Ignite Your Natitude! A Guide to the Nationals' Home Opener

Wondering about new food, alternate transportation options and whether there's a free bobblehead in your future? Read on.

Get your ballcaps (and umbrellas) ready... The Washington Nationals are back in town after a long winter off-season! The home opener against the Miami Marlins is set for Thursday, with the first pitch scheduled for 4:05 p.m. -- if the rain doesn't delay it, that is.

The Nats will battle the Marlins twice more over opening weekend, Saturday at 4:05 p.m. and Sunday at 1:35 p.m. Tickets are still available for both games.

If you're looking for team news, go here. But if you're just wondering about new food, Thursday's weather, and whether there's a free bobblehead in your future, read on.

What's going on with the weather?

After Wednesday's frigid weather, temps Thursday will at least be back up in the 60s -- but with a 100 percent chance of rain. Moderate rain is moving through the D.C. area Thursday, although the heaviest rain should be gone by early afternoon.

After that, the rain will be hit and miss, with periods of sunshine. Although Storm Team4 says it's now unlikely that a rain delay will push back the first pitch at 4:05 p.m., it could cause a rain delay later on in the game.

Are there any freebies or special events?

Why, yes, yes there are. They have to start the season right, after all. On opening day, the first 25,000 fans will receive Nationals sunglasses.

On Saturday, the first 20,000 fans age 21 or older will score a Budweiser T-shirt.

On Sunday, kids ages 4-12 will get the chance to run the bases after the game. It’s also a Signature Sunday, when two players will sign autographs from the top of the dugout 70 minutes prior to the first pitch. Fans must obtain a free voucher to participate; they’re available when the gates open at Sections 109 and 142.

And both Saturday and Sunday on opening weekend, Harris Teeter Family Fun Packs are available, offering a ticket and meal deal.

When does the park open?

Center Field Gate will open two and a half hours prior to the start of the game, allowing fans access to the Center Field sands and the Center Field concourse area.

On Thursday, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, the Scoreboard Walk area will open two and a half hours prior to the start of the game. All other gates will open 90 minutes prior to the start of the game, allowing fans access to the entire ballpark.

What's new at the park since last year?

Find the Nats' concessions guide online here. This year, two local food companies will be added to the vendor lineup: Maryland-based Pinch Dumplings and Virginia-based Haute Dogs and Fries, winners of the Pitch Your Product competition, a contest designed to promote local entrepreneurs and help them expand their businesses.

Pinch Dumplings, housed in Section 302, offers handmade, traditional Northern Chinese dumplings made with locally grown, organic ingredients.

Located in Section 105, Haute Dogs and Fries uses locally sourced ingredients to cook up affordable but ballpark-worthy dogs.

Anheuser-Busch is the Nats' new beer partner this year, a switch from MillerCoors, the team's primary beer partner since 2005. Don't worry, beers from outside the Anheuser-Busch InBev portfolio will still be sold at the park.

What about the rest of the neighborhood?

The area around Nats Park is expanding, leaving several holes as lots prepare for construction. Since the end of the 2015 season, a Hampton Inn and several restaurants including sports bar chain Buffalo Wild Wings and Il Parco, which specializes in Neapolitan-style pizza, have joined the neighborhood. Whaley's, a raw bar and seafood restaurant, and The Brig, a beer garden, are among the other Capitol Riverfront joints expected to open in spring 2016, according to JDLand.com. A number of residential units are anticipating completion after the 2016 season.

What do you need to know about security?

Everyone attending the game will need to pass through metal detectors -- so make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to get through the line. If you won't want to walk through, you can be checked with a handheld metal detector. Security agents will also conduct bag checks and will have new security efforts both seen and unseen by patrons.

What can you -- and can't you -- bring into the ballpark?

You're allowed to bring in one unopened bottle of water, as well as your own food in a single-serving bag. You're also permitted to bring cameras, but lenses can't be longer than 8 inches. 

You can't bring in any bag larger than 16"x16"x8" (about the size of a tote bag) or any umbrella that can't be collapsed. Metal, plastic and glass containers (other than that one water bottle) are also not allowed.

Attending Thursday’s home opener at Nats Park? News4’s Kristin Wright shares what to expect.

What's the best way to get there?

Metrorail: Of course, you can always take the Metro (Green Line to the Navy Yard station), but you knew that already. During playoff games, officials were recommending that Metro riders use alternate stations, but the Navy Yard station can accommodate 24,000 passengers an hour, which should be fine this early in the season.

Metrobus: Several Metrobus routes serve the ballpark: the A9 Limited and V1 (during rush hours only), as well as the V4, 74 and P6. 

Circulator: If Metro's not your top pick, consider the D.C. Circulator, which is often less crowded than the Metro. The Union Station-Navy Yard route runs every 10 minutes to and from Union Station (Metro's Red Line). It stops at the Eastern Market Metro (Blue, Orange and Silver lines) on the way; see a map of the complete route here. Extended service will run during all Nationals home games. Metro riders can transfer to the Circulator for just 50 cents.

Bicycle: If you'd prefer to ride your bike, you can use the free bike valet service in Garage C at the corner of N & 1st Street SE. The valet is on N Street just left of the entrance. You'll also find 250 bike racks around the exterior of the park. There are also several Capital Bikeshare stations near the stadium, including:

  • 1st and N Streets SE
  • 1st and K Streets SE
  • M Street and New Jersey Avenue, SE
  • 3rd and Tingey Streets SE

Taxi: Due to construction along Van Street SE, the Taxicab drop-off area before the game will be located on the east side of Half Street SE, just north of M Street SE. After the game, the Taxicab Stand pickup area is located on the north side of M Street SE, between South Capitol SE and Half Street SE.

Water taxi: Two water taxi companies can bring you to Diamond Teague Park, located behind Nats Park. American River Taxi travels between Georgetown, the Southwest Waterfront and the park; Potomac Riverboat Company travels between National Harbor and Alexandria.

Driving/Parking: Driving to Nats Park is a bold (and expensive) move, but if you have the patience, and the cash, here's a guide to parking lots around the stadium. (Note: JDLand.com also has a handy parking guide here.)

However, DDOT is warning drivers to expect heavy traffic and delays around the ballpark and on routes such as Interstates 295, 695, 395 and the Southeast/Southwest Freeway, plus the intersection of South Capitol and M streets SE. Construction on the Capitol Crossing Project in the 3rd Street tunnel will also cause some delays, DDOT said.

The following streets adjacent to the ballpark will be closed three hours before the start of each home game and may remain closed up to three hours after a game ends:

  • N Street SE, between Van Street and 1st Street SE
  • Half Street SE, between M Street and N Street, SE
News4 traffic reporter Melissa Mollet has the traffic news for April 7, 2016.

Carissa DiMargo contributed to this report.

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