Nationals Park has an activity called the Strike Zone that they tout as being part of the family fun portion of the Nats Park experience. The place is called the Exxon Strike Zone, presumably because Exxon has paid some advertising fee to have it’s name associated with the place. No one from Exxon has visited it lately. If they did, they would insist that the name of their company get painted over ASAP. The place is an embarrassment.
Ostensibly, the Strike Zone is a place where fans can spend some time pitching to major league batters and hitting against major league pitchers with a background video arcade type game. The Strike Zone has two pitching stations and one batting cage. The place has the atmosphere of a run down arcade at the beach that hasn’t had any money spent on it since 1965.
I took my son and one of his friends to a game featuring Michael Morse bobblehead day. We arrived at the park early to make sure we received that wonderful promotional item. We had an hour and a half to kill on a very hot day and were looking for somewhere to get out of the sun. My son suggested we go to the Strike Zone to pass some time.
The day we were there, one of the pitching stations was out of order and appeared to have been for a long time. The pitching activity features a major league batter to whom you get to pitch. I watched seven children try this out. The machine does not count the pitch thrown as a strike unless the video batter swings at it, which he never does. No matter where the pitch is thrown, the batter does not swing and the machine calls it a ball. Every child got to throw four pitches and they were done. It did not matter if the pitch went into the strike zone and should have been called a strike, it was a ball. It was as if the worse major league umpire in the universe was working the plate.
The batting cage is no better. My son warned his friend before he went in there to hit that he was going to see one pitch to hit, and the rest were going to be balls. That advice turned out to be completely accurate. The pitching machine is not properly set, and almost every pitch was way too high or way too low. Some pitches bounced in front of the plate. One child while he was batting right handed was hit in the leg with the pitch from the machine. He turned around to bat from the left side, and two pitches later got hit again. The kid wasn’t crowding the plate. The pitching machine was that badly set. The gentleman working the cage did nothing to adjust the pitching machine. According to my son and others who were hanging around the Strike Zone, the pitching machine is never set properly. Setting a pitching machine is not particularly difficult. Either the employees have not been taught to care that it is not set right, or it can’t be set right because something is wrong with it and Nats management won’t purchase a new one. The photo accompanying this article was found on Yahoo images from www.flicker.com. The caption accompanying the photo says, “I forgot who he picked, but he got beaned by one of the pitches. Ouch.” Apparently the deficiencies of the pitching machine have been a problem long enough that it is leaking its way into cyberspace.
Most of the major league hitters and pitchers featured in the games are not current players. One of the featured pitchers was Pedro Martinez. Really? The pitching and hitting lineups would have been relevant in 1996. The games appeared to be some used crap the Nats picked up cheap from some E-bay source selling obsolete games.
The place is kinda dark and dingy. The paint is faded. The day I was there, which was one of those nasty upper 90’s days we have endured this summer in DC, some of the overhead ceiling fans were not working. Several of the light fixtures were either broken or had burned out bulbs.
The whole place looks neglected and beat up.
It shouldn’t be that way. How much would some fresh paint and repairs to the lights and fans really cost? How about some updated games or a new pitching machine? I just checked on Ebay–there’s lots of pitching machines available–cheap.
Considering that the only other activities for kids at Nats Park are Build A Bear (just what every young Nats fan wants–a stuffed Screech) and a jungle gym play yard for young children, the Nats need to update and upgrade the Strike Zone. It is the only baseball related activity at the park for the fans. Right now it’s not worth visiting.