After leaving the South (more or less), I made my way up to Washington D.C. where I have a couple of good friends: Jason and Jen, who were nice enough to put me up for a few days to explore the city of D.C. and catch a Washington Nationals game.  They live in Falls Church, VA which is a nice little suburb of the Capitol. We started out by going to a Nats/Padres day game and Jen’s dad hooked us up with complimentary tickets to the Red Porch section of Nationals Park.

The day started out slightly overcast, but the spring weather in the D.C. area can be unpredictable.  Within a few innings, the weather clouded over and a light sprinkle started.  Being from Seattle, I thought nothing of it and was amused to watch the mad rush of fans heading for cover around the stadium.  However, within the next 5 minutes I was treated to a torrential downpour that soaked my clothes and sent me scurrying back to the covered area in the bar.  Jason and Jen were wiser and brought ponchos but accompanied me back inside out of good humor.  Fortunately, Nationals Park is a new stadium and has speedy blow dryers in the restrooms where I dried myself off.

Drying myself off was unnecessary though, the storm ended as quickly as it began and the overcast skies burnt off to reveal a hot burning sun.  As play resumed, Strasburg suffered though a tough start giving up several runs to the Padres before being replaced after the 4th inning.  According to Twitter rumors, his unusual poor performance might have been attributed to a practical joke; supposedly someone put some Icy-Hot in his jockstrap.  That remains unverified though.

Bryce Harper hit a solo home run in the 5th inning for the Nats, but that an a few RBIs just weren’t enough to for this 1st place team to overcome the Friars.  The Nationals dropped this one 1-6 to the Padres.  Jason and Jen are Padres fans so they got to enjoy the win.

I spent the next couple of days exploring our nation’s capitol.  Jen took me to the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History where they have the Hope Diamond, dinosaur bones and the rubber replica of pre-historic monster snake billed as the “Titanaboa”.  We got a picture of Jen standing in front of the exhibit where Titanaboa is swallowing a full grown alligator like a cormorant would swallow a small fish.

The next day I struck out on my own to the Capitol Building.  The congressional offices, Library of Congress, Supreme Court and the Capitol Building are all clustered into an area of D.C. spanning just a few blocks.  As I walked to the capitol building from the Metro station I noticed that most of the people wearing suits also wore small lapel pins.  Curiosity getting the better of me, I asked a passing gentleman what they meant and got a serendipitous reply from him.

“Well, my pin signifies that I’m a member of Congress.” He said.

Turns out, I had run into John Shimkus (R) from the state of Illinois, who must have been on his way back to his office from the debate floor in the Capitol Building. After a quick handshake, he hurried on back to wherever he was going.  I continued on and found the visitor’s entrance to enter the Capitol Building.

One nice thing about Washington D.C. is that most of the museums and government buildings are free to access, but almost every building has some sort of “airport security” that you must pass through to enter.  The security personnel found my small daypack to be rather confounding at the Capitol Building and asked me multiple times if I had travelled outside the U.S. or come in contact with potentially infectious diseases.  I don’t know what alarm bell I must have triggered, but they did eventually let me pass.

The Visitors Center of the Capitol Building was packed full of tourists from around the world, and I took the obligatory tour around the building which was fun but short.  The real treat though was when I inquired about the Congressional Gallery, one of the Visitor Center employees slipped me a pass and I was able to get into the Gallery and watch members of Congress actually debate amendments to a bill.  Dennis Kucinich was present to add a rider regarding foreign drone strikes and verification that the targets were confirmed terrorists.  It was interesting to listen to the debate as the speaker yielded 2 minutes apiece to the various politicians so they could make various arguments about adding protection for California sea otters, funding for autism research, et cetera.  It all seemed like a very convoluted process to me.

The next Saturday, Jason, Jen and I all piled into Jen’s jeep (GP as she likes to call it) and made our way 2 hours to the north to the City of Brotherly Love: Philadelphia.  The Red Sox were in town to play the Phillies in a matchup of nearby rivals.  The game was sold out but we got tickets off of StubHub, and Jason gave me the run down on the checkered history of Phillies fans as we drove north.

We arrived at Citizen’s Bank Park about an hour before the game and were able to find a parking spot in the J lot where we could do a little tail-gating.  Jason really wanted to try a Philly Cheesesteak in Philly, and all the recommendations from the locals were the same: Campo’s in the ballpark.  Campo’s is located in part of the stadium known as Ashburn Alley and has been there since 1947.  Jen and I got the regular cheesesteak sandwich and Jason got the works.  I think we can all agree that it was a fantastic addition to the ballpark experience in Philly.  Deliciously satisfied, we went to our seats up in the nosebleed section above right field.

Since this was a rivalry game, there was a good mix of Philly and BoSox fans in our section.  Citizen’s Park has Standing Room Only tickets and there were also people in our seats.  Once we got seated and settled it was already the 2nd or 3rd inning.   The Red Sox had taken an early lead, but not enough for the exuberant crowd to lose hope, and the tit-for-tat heckling between fans of Red Sox and Phillies matched the up and down trajectory of the scoreboard throughout the innings.  As the game meandered into the later innings and the score increasingly favored the Red Sox, the Phillies fans around us bolstered their confidence with beer and cheered, jeered and some drunk bitches tried to start a wave all the way up until the final out in the bottom of the 9th.  I’ll give Philly’s fans an ‘A’ for effort, those folks really love to support their team.

Orioles Park at Camden Yard in Baltimore

A couple days later, Jason, Jen and I made our final trip together to see the third nearby team to D.C., the Baltimore Orioles.  Jason assured me that Camden Yard would be my favorite stadium of the trip and he did not disappoint.  This time I drove as we all piled into my van and headed north again out of D.C. into the city of Baltimore, Maryland.  Having never been there, Jason explained to me that the Inner Harbor area of Baltimore was very nice and that the city had done a great job cleaning it up, but that the rest of the city was ‘instant death’ as he liked to call it.  Either way, I didn’t get the chance to venture beyond the Inner Harbor area anyway.   We found a local hot dog joint not far from the stadium called Stuggy’s that sells a crab-macaroni-hotdog and just had to try it.  Not only was it delicious, but it was more than a mouthful too. We spent some time liquoring up before heading over the stadium lot for the game.

As we entered the ballpark, I was impressed by the amount of brick used to build Orioles Park (at Camden Yard).  It is not as tall as many of the other stadiums, but it does appear to have considerable seating capacity.  The position of the bullpen to the concourse gives fans great access to view the relief pitchers warming up.  There are brass medallions along the right field walk way to mark the spots were home runs have left the field and bounced down along Eutaw way.  I found several Luke Scott markers embedded in the brick walkway, but my favorite was the 465 foot bronze plaque embedded in the side of a building opposite the park (and way past all the other markers) to mark the Ken Griffey Jr. home run he hit during the home run derby.

Again, the away team for this game was the Boston Red Sox.  We chose to watch the game from deep center field where we could watch both the game and the bullpen from the railing.  The away team bullpen is closest to the fans and the Orioles bullpen is opposite that, closer to the field.   I enjoyed watching the BoSox’s Atkinson warm around the 6th inning but when I left to go get some peanuts another fan (who took my spot on the rail) accidentally kicked over my cup of Natty-Boh beer into the bullpen dugout of the Red Sox.  Apparently he almost got kicked for that, which is a tiny bit of karmic irony that made me smirk appreciatively.

As a Seattle Mariners fan, it was irritating to watch Adam Jones play a great game (Seattle traded Jones and a couple other players to Baltimore for a pitcher named Erik Bedard who was released last season), but then again there were other great plays too.  Chris Davis of Baltimore hit a great home run, as did Big Papi of the Red Sox.  In the end though, the Red Sox out-hit and out-pitched the Orioles to win the game 6-8.   I enjoyed the game, the company and the park but found the O’s fans to be subdued in their enthusiasm.   Perhaps it is a lack of stadium activities, but I was surprised by the relative quietness of the stadium. Maybe Orioles fans just like their baseball like the rest of their city, straight with no chaser.