The Art of Baseball: the Nationals’ Stadium

Presidental Mascot Abe Lincoln with an Eagle Mascot

Given that I previously wrote about how baseball is the perfect summarization of summer and that I’ve had more than one conversation with friends (mostly male) over what makes a true baseball fan,  it won’t surprise you that one of my objectives during my past trip to D.C. was to go to a Nationals’ game. I had a twofold reason however: I wanted to see the famed team that D.C. had been waiting for for so long, and I wanted to see (finally) the artwork my dad had hung and lit at the Nationals’ Stadium by his longtime friend, Walter Kravitz.

The Nationals are a team that gives the perfect proof of what makes a true fan. For years, decades, D.C. hasn’t had a baseball team. My dad still pines for the days when the Senators were his home team. Then, they up and moved to Texas to become the Rangers in 1971, making my dad swear he would never be a baseball fan again.

In doing a little research, apparently this wasn’t the first time the Senators moved around. Apparently in 1960, they were bought and became the Minnesota Twins, and a new team was assembled to continue the Senators in 1961. That sounds like a horribly sneaky and unloyal team, in my opinion. No wonder heartbreak was to follow.

When, in 2008, the Montreal Expos decided to move to DC and become the Senators, there was the kind of rejoicing one would expect from someone having a baby, or the Pope coming to visit. This was the most important thing to happen in years, if you ask most DC residents. And even my dad, long gone from his hometown, was entirely thrilled. They finally had a team–albeit one that is so horrifically bad that it takes a true fan to love them.

What makes a true fan? When it comes down to it, it doesn’t matter if they win or lose most of their games, you still care about that team. You still have that underlying hope that maybe, this year, maybe something magically will happen. Being a Dodgers fan, I understand the patience and love it takes to continue through. You can’t just declare yourself a fan because you now live in that city or all your friends like them. You have to ride out the rough patches, support the underdog, and ultimately, care enough that it’s a bit irrational.

And that’s what Nationals fans are like. They go because they don’t care that they win or lose. They just care that they have a team.

The night we went, the stadium was fairly empty, but given that it was the middle of the week, and there was a major thunderstorm above our heads for the first 45 minutes, I wasn’t surprised. But it’s a surprisingly comfortable stadium. Unlike the 50s era concrete mass of Dodger Stadium, the Nationals’ Stadium has a familiarity and intimacy in its design.

When you walk into the main entrance, you see across onto third plate, the stands rising above. It has a very equilateral feel, and as you continue around, the various food stands pop out as little glowing gems. Hot dogs? Burgers? Beer? And unlike Dodger Stadium where the lines congeal into blobby messes, there were just a few people waiting. Perhaps it was because there were actually enough concessions to serve everyone. And instead of a $15 beer, I got one for $8. I was already impressed.

Our first stop, which was convenient due to shard of lightening jumping from the clouds every few seconds, was to look at the art my dad had installed. We even had the artist to give us a personally curated tour.

Now, I was extremely interested in both the art and the engineering. My dad had routinely updated me on the status of this project as it was developing and during its installation, including all the various hazards you have to take in account (like wind speeds!) when it is an outdoor installation rather than an indoor one. 

The artwork revolves around like a mobile, and as it turns, you see a new figure in a different pose, i.e. hitting, fielding, pitching. Each uniform of the player represents one of the various National or American League team’s uniforms.
As you watch the four mobiles turn, there’s a sort of childlike delight that overtakes you. There is something in the harmony of the slow movement and myriad of colors that expresses that youthful fascination with patterns and movement. As we stood there, we heard various people say things like, “It’s a baseball kaleidoscope.” “Look, isn’t that fun!” They would stop, entirely distracted, before they realized it was time to move on.
The artist and my dad in front of all four mobiles.

Engaged Observers
This is the goal of public art–to engage the viewer and offer them a new perspective, whether it is through enlightening or enchanting or challenging. Most public art expresses a banality, a stoic impression of reality, that fails to engage. How many public art installations, whether it be a sculpture or a mural, that at best you ignore? Most repulse, causing the viewer to move away even quicker. Why is it that we put up with such blemishes on our landscapes?
On a sidenote: the oddest thing about the Nationals, their logo seems to be a direct copy of the Walgreen’s logo. Seriously, what is with that? I actually thought that Walgreen’s was a sponsor.

 Nationals’ Logo

Walgreen’s Logo


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