The next stop on my trip was Washington DC. I had been to DC a few times before but I had never actually seen anything. Last time I visited I went and spent time with my friend who was injured in Iraq and was held up at Walter Reed Medical Center. As a veteran it is very important for me to give back to the veteran community as much as I can. I decided since I was in the area I would stop by Walter Reed once again and see if any soldiers needed somebody to hang out with for a little bit. I entered Walter Reed into my GPS and made my way to the front gate. When I got there the people at the security checkpoint informed me that Walter Reed was no longer a functioning facility and there was a new facility for our wounded warriors. They gave me the address and I headed over there. I made my way onto the base after receiving directions from a Navy security officer who was working the gate. I loaded my book bag with stuff I’ve collected from different ballparks; programs, magnet schedules, books, etc. When I was in Iraq and Afghanistan I liked to decorate my personal areas with things from my favorite sports teams. I figured these soldiers could get better use of this stuff than I could. I made my way to the hospital building and asked an Army Specialist if there was any way I could hang out with some soldiers who were kind of lonely. She looked at me like I was from Neptune and told me to hold on while she asked her supervisors. She came back and told me that I would have to talk to somebody in the Red Cross office and gave me the number. I dialed the number and asked the lady on the phone if it would be possible to visit some soldiers. She explained to me that this was a time for soldiers to deal with their new situations and get reacquainted with their families. She told me I could come to her office and discuss it further if I would like. I chose that option hoping I could have a better chance if I were there in person. I made my way to her office and was greeted with the same response. We talked for a while and she told me that the Army just doesn’t allow random visits anymore. I found out that this woman was in Iraq and Afghanistan at the same times that I was and she recently helped the closing of a Red Cross office in Baghdad. She told me that my best chance of interacting with our wounded heroes was at their dining facility. She gave me directions to their dining hall but they weren’t the best. They were directions that locals would understand but a new person could get confused easily. I must of made a wrong turn and found myself heading outside of the base. Rather than go through the hassle of going back onto base and trying to find my way around I gave up. I made my way through the awful DC traffic and found my hotel.
The Nationals game didn’t start until 7:05 so I had some time to kill. The number one priority on my tourist to do list was seeing Arlington National Cemetery. I have driven by and seen it from a distance before but I wanted to pay my respect to true American Heroes. As I went into the welcome center I noticed all the pictures of ceremonies at Arlington. As was taking pictures I received a call from a friend I was in Afghanistan with. I told him where I was and he told me he always wanted to see it but thought it would be too emotional for him. For somebody who truly understands the sacrifice of the men and women who are laid to rest here it can be a bit overwhelming. I started walking towards the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers. There is a big monument where JFK is buried but I had no interest in seeing that. Yes he’s one of our most captivating American Presidents but to me Arlington is about the soldiers. I got to the Tomb of The Unknown Soldiers as they were just completing the changing of the guard. The changing of the guard is a ceremony that takes place every 30 minutes. The tomb is guarded 24/7 no matter what the weather is like. The soldiers who guard it and the most disciplined respectable soldiers I have ever seen. It is the most honorable position in the military and my hat go’s off to each and every one of them. I stuck around and watched the full ceremony. I was blown away. It’s an amazing experience. I was lucky enough to be there for a presentation of a wreath ceremony. It’s a simple ceremony where a group of four people give a wreath on behalf of a larger group to honor the unknown soldiers. Part of this is a trumpet player who plays taps. Every time I hear taps it brings tears to my eyes. I put my sun glasses down and watched. For any soldier who has been at a ceremony overseas and witnessed the final roll call, the soldiers cross, and taps being played for a fallen soldier you are changed forever. It is easy to tell who the veterans are when you are walking through Arlington. With groups of children on tours and other people talking the veterans are silent. As they walk past the graves they read the names, they wonder how that person lost their life, and they thank them in silence. Arlington National Cemetery is a very somber place for veterans such as myself. Next time I am there I hope there’s not many more graves.
I didn’t receive any free tickets from the Washington Nationals organization so I hopped on my stubhub app and bought a ticket for $2. Getting down to the stadium is easy if you can stomach the DC traffic. Once I got down there I found a spot to park for $10 a few blocks from the park. I kept hearing that it was in a rough neighborhood but it really didn’t seem too bad to me. I bought a thing of peanuts from a vendor outside for $2 and made my way towards the gate. I didn’t have an actual ticket or even a printed one so I went over to the Ticket Service window and asked if they could print me one. They guy said it was no problem and printed one for me. As I was standing there I heard a man ask for a printed ticket because he printed his tickets offline and was visiting all 30 parks and wanted a ticket. I asked him which park he was on he said it was number 8. I got excited and introduced myself to him telling him that I was doing the same thing. Lee informed me that he was from Detroit in DC on business. He is trying to get to all 30 ballparks but not in one summer.
When I got inside the park I instantly enjoyed the vibe of the park. At the main entrance they had their four president mascots taking pictures with fans. I took a look at the field and wandered around. I saw a batting cage area so I decided to check it out. The lady who was working as I walked in informed me that there was different areas for pitching and batting. On the walls they had diagrams showing you differnet things like how to throw a curve ball or how to properly swing a bat. I started talking to Chris, an employee of the area, and he explained to me all the different diagrams and how the pitching/hitting games worked. He told me that this was his second season working there. He was incredibly knowledgeable and was a good fit to work in that area.
Walking around the park was interesting to people watch. There were more people in business suits than I’d seen at all other parks combined. I also noticed that it seemed to be a melting pot for baseball fans. I noticed people wearing Tigers, Indians, Yankees, Red Sox gear. I also noticed a lot of Montreal Expos hats which I thought were pretty cool. The park was pretty empty so I made my way to the upper levels. When a park is empty I like to see the view from the very top seat if possible. I sat there for a bit and decided to find my seat. As I was walking down I noticed that the second deck was like a giant party area. When that place is filled later this summer I bet it will be a blast. Another cool thing I noticed about the park is there are lounge areas everywhere. There are tons of places to sit and enjoy a drink or eat your food at a picnic table.
My seat for $2 was pretty amazing. It was on the 1st base line right in foul ball territory. Several came over my way but I was unable to snag one. My section was a ton of fun. There was one super fan in front of me who was dressed to the 9’s. He had a fuzzy red hat and scarf with a blinking Michael Jackson glove and he kept getting the crowd pumped up. The section was also getting fired up by the camera man who was assigned to our area. Anytime they did something on the jumbotron such as kiss cam or dance cam people in my area got on. The mascots kept making their way to our area as well. Up close I also noticed that they were kind of creepy looking but the children loved them.
During the game the Nationals welcomed home a group of veterans that were give a suite. The crowd absolutely erupted for a standing ovation that seemed to last forever. It always makes me proud when I see a group of veterans being honored in that way.
I really enjoyed my experience at the park. It is extremely fan friendly and the people were really nice. That is defiantly a park I would like to visit for a Saturday afternoon game.
Keep On Smilin- It’s Baseball Season!