On March 14, 2006, Washington, D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams, the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission and the Washington Nationals unveiled plans for a 41,000-seat state-of-the-art baseball stadium located in Southeast D.C. Seven weeks later, on May 4, ground was officially broken on the ballpark site. Washington opened Nationals Park on March 30, 2008 with a 3-2 win over ATL, televised nationally on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball. President George W. Bush threw the ceremonial first pitch, then Ryan Zimmerman led the club to victory with a game-ending solo shot in the ninth inning.
Pro baseball teams were formed in our nation's capital beginning in the early 1870s and those franchises played their games in ballparks commonly known as Swampoodle Grounds, Capitol Grounds and Boundary Field.
In 1892, the Washington Senators joined the expanding National League and began playing their home games at a site that would host professional baseball games into the early 1960s. From 1892-99, the Senators played at National Park, which had a seating capacity of approximately 6,500. Although never finishing above sixth place, the team drew fairly well, including more than 200,000 fans in 1896. When the National League contracted from 12 franchises to eight following the 1899 season, the team was disbanded. However, it would only be two seasons before a professional team occupied that site again.
During those two years, former Western League president Ban Johnson was working to put together a second Major League to rival the NL. In 1901, the American League began play with eight franchises, including the Washington Nationals.
This franchise would play its home games on the same site as the previous National League Washington team, but the ballpark was appropriately renamed American League Base Ball Park and the capacity was expanded to nearly 10,000.
On March 17, 1911, tragedy struck the American League Base Ball Park. The all-wooden ballpark and four surrounding buildings were completely destroyed by a fire started by a plumber's blow lamp and a strong wind. American League Base Ball Park could not be saved as plumbers working on the park's drain pipes had shut off the water supply and by the time firefighters arrived, the grand stand and bleachers were engulfed in flames. At the time, the loss of the ballpark was estimated at $20,000.
Thomas C. Noyes, president of the Washington franchise, gained approval from the Board of Directors to announce that work would begin immediately on a new ballpark with a steel grandstand. With the players at Spring Training and Opening Day less than a month away, crews worked tirelessly to get the ballpark ready for the home opener.
By Opening Day 1911, the grandstands were sufficiently erected for the Nationals to host the Boston Red Sox with President William Howard Taft in attendance. The work on the ballpark continued when the team was on the road and was completed on July 24, 1911 at a final cost of approximately $100,000. Seating capacity was more than 27,000, including a presidential box near the first base dugout.
In 1920, the American League Base Ball Park was renamed Griffith Stadium in recognition of the franchise's owner and president, Clark Griffith. The only major alteration to the ballpark was also made in 1920 as the double-decked stands were extended from the bases to the foul poles. During the late-1930s and 1940s, Griffith Stadium had another part-time tenant - the famed Homestead Grays of the Negro Leagues. Originally from Pennsylvania, the Grays played half of their games at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh and half at Griffith Stadium when the Washington franchise was on the road. Some of the most revered players in Negro League history played for the Grays, including Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, Cool Papa Bell and Sam Bankhead, as they won nine Negro League championships.
Griffith Stadium, which also hosted the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in 1937 and 1956 and three World Series in 1924, 1925 and 1933, remained the home of the Washington franchise until it was moved to Minneapolis following the 1960 season.
The expansion Washington Senators played their inaugural season at Griffith Stadium in 1961 before moving into District of Columbia Stadium for the 1962 season.
After having been the site of professional baseball in Washington, D.C., since 1892, the final game at Griffith Stadium was played on Sept. 21, 1961 as the Senators fell to Minnesota, 4-3, before a crowd of 1,498 fans. Griffith Stadium was demolished in 1965 and the land is now utilized by Howard University. Nearly 1,000 of the original seats from Griffith Stadium were moved to a Spring Training facility near Orlando, Fla., Tinker Field. A federally-owned stadium, District of Columbia Stadium was a new three-tiered, multi-purpose facility constructed near the Potomac River at a cost of approximately $24 million. The Senators signed a 10-year lease on September 29, 1961 with the D.C. Armory Board for the stadium, which had a seating capacity of 45,016.
On April 9, 1962, the Senators played their first regular season game at District of Columbia Stadium. A crowd of 42,143 - including President John F. Kennedy - saw Senators pitcher Bennie Daniels defeat the Detroit Tigers, 4-1. Interestingly enough, Daniels suffered the loss at both the final game at Ebbets Field in 1957 and the final game at Griffith Stadium in 1961.
Under the direction of the D.C. Armory Board, the stadium was officially renamed Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium on January 18, 1969. The 1969 Major League Baseball All-Star Game was the fourth hosted by the Senators and the second at RFK Stadium (also first game in 1962). Despite the American League dropping a 9-3 decision to the National League, Washington fans saw future Hall of Famer Willie McCovey hit a pair of homers and hometown favorite Frank Howard hit one as well.
In 1971, the Senators played their final season at RFK Stadium before moving to Arlington, Tex. The final regular season Major League Baseball game was played at RFK on September 30, 1971. Washington hosted the New York Yankees before a crowd of just 14,460 in a game that was never finished. The Senators were holding on to a 7-5 lead with two outs in the top of the ninth inning when fans rushed the field. The umpiring crew could not clear the field and the game was forfeited to the Yankees, 9-0, per MLB forfeit rules.
RFK Stadium hosted 16 exhibition games involving Major League teams after the Senators moved in 1971. A portion of the proceeds from most of the games was donated to various charities. Attendance at the 16 contests averaged more than 27,600 per game. Following is a listing of those games:
|May 22, 1972||PIT vs. BAL||30,112|
|August 14, 1972||BOS vs. NYM||32,432|
|April 5, 1987||NYM 1, PHI 0 (5 innings/rain)||45,614|
|April 3, 1988||NYM 10, BAL 7||36,123|
|April 1, 1989||BAL 6, PIT 4||24,877|
|April 2, 1989||BAL 7, STL 6 (10 innings)||37,204|
|April 7, 1990||STL 11, BAL 10||21,298|
|April 6, 1991||BOS 4, BAL 1||37,458|
|April 7, 1991||BOS 6, BAL 5||43,264|
|April 4, 1992||BOS 4, BAL 3||20,501|
|April 5, 1992||BOS 9, PHI 3||16,823|
|April 2, 1993||NYM vs. NYY||Postponed (Rain)|
|April 3, 1993||PIT 4, BAL 3||23,575|
|April 2, 1994||MIL 8, DET 3||14,376|
|April 3, 1994||MIL vs. DET||Cancelled|
|April 2, 1999||MON 5, STL 4||20,640|
|April 3, 1999||STL 2, MON 1||30,112|