Braves impressed by Nationals Park
New stadium regarded as a big upgrade over outdated RFK
WASHINGTON -- Mark Kotsay was among the many Braves who got to new Nationals Park early Sunday afternoon to get a sense of what nuances it might present a few hours later, when they began the 2008 season against the Nationals.
At the same time, they all wanted to get a look at the stadium that has Washington fans abuzz and feeling good about the fact that they no longer have to watch baseball at outdated RFK Stadium.
"This is definitely an upgrade over RFK" was the most common statement coming out of the Braves' clubhouse. At the same time, that was the understatement of the day.
In terms of architecture, Nationals Park was compared to Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park. While the outfield wall isn't symmetrical, it was deemed fair by Braves manager Bobby Cox and his players, who all seemed to enjoy their first look at the new park.
"It looks like a great playing surface, and there aren't too many gimmicks in the outfield like some new parks," Cox said. "It's nice. It's got its own little identity. It's not generic [compared] to other parks. It's a little different."
National president Stan Kasten held the same role for the Braves when Turner Field was constructed before the start of the 1997 season. Thus it's not likely coincidental that this park includes a bar in left-center field that is similar to Turner Field's Chop House, and that the ballpark has many of the same interactive game options that are available in Atlanta.
"It looks like a real fan-friendly ballpark," said Braves chairman Bill Bartholomay, who was part of the club's executive group that flew in for the game. "It looks like it has all of the nice [amenities]."
Bartholmay is an expert of Opening Days, with one of the first he witnessed coming at old Comiskey Park in 1940. He saw a 21-year-old Bob Feller throw a no-hitter that day.
As for stadium openings, Bartholmay's experience extends far beyond 1966, when as the team owner, he brought the Braves to Atlanta and opened Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. Just off the top of his head, he's been present for at least 10 games that were the first held in a new stadium.
Thus the approvals provided by both Bartholomay and Cox both carried a lot of weight for the Nationals.
"It's a good-looking park," Braves first baseman Mark Teixeira said. "They've got a nice surface and it looks like it will play fair. The clubhouse is nice. Everything about it seems good."
While the visitors' clubhouse was definitely spacious and seemingly accommodating, the new park does provide some immediate concerns. Some of the left-handed batters say some of the seats in right-center field hinder their vision.
The proximity of a brick wall behind the plate has Cox believing some passed balls and wild pitches will make for some tense moments for third-base coaches. And Kotsay wasn't too happy to see chain-link fence on portions of the outfield wall.
But for the most part, the Braves were pleased with what they saw after being given the opportunity to take batting practice first and for approximately 90 minutes. To get acclimated with the park's surroundings and bounces, they took infield and outfield practice -- something they never do before the start of a game.
"That's probably the only infield-outfield [practice], we'll do all year [before a game]," Kotsay said. "But you just try to familiarize yourself."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.