RFK was far from a modern-day palace. The Nationals’ clubhouse was the smallest home facility in the majors, dwarfed by a few visiting clubhouses in other ballparks. RFK’s own visitors’ clubhouse? Smaller than those of some high schools.
“It’s an old stadium,” Schneider said. “It’s going to be dirty. There’s going to be some snot. You can’t expect an old stadium to be like new. I understand that. And there’s a lot of history there. Wrigley Field: You can find all kinds of bad stuff there. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad field. It’s unique in its own way. That’s the way I feel about RFK.”
Ask players from other teams how they felt about RFK and most would reply in kind: How could the outfield fences be so far away?
Considered equally fair to hitters and pitchers during its first run as a baseball stadium from 1962 to 1971, RFK was a hitter’s nightmare in its second incarnation. Larger now than most newer, cozier ballparks, RFK also featured misplaced distance markers. The 380-foot signs that graced the left-center and right-center field gaps at the start of the 2005 season were not correct. The actual distances to those points measured more than 390 feet, confirming most players’ suspicions of false advertising.
Several players, most notably Jose Guillen and Jose Vidro, publicly complained about the ballpark turning sure home runs into easy flyouts. The stats didn’t lie: Washington has hit only 168 homers at RFK since 2005, compared to 230 on the road, a psychological hurdle players had to force themselves to overcome.
“It got to a couple of people,” Church said. “But it was just one of those things. You had to deal with it. But you get frustrated. You hit a ball 390 feet, you expect it to go out. You’re sick of hearing: ‘Oh, anywhere else, it’s a homer.’ It shouldn’t be like that.”
The spacious outfield may have driven position players nuts, but Nationals pitchers used it to their advantage. If anyone will be sorry to leave this place, it will be members of Washington’s staff, who posted a 4.11 ERA at RFK compared to a 4.88 mark everywhere else.
“Who knows how deep those alleys really are?” Cordero said. “They could be 10 feet deeper than they say. That could be a tough thing to leave. Every guy who takes the mound here loves it. That’s probably the one thing we’ll miss the most.”
Even if the new park surrenders more home runs, the pitchers probably won’t complain about the gigantic home clubhouse (complete with ethernet access at every locker), the well-maintained field that doesn’t have to be shared with a soccer team and the spacious dugout that smells only like tobacco and sunflower seeds.
“I’m looking forward to the new stadium. Who isn’t?” manager Manny Acta said. “We’ve got to catch up with the times. Regardless of nostalgia and all that, we’ve got to move on.”
But first, the Nationals and longtime local baseball fans will pay one last tribute to RFK: a somewhat-dilapidated, past-its-prime, home-run-swallowing, foul-smelling stadium that for three years still felt like home sweet home.
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