SPORTS

New Nationals Park features improve gameday experience

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2012 promises to be a year of change for the Washington Nationals, both on and off the field. While the Nats revamped their pitching staff and prepared for their first full year under manager Davey Johnson, the franchise was also busy improving the gameday experience at Nationals Park.

Danny Espinosa and the Nationals are hosting their regular season home opener next Thursday. (Photo: Associated Press)

Fans took notice early as they descended on the ballpark for Tuesday afternoon's exhibition game against the Boston Red Sox. Hours before the first pitch, fans were across the street, enjoying a new place called "Fairgrounds."

Taking a cue from New York and London, vendors set up in the brightly-painted shipping containers, serving food that covered the gamut of ballpark cuisine.

"We're kind of combining Eastern Market with food trucks," Fairgrounds owner Jason York said.

Bob Wear, who came from Centreville to catch the Nats and Sox, said that introducing new features to the area commonly referred to as the Capitol Riverfront is a welcome sight.

"This has always been a depressed area before the park came along," Wear said. "It's good to see them really developing it."

Other new developments include a new bridge from the ballpark to the Yards Park, creating a quick, scenic walk to the Foundry Lofts building, which houses the first of several new restaurants.

Inside the ballpark, fans are noticing a new field along with two new merchandise venues. Beyond the aesthetics, for the first time in years, there's a real optimism among local fans.

"The farm team is a lot better...you've got a lot of new phenoms...just makes it fun to come to the field," Richmond resident Rob Comer said.

The Nationals open their 2012 campaign on a six-game road trip to Chicago and New York before returning to Washington for their home opener against the Cincinnati Reds on April 12. First pitch for that game is scheduled for 1:05 p.m.

In the meantime, though, the Nationals dropped their exhibition with Boston 8-7. Despite homeruns from Wilson Ramos and Ian Desmond, the Red Sox came back with runs in the 8th and 9th to win.

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