‘Soul-crushing’: Nats Park sits empty after coronavirus concerns delay opening day

Nats Park sits empty after opening day was postponed due to coronavirus concerns April 1, 2021.

Justin Cox, CEO of Atlas Brew Works, called the delay of opening day “soul crushing.”

All-Purpose Pizzeria owner Mike Friedman said they expected hurdles throughout the season as the region still tries to get a grip on the pandemic.


The Nationals’ Opening Day game against the Mets has been postponed due to coronavirus concerns, the team announced Thursday just before noon.

The news comes one day after the Nationals reported that one player had tested positive for COVID-19, and four others were quarantining.

Both teams are off Friday, but the game will not be made up then, the team said. The Nats’ next scheduled game is Saturday, also against the Mets.

Read more from The Associated Press.

Justin Cox, CEO of Atlas Brew Works — who recently opened a restaurant just outside of the ballpark — called the delay “soul-crushing.” The restaurant on Half Street opened last March, around the time the city went into lockdown in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.

It would have been Atlas Brew Works’ first opening day.

“We were super excited to have it today, and then of course the news came through and sort of pulled the rug out from underneath us,” he said.

Cox said the restaurant has not yet had the chance to experience “normal” life around the ballpark.

All-Purpose Pizzeria owner Mike Friedman said he expected hurdles throughout the season as the region still tries to get a grip on the pandemic.

“We were certainly disappointed; we knew that we were gonna hit some of these road bumps along the way — we certainly would have wanted our opening day to be today,” Friedman said. “Silver-linings is maybe we’ll get some better weather later on in the week or early next week, and we’ll be ready for the Nats when they come through then.”

When the stadium gates finally open to let fans into Nats Park, there will be a number of readily-apparent changes made in order to comply with pandemic safety protocols.

Only 5,000 fans will be allowed in the stands, per D.C.’s coronavirus-restrictions. Other changes you can expect? Virtual tickets, color-coded gates, touchless ketchup, no-cash concessions and more.

“We have a few change here around the ballpark, but our goal is to make sure we’re able to provide the safest and most fun experience for our guests right now,” said Jonathan Stahl, vice president of experience and hospitality for the Nationals.

“We’re asking our fans to respect the rules we’ve put in place — they’re there for a reason, they’re not just arbitrary — and that way, by following those, hopefully we’ll be able to increase capacity over time by working with the city.”

To make sure entry goes as smoothly as possible, Stahl asked visitors to familiarize themselves with the new protocols prior to their arrival, and downloading the ballpark app — which will also be the only way to order concessions in the building.

Hawkers won’t be accepting cash: All will be equipped with credit card machines offering swipe and contactless pay options. Bags larger than 5″x7″ by 3/4″ are prohibited, including purses, as the park wants to limit contact between staff and guests by eliminating the need for bag checks.

“If you can carry it in your hands through the metal detector, you can bring it in the building, but otherwise we’re asking you to keep it at home,” Stahl said.

While baseball fans eagerly await to see the team in person, the chances of getting your hands on affordable tickets might be challenging, as Major League Baseball is prioritizing existing season ticket holders.

“I have a feeling that those 5,000 are going to feel like a heck of a lot more, the place felt so eerily quiet last year with fake crowd noises and pigeons everywhere,” said Dan Kolko, a broadcaster who officially joined the Nats this season after leaving the mid-Atlantic Sports Network.

“These are die-hard fans that have been trying to get in front of their ballclub for over a year now — they’re so fired up, and the players are fired up to have them, so I think it’s gonna make for a great atmosphere.”

The Nationals finished 17-23 against NL East Division opponents in 2020, batting .264 as a team last year and hitting 66 total home runs; the Mets went 17-23 in division play in 2020, and averaged 9.2 hits per game last year, batting .272 as a team, The Associated Press reported.

More Washington Nationals News

WTOP’s John Domen, Mike Murillo and Zeke Hartner contributed to this report.

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2012 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He's the author of "A Walking Tour of the Georgetown Set" and "I Got a Song: A History of the Newport Folk Festival."

Alejandro Alvarez

Alejandro Alvarez joined WTOP as a digital journalist and editor in June 2018. He is a reporter and photographer focusing on politics, political activism and international affairs.

Abigail Constantino

Abigail Constantino started her journalism career writing for a local newspaper in Fairfax County, Virginia. She is a graduate of American University and The George Washington University.

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