Sections] 104, 105. If it’s Juan Soto, anywhere in right field.”
Insider tip: “To avoid sun, third base side; you want to be warm, first base side.”
Radio Announcer and Alexandria Resident Charlie Slowes
Day off? “I have a few favorite spots in Old Town and I like Burtons [Grill & Bar in Alexandria].”
First Base Coach Bob Henley
Best time to see batting practice? “Pitchers usually hit at 3:45 p.m. If the gates open at 5, you’ll catch the third round or so.”
Best place to catch a home run? “Definitely behind the fence.”
MASN Nationals beat reporter and Centreville resident Mark Zuckerman
Stadium concessions? “The crab cake station [Chesapeake Crab Cake Company, Sections 114 and 306] is really good.”
Best seat? “For the money, the upper deck, behind the plate [Sections 312, 313, 314]; a lot of season ticket holders sit there, so they must know something.”
Something most fans don’t know? “The lower level where the players are, it’s a whole city down there.” The view of the Nats’ indoor batting cage from the club level restaurants “is unique in the Major Leagues.”
Meet On-Field Reporter Alex Chappell
MASN TV network’s on-field reporter and McLean resident Alex Chappell got the media bug as a child during a birthday party at the Newseum when it was located in Arlington. “I just fell in love with the whole idea” of being a reporter, she says. After sports reporting stints in other markets, she was finally ready for a season like none other. Does going to the World Series in her first year make her the good luck charm? “When they were 19-31 I was a hex,” she laughs. “But things turned around. Like the players, you want to come in every day with a positive mindset, and it wasn’t always easy. But whatever I had in my backpack, I’ll keep in it for 2020.” Here’s to more Champagne showers this season.
Favorite stadium section?: Chappell the fan can be found at the Red Porch/Budweiser Brew House region of center field. “I love that vantage point in the ballpark and the fans out there are so much fun to be around. They have a special chant for [center fielder] Victor Robles, even when he’s in the batter’s box. It’s a unique, fun place to take in the game.”
Go-to concession: “I like that Nationals Park keeps it traditional with hot dogs, fries and soda—that’s what I want to do when I go as a fan. But Ben’s Chili Bowl half-smoke, that’s keeping it real.”
Did you know?: Her cousin and mentor is comedian and actor Rob Corddry (The Daily Show; Hot Tub Time Machine).
New Jerseys You Will Need
Will Harris: “I hope Nats fans know he’s one of the best relievers in baseball,” Stephen Strasburg says of his new teammate. The right-handed reliever was last seen as an Astro giving up the famous Game 7 “foul pole” World Series home run to Howie Kendrick to take the lead in the seventh inning. Harris got a three-year, $24 million deal to come to Washington. All is forgiven!
Eric Thames: When last seen, the Milwaukee Brewers’ first baseman was hitting a home run off Nats’ ace Max Scherzer in the decisive NL Division Series Wild Card play-in game, giving the visitors a threatening 3-0 lead (the Nats would win, of course). This year, the 33-year-old is a National, with a one-year, $4 million deal. All is forgiven!
Starlin Castro: Even when he was slumping, Castro managed to be the bane of the Nats whenever they played against him as a Cub, Yankee or Marlin, often in key games. The four-time All Star infielder is now a Nat, with a $12 million, two-year deal. All is forgiven!
New to the Bandwagon? Here’s What You Need to Know
So, winning the World Series got your attention? Welcome to the team. Get to know the players by watching the games on cable’s Mid Atlantic Sports Network (MASN), starting with the high-energy, very informative pregame show, Nats Xtra, with Dan Kolko and Bo Porter. And then watch the postgame show after the last inning. Here are more things to know:
- Ticket plans range from 82 home games to five. There is flex pricing for certain games (looking at you, Houston Astros, July 3 to 5). There also are suites, luxury suites and parking plans. See mlb.com/nationals for info. Metro to Navy Yard is efficient and highly recommended for saving money and effort
- Take the family on Sundays. Kids 4 to 12 run the bases after the game (no sliding, but parents have to meet them at home plate, which is cool). Two players sign autographs at the top of the Nats’ dugout an hour before the game; get a voucher at Section 103 when the gates open two hours before opening pitch.
- Little-known cool tips for kids: First game? Did you catch a foul ball? Go to Guest Services (Secs. 103, 131, 320) to receive a certificate. And download the MLB Ballpark app, choose Nationals, and find the Stadium Scavenger Hunt for a prize at the fourth station.
- Bored kids? Take the 10-and-unders to the PenFed Kidz Fun Zone to cool down and enjoy the updated play structure.
Break Out the Old Jerseys
No. 37: Stephen Strasburg
The aging phenom and World Series MVP re-upped with a seven-year deal worth—count the zeros—$245,000,000. Guaranteed. If he pitches his average 25 games a year, that’s $1.4 million per game
No. 7: Trea Turner
The 26-year-old shortstop is under contract until 2023, when the handwringing begins.
No. 22: Juan Soto
He turned 21 during the World Series and his clutch hitting made him the darling of the league. He won’t be a free agent until 2025.
No. 11 Ryan Zimmerman
The “National for life” and powerhouse first baseman is back with a $2 million, one-year deal.
When asked which was better in 2019, winning the World Series or the release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the light saber-wielding pitcher, “Obie Wan” Sean Doolittle quickly responds, “And UVA won a men’s basketball national championship. It was a pretty good year.” Doolittle is a Cavalier.
Nats by the Numbers
- Nationals Park holds 41,546 fans. It cost $784 million to build and opened in 2008.
- Last year, the Nats hosted 2,259,781 fans at home games, an average of 27,899.
- Retired Numbers: 8 (Gary Carter), 10 (Rusty Staub and Andre Dawson) and 30 (Tim Raines). No. 42 (Jackie Robinson) is retired league-wide.
- There are 4,000 premium club seats and 76 luxury suites.
- The field is 24 feet below street level.
- The high-definition scoreboard is 4,500 square feet, one of the largest in the league.
New to the Navy Yard
Since the stadium first opened in 2008, the surrounding neighborhood has become a year-round hot spot for fun. Check out these three new restaurants to hit up pre- or post-game
A rooftop bar at the Thompson Hotel operated by Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group; look for seafood offerings from downstairs’ Maialino Mare. // 221 Tingey St. SE, Washington, DC
An offshoot of Kroll’s Shaw neighborhood wine bar; Rafidi is doing the food for the intimate (30 seats) room. // 1336 Ninth St. SE, Washington, DC
Another newcomer, Albi will be a 76-seat Modern American-with-Middle Eastern flavors spot, from Chef Michael Lee Rafidi and wine guru Brent Kroll. // 1346 Fourth St. SE, Washington, DC
This post originally appeared in our March 2020 print issue. Want more Nats coverage? Head to our Guide to the Washington Nationals. We will update it regularly with everything you need to know throughout the season.