Ballpark Roadtrips: RFK Stadium

The stadium was opened in October 1961 as the District of Columbia Stadium (D.C. Stadium for short). The stadium was renamed in January 1969, for U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated in Los Angeles the previous June. The announcement was made by Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall on January 18, in the last days of the Johnson Administration.

As attorney general in the early 1960s, Kennedy’s Justice Department played a role in the racial integration of the Redskins. Along with Udall, Kennedy threatened to revoke the team’s lease at the federally-owned stadium until it promised to sign African American players.

The expansion Washington Senators of the American League played at RFK Stadium from 1962 through 1971. They played their first season in 1961 at Griffith Stadium, now the site of the medical center for Howard University.

In its ten seasons as the Senators’ home field, RFK Stadium was known as a hitters’ park. Slugger Frank Howard hit a number of tape-measure home runs in his career, a few of which landed in the center field area of the upper deck. The seats he hit with his home runs are painted white, rather than the gold of the rest of the upper deck. Left fielder Howard came to the Senators from the Los Angles Dodgers in 1965. He also hit the last home run in the park’s original tenure, in the sixth inning on September 30, 1971. With two outs in the top of the ninth, a fan riot turned a 7–5 Senators lead over the New York Yankees into a 9–0 forfeit loss, the first in the majors in 17 years.

The Senators only had one season over .500, in 1969, and never made the postseason. The stadium hosted the All-Star Game twice, in 1962 (first of two) and 1969, both won by the visiting National League. President Kennedy threw out the first ball at the 1962 game.

Formerly the Montreal Expos, the Washington Nationals of the National League played their first three seasons (2005–2007) at the stadium, while Nationals Park was under construction. While at RFK, it was the fourth-oldest active stadium in the majors, behind Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, and Yankee Stadium.

Unlike the Senators era, as the Nationals’ home field, RFK was known as a pitchers’ park. While Howard hit at least 44 home runs for three straight seasons (1968–70), the 2005 Nationals had only one hitter with more than 15 home runs, José Guillén with 24. However, in his lone season with the team in 2006, Alfonso Soriano hit 46 home runs.

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Ballpark: F – This team left Montreal to come to this dump? Did you hear about the two versions of the Washington Senators left this city in 1960 and 1971? They are now the Twins and Rangers. Hopefully the new park will much better than this stadium. Glad I made here before they moved to new ballpark.

Fans & Atmosphere: F – Place is a dump and a expansion team plays here. Did not meet anybody who was a Senators fans. Just Orioles fans who hate the owner and hate driving to Baltimore. More New Yorkers who came to see Mets play over weekend.

Food: F – What’s the signature food here? “HUH?” A hot dog is safe here said one usher. Tried the pulled pork from the barbecue grill with sides. These must of been leftovers from when the Redskins played here.

Mascot: B – Okay, the Presidents Race was fun, ripping off Milwaukee’s Sausage Race. But Screech needs some help from former Orioles fans.

Staff: C – Ushers were nice allowing me walk around and telling to sit in certain locations to get my shots. Hot dog vendors had ankle bracelets from courts. Staff worth no uniforms, hard to tell who was an employee or on work furlough from the D.C. Public Defender’s office.

Team Tradition: D – Remember that two franchises have split this town already. The Expos history was left in Montreal. The Nationals are considering themselves a new franchise and honoring DC’s baseball legacy. Can’t wait for Casey Cox bobblehead night. “Washington: First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League.” Now last in the National League East.

Location: D – My God, what in hell did I drive through to get here? Where’s the bridge back to Maryland?

Photos taken Aug. 17, 2007, using a Canon EOS 30D Digital SLR with a EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM Standard Zoom Lens.

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