D.C. Stadium – RFK Stadium

October 12th, 2013
by Byron Bennett

RFK Stadium is located at 2400 East Capitol Street in southeast Washington, D.C. The stadium was home to the American League Washington Senators starting in 1962. Known then as D.C. Stadium, in 1969 the ballpark was renamed in memory of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. The Senators played at RFK through the 1971 season, when the franchise moved to Arlington, Texas, and was renamed the Texas Rangers. Prior to RFK, the Senators played their home games at Griffith Stadium.

RFK Stadium/Armory Complex Postcard (L.B. Prince Co. and Dexter Press)

RFK is a multi-purpose stadium which also hosted the National Football League Washington Redskins beginning in 1961, through the 1996 season. Likewise, Major League Soccer’s D.C. United has called RFK its home since 1996. The stadium has hosted other professional sports teams such as the Washington Freedom and the Washington Diplomats.

Seats Removed During RFK Stadium's Renovation Prior to Baseball's Return in 2005

In Septemer 2004, Major League Baseball announced that the Montreal Expos franchise was moving to Washington.

RFK Stadium Winter 2004 Preparing for Return of Baseball to D.C.

After a 33 year hiatus, baseball returned to Washington and RFK Stadium commencing in 2005.

Nationals Team Store Located in RFK Parking Lot

Major League Baseball owned the team when it moved the franchise to Washington. As a nod to baseball history, MLB christened the team the Washington Nationals.

RFK Stadium Opening Day 2005

The name was a homage to the city’s earliest professional baseball teams, the 1884 Union Association Washington Nationals, and the 1891 American Association Washington Nationals. The name also was a nod to the American League Senators which sometimes was referred to as Nationals or Nats, and from 1905 to 1906 had the word NATIONALS” emblazoned on its uniform (thanks RUken!).

Medal Detectors Outside Gate A RFK Stadium Opening Day 2005

On Opening Day 2005, President George W. Bush was on hand to throw out the first pitch.

Opening Ceremonies 2005

RFK was the fourth multi-purpose stadium built in the country, Municipal Stadium in Cleveland being the first. Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium was the second such stadium and Metropolitan Stadium in Minneapolis was the third. Thus, RFK is the oldest multi-purpose stadium still standing in the United States.

Batting Practice at RFK Stadium

Home plate was positioned facing east, toward the Whitney Young Memorial Bridge. The stadium’s distinctive, wavy roof line curved upward, optimizing its seating capacity along first and third base.

RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C.

The upper reaches of the stadium along first and third base offered quite a sense of vertigo.

It Was A Long Way to the Infield From the Last Row at RFK

The press box for Redskin games was located in the upper deck on the first base side. When the Nationals arrived in 2005, the press box was covered over with signage.

Supports for Roof Over RFK 's Upper Deck With Football Press Box in Background

All the yellow seats in the upper deck are wooden and date back to when the ballpark opened in 1961.

A Sea of Yellow, Wooden Seats at RFK Stadium

To accommodate the dimensions and seating for football and soccer, the lower bowl seating along third base and up to the left field corner were mounted on rollers and moved along a track into the outfield behind left field. Those seats, lacking a rigid foundation underneath, bounced when fans jumped up and down on them.

Third Base Side Dugout Exposed to Accomodate D.C. United's Field

Because space was needed in the outfield to accommodate the movable seats, fans situated in the lower reaches of the outfield seats sat high above the action.

Night Game View of RFK Stadium's Cavernous Outfield

RFK Stadium was the last major league baseball park in the country where fans could walk around the entire perimeter of the upper deck seating bowl and see the game.

View From Center Field Upper Deck, RFK Stadium

The Presidents Race originated at RFK Stadium in 2005, growing out of the PNC Dollar Derby – a cartoon shown on the video board pitting George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Alexander Hamilton (note, he was not a president) in a car race. The Presidents Race, featuring live mascots, began during the 2006 season.

The Nationals's Presidents Race Started at RFK Stadium

The main entrance to RFK Stadium is the eastern most entrance at Gate D. Above that entrance is a mezzanine which includes a restaurant typically reserved for use by season ticket holders.

Champions Club, RFK Stadiu

Hall of Famer Frank Robinson was the Nationals first manager, having managed the Montreal Expos prior to their arrival in Washington. He often stood along the dugout fence (the National’s home dugout at RFK was along third base) and was easy to spot, even from the stands behind the third base dugout.

Frank Robinson's Last Day As Manager at RFK Stadium in 2006

The 2007 baseball season was to be the last one played at RFK.

RFK Opening Day 2007

During the 2007 season the Nationals placed a countdown banner in left field noting the number of home games left at RFK.

RFK's Count Down Banner

On September 23, 2007, the Nationals played their final game at RFK, a 5–3 win over the Philadelphia Phillies. The announced attendance for that game was 40,519.

RFK Video Board Announces That the End is Nigh For Baseball

Thirty-six years earlier, on September 30, 1971, the Senators played their last game in front of 14,460 fans. However, the game was declared a forfeit when, with two outs in the top of the ninth inning and the Senators leading the Yankees 7-5, fans rushed the field. The final home game of the Washington Nationals was a much more civil affair.

The Last Day of Professional Baseball at RFK Stadium

The Washington Nationals now play their home games in Nationals Park, located two and a half miles southwest of RFK Stadium.

Nationals Park, Home of the Washington Nationals

RFK Stadium is not yet a lost ballpark. Its main tenant currently is D.C. United, which has a lease to play its home games at RFK through the 2015 season.

Major League Soccer Is Still Played at RFK, For Now

Once D.C. United leaves RFK, however, it will be only a matter of time before RFK is consigned to history. Having lasted over 50 years, it remains one of the oldest ballparks still standing in the United States. If you haven’t been there yet, be sure to take the time to stop for a picture when you are in D.C., or perhaps take in a soccer game.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in D.C. Stadium/RFK Stadium, Washington DC ballparks | Comments (5)

  • Avatar RUKen says:

    You wrote: As a nod to baseball history, MLB christened the team the Washington Nationals. The name was a homage to the city’s earliest professional baseball teams, the 1884 Union Association Washington Nationals, and the 1891 American Association Washington Nationals.

    The American League franchise was also known as the Nationals (in addition to being called the Senators). The home uniforms in 1905 and 1906 had “NATIONALS” across the chest, the first time that a team nickname was used on major league uniforms. Although the “Nationals” nickname fell into disuse, the teams (including the expansion team) were often called “the Nats” in the newspapers.

  • Byron Bennett Byron Bennett says:

    Hello RUKen – Thanks for the additional insights. I remember as a kid referring to the Senators as the Nats. When I first heard the term used, I thought it was a reference to the annoying bugs that used to hover around my head when playing baseball in the summer. As an eight year old child, however, I soon found out, of course, that it was short for Nationals. I will add your information to the post.

    Thanks again.

  • Avatar Austin says:

    Frank Robinson had an earlier memory of RFK when he hit 2 grand slams in one game, I believe in 1971.

  • Byron Bennett Byron Bennett says:

    Hey Austin

    Good call. I had to check because I did not know. It was 1970 and I now know that the same runners were on base for his back to back grand slams. McNally was on third, Buford was on second, and Blair was on first.

  • Leave a Reply

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.