Washington, DC: Nationals Park

As a father of a new baby boy, one of the things I’m looking forward to most in the coming years is sharing my love of baseball with him. It’s a passion, to the point of obsession, and it’s been with me since I was a kid. My earliest memory is sitting on my dad’s lap as he tried to wire me into a state of overwhelming euphoria every time Tim Raines came up to bat.

I grew up with the Expos on the radio at dinnertime, listening to Duke Snider and Dave van Horne take us through season after season of bitter disappointment. By the late 80s, however, as my parents drifted away from the sport, I latched on to the Atlanta Braves, who had national coverage on TBS. These guys could sell ice to an eskimo, and in those days they did – because they would make you believe a team of half-wits and no-stars were the second coming of the ’27 Yankees.

The TBS announcers would have you believe this man was bred from the loins of Babe Ruth himself

Of course, I was rewarded by a decade and a half of great teams and downright filthy pitching, and even though they’re the absolute pits today, I still love my team. But more importantly, I still have the same love for the game that I did as a child. Thankfully, my tolerant wife is happy to oblige, and has joined me on my quest to visit every major league ballpark in America before I’m 40 years old. This blog entry covers stop #12 of an estimated 33.

Team Stadium Most Recent Visit
Montreal Expos Olympic Stadium 2004-09-22
Cleveland Indians Progressive Field 2007-10-18
New York Yankees Yankee Stadium 2008-07-01
New York Yankees New Yankee Stadium 2011-05-13
Boston Red Sox Fenway Park 2011-09-02
Tampa Bay Rays Tropicana Field 2012-05-20
Toronto Blue Jays Rogers Centre 2013-07-21
Atlanta Braves Turner Field 2014-04-08
Chicago Cubs Wrigley Field 2015-08-23
St Louis Cardinals Busch Stadium 2015-09-01
Philadelphia Phillies Citizens Bank Park 2016-07-16
Washington Nationals Nationals Park 2017-04-14

Over the Easter weekend, with our son a spry 3 weeks old, we were down in Washington, DC. After a morning spent gouging on chicken and donuts, followed by a trip to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, and wading through some of the worst traffic on the planet, we settled in for an afternoon game between the Nationals and Phillies – and my main man Stephen Strasburg was on the hill for the Nats.

On our way in to the stadium, I was accosted by a t-shirt vendor, and he had some good ones. Everything was one size; XL. That felt about right to me, given I fluctuate somewhere between L and XL, so I settled on a Bryce Harper tribute.

A short time later, I attempted to squeeze myself into this sausage casing, only to discover that this man’s version of “XL” is what I would refer to as “a sock”. My wife plans to see if my mother in law can make it into a pillow so that my $15 doesn’t die in vain.

Meanwhile, we’d squeezed past the gates, collecting our Daniel Murphy bobbleheads.

Don’t worry, I recognize that this is a food blog, and I was very aware of that as I made my choices. Of course; seated directly in front of a Ben’s Chili Bowl location made it an easy decision.

Ben’s Chili Bowl is the signature spot for chili and hot dogs in the Washington area. The original location, right next to the Lincoln Theatre, was opened in 1958 by Trinidad-born Ben Ali. Known for their Half-Smokes; a sausage blend of half pork, half beef, smoked and then finished on a flat top, Ben’s is world famous. During the riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr, Ben’s was permitted to stay open after curfew in order to feed the police, firemen, and black activists alike. It’s a favorite of Bill Cosby, and even president Obama stopped in when he first settled in DC.

While my wife and son settled down for a bottle, I was grabbing a half-smoke smothered in chili.

Ok – so this probably isn’t the kind of thing you’re looking to down on a first date. This is literally the template for messy. Still, I dug in. Chili stained my fingers as I figured out how to grip the bun. And then I dove in…

The snap on the casing is fantastic. The half-smoke is given a perfect char on the grill, without drying it out. It’s got a surprising kick of spice, which works so complimentary with the chili topping. The chili is really thick, seasoned with lots of black pepper, onion, and lord knows what else. With a little yellow mustard and some onions, you’ve got yourself a damn fine dog.

Satisfied, we watched as Strasburg and Nola put on … well, a relatively uninspired clinic. Neither was awful, as we weren’t seeing a lot of runs cross the plate, but they were throwing an awful lot of pitches and allowing far too many baserunners to reach. The crowd audibly groaned when Tommy Joseph launched one into the center field stands off Stras in the 2nd inning.

I got to chatting with an older Nats fan who was there with his son, and he shared stories of going to the park to watch a young Harmon Killebrew in the 1950’s. His descriptions of Griffiths Stadium were so colorful I could almost picture the paint stripping off the bleachers on a hot afternoon.

Speaking of hot, my poor son was sweating so much he’d decided to strip down to nothing.

My wife decided to take him for a walk, to get him some cooler air. About 20 minutes later she returned, and she had gifts!

That right there, drooling readers, is a cheeseburger from the Shake Shack. Shake Shack is a publicly traded hamburger business, founded in 2001 in New York City as a food cart. People in DC are nuts for these things; lining up at the stadium location as far as the eye can see before the game starts. Because my wife had waited until the 6th inning, she was able to zip through the line at a fraction of the time.

What is it about these burgers that causes people to lose their minds and empty their wallets? After one bite, I understood. It’s that crust on the burger. They’re smashed down on a flat top, allowing a crunchy, salty crust to develop around the meet. There is so much flavor there, and you literally don’t have to do anything except smash the meat down on the grill. It’s a simplistic, old school way of preparation, but in the era of the rushed, mass produced hamburger, it comes across as unique. Bravo.

And speaking of crunchy, those fries man … on point. I was full from the burger and was only able to have a couple, but my wife was more than happy to take down what I couldn’t. Delicious!

Meanwhile, the Nats were rallying, and the fans were getting a little raucous. Noah was clearly having a hard time with all the noise, but we were ready.

After 9 innings, both teams were tied at 2 – but my boy had taken in about all the excitement he could muster. A fine performance from the rookie at his first game. It worked out ok for us; while I never like to leave a game early, it allowed us to avoid the post-game gridlock and get him back to the hotel in a reasonable amount of time.

Final line:

9 innings
2 feeds
2 pees
1 poop
1 fuss

Ben’s Chili Bowl
Website: benschilibowl.com
Facebook: Ben’s Chili Bowl
Twitter: @benschilibowl

Shake Shack
Website: shakeshack.com
Facebook: Shake Shack
Twitter: @shakeshack

Nationals Park
Address: 1500 S Capitol St SE, Washington, DC
Website: washington.nationals.mlb.com/was/ballpark
Facebook: Washington Nationals
Twitter: @Nationals

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