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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Virtual Roger Clemens Is a Headhunter

At Nationals Park last night, we spent a fair amount of time walking around the stadium, checking it out. One advantage of building a state-of-the-art baseball stadium on the Anacostia riverfront in DC was that there was a lot of land available. So the stadium is actually huge. There's an enormous section behind the centerfield scoreboard for families, including a playground and virtual reality pitching and hitting cages.

I'm not sure "virtual reality" is the right term here, because the balls are real. The batting cages allow you to face a big-league pitcher, who appears on the screen (my guess is that it's less than sixty feet six inches away). The pitcher winds up and throws--and the ball looks like it comes out of the screen, off the pitcher's hand. It's an amazing optical effect. The ball actually comes through a hole in the screen, but the hole is pretty well camouflaged. So it gives the effect of facing a big-league pitcher (without the 90-plus MPH fastball). We had to watch for awhile just because it was so cool.

But don't go up against virtual Roger Clemens. He was throwing at one kid last night and plunked him once. Apparently, the balls aren't real baseballs, because the kid didn't writhe around in pain afterwards. Or, maybe they should adjust the pitching machine.

The pitching simulation is similar--you throw the baseball at a screen, and the hitter (of your choice) swings at strikes. The screen clocks your pitches, too. I really wanted to face David Justice circa 1995, but they didn't have that program for some reason.

Also, the new ballpark has good food selections (including Ben's Chili Bowl), many kinds of beer (including good draft beer), and liquor. In the upper deck, no less.

One of the features I really liked was "the Red Porch" in the center field bleachers area (or, where the bleachers would normally be). This is kind of like low-rent club seating. There's a restaurant for the section, and the seats are padded. They also afford an excellent view of the field (think bleachers at the Jake, but padded! padded seat backs!). I know because we snuck down there after the seventh inning and watched the end of the game. I don't know how much these cost, but they would be pretty attractive for a night game (I would be reluctant to sit there for a day game--the sun would burn you up alive).


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