Saturday, June 6, 2009

"Vamos United!" and the Worst/Best Stadium there is

Thursday, Max Nova and I attended the DC United game against the New York Red Bulls. Despite the rain, it was a good game with a great ending. It was also the second time I'd ever been to the RFK Stadium in Southeast, DC. The first time I was there was to see the newly formed Washington Nationals. It was season one for the Nationals back then, and the need to build a new stadium for the new team was very, very apparent. The exteriors, though once a progressive design, had become aged. The interior dimensions never made sense as a baseball field to begin with. The stands literally, and I do mean literally, would shake; entire bleachers that move up and down as you walk them. For a brand new team trying to start something fresh in DC, the ghosts of the old Washington Senators were still haunting the halls. And unlike the ghosts of say, Yankee Stadium, the ghosts of the Senators were mostly people you wouldn't want around anymore. Then, like now, the Washington Redskins were the team of the town.

DC Stadium - which would eventually be renamed the Robert F. Kennedy Stadium - was originally built to house both the Senators/Nationals as well as the Redskins. So naturally, it was well-suited for neither. Truth is though, I was never at a Redskins game during the 1960's, or the 1990's for that matter. Same goes for a Senators game. But I was there for a Nationals game in 2005, and so while I can't personally speak to the nature of RFK Stadium 40 some years ago, I can tell you that it was a comically poor facility for a baseball team 4 years ago.

As for DC United on the other hand... now that's a different story.

All that made for a particularly bad baseball arena seems to make for a fantastic soccer arena. Those bleachers that bounce are fitting for an extremely loyal fanbase that rants and jumps and chants and yells and sings and sets smoke-bombs and waves flags and curses and plays percussion instruments all in unison. Those annoying dimensions left stands in all the wrong places for a baseball or football stadium, but for soccer, the stands tightly hug the field, with a ground level that wraps all the way around. And because DC United is the only team that still plays there, there's no field shuffling, leaving the grass and field in RFK perfectly green and gorgeous. It really is a perfect soccer stadium.

People often get worked up about team stadiums, but not for lack of reason. Like settings or buildings in a film, stadiums are often just as much a part of a team as any other element. Stadiums provide personality and character, and they provide a homefield advantage. For comparisons sake - since I know many of our readers don't follow sports so closely - it might be easy to think about it as being like a theater stage or a writing desk. Surely for the theater students at the University of Maryland for instance, the difference between rehearsing at the old Tawes Building versus rehearsing at the dazzling new Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center is enormous. For a writer, it might be the difference between being curled up with a blanket in bed with a flashlight, a pen and paper writing thoughts, and sitting at a work desk on a large monitor computer. That is the difference between RFK Stadium and the new Nationals Park.

Nationals Ballpark (above) now stands clean and mighty in the Navy Yards neighborhood of Southeast, DC. There were many versions of the Washington Senators/Nationals, some good, some not so much. The ones today are the worst team in baseball. But at least they have an appropriate home. There's been much talk recently about DC United getting a new playing ground as well... but it would be in either Maryland or Northern Virginia. I'm growing increasingly annoyed by teams playing outside the supposed city designation (the Washington Redskins play in Landover, MD for instance, and the New York Giants and the the New York Jets actually both play in New Jersey) - but I suppose that's an entirely different rant. I'll leave this rant by saying that DC United should stay in DC because RFK is already there, it's metro-accesible, and it's awesome... for soccer.


Dennis said...

I've actually never been to a D.C. United game, or RFK although I've been to the parking lot for a few events. Your description makes it sound delightful. I'll have to check it out.

And I agree that stadiums being in cities other than where the team is based is kind of sad.

Max Nova said...

I think technically rfk is just "east" as it straddles east capital st. Basically getting directions there was a pain in the ass with mapquest back in the day.

Jason Heat said...

Really good post, especially as a non-sports fan

nevie said...

here's the thing.
i've seen soccer and baseball both at rfk.
i was down with both scenarios.
i've seen baseball at the new nationals park.
all i could think about was what a waste of resources.
but not because rfk was good enough.
mainly i was just angry that somebody thought the nationals needed to happen in the first place.

B.Graham said...

haha nevie good point!

Louise said...

Washington Nationals should be always competitive enough to keep pace with the others. I really like them; they’ve always been my favourite teams in MLB. Just read about them here: