New at Nationals Park: Easier entry, hot chicken and a sportsbook

Washington Nationals fans have been snapping up the team’s cherry blossom-inspired new jerseys and a cuddly stuffed sloth, but there’s another accessory they might want to find before heading to the ballpark this season: a clear plastic bag.

The Nationals have a new, streamlined entry system this season, trading the previous airport-style magnetometers for something called CEIA Opengate. Fans walk between two pillars, keeping cellphones, keys and other items in their pockets, says Scott Fear, the team’s vice president of public safety and security, and proceed directly to the turnstiles without stopping.

“With this technology, we do not expect to have any lines outside of our stadium except before gates open,” Fear says. “Once gates open, we expect people to walk through single file. Lines will dissipate, and everyone will be much quicker.”

At a media preview Wednesday morning, reporters with pockets laden with personal items were able to stroll through the gates at a normal-to-brisk pace without triggering any alerts. Anyone who sets off an alarm will be directed to a table for further inspection.

The downside of speedier access is that there will not be designated bag-search lines, outside of those for families and people carrying bags for medical reasons. All bags larger than a clutch — five inches wide, seven inches long, three-quarters of an inch deep — must be made of clear plastic, vinyl or PVC, such as a see-through tote or a one-gallon freezer bag. Fear notes that other stadiums in the region, such as FedEx Field and Oriole Park at Camden Yards, have similar requirements. Outside food is still welcome, as long as it’s carried in-hand or in an acceptable bag. Fans coming to the park after work can rent a locker outside of the right field or home plate gates to stash briefcases or laptop bags.

Once inside the park, the most impressive addition is one that can only been seen by a select number of fans: The FIS Champions Club, renamed for the club’s “payments technology partner,” has been turned into a mini Nationals museum. Six large glass cases surrounding the 2019 World Series trophy include game-worn jerseys and caps and a plush Baby Shark, honoring the team’s unlikely run. Another series of cases around the club level’s two bars hold displays dedicated to Ryan Zimmerman, including the bat and ball from his 2008 Opening Day walk-off home run; Bryce Harper’s haul of trophies; and game balls from various no-hitters. The furniture and lighting have been upgraded, too, with soft, caramel-colored club chairs.

The FIS Club is also home to the ballpark’s most notable food and drink addition: Duke’s Grocery, the English-accented bar known for its massive burgers and truffle-soaked mac and cheese, is taking over the grilling operations.

Concessions-wise, there’s not much turnover: David Chang’s Fuku is the only restaurant not returning this year, and the buzziest new option is Roaming Rooster, which started slinging Nashville hot chicken sandwiches from a food truck and now has restaurants around the area. (It’s in Section 238.) Instead, there are notable small changes: South Mountain Creamery, from Frederick County, has replaced Breyers and will offer single-serving containers of five or six varieties of ice cream. The Nationals have joined forces with local cocktail company Pratt Standard to create a cherry blossom-themed drink — served with vodka or in a tasty nonalcoholic form — at designated bars. For craft beer fans, there are still 13 District Drafts carts pouring local brews, and Other Half, Solace and City-State brewing have been added to the rotation.

Nationals Park is cashless again this season, with advance ordering of food and drink available through the MLB Ballpark app. (Fans carrying cash can trade it for “Nats Bucks” at designated locations.) A new addition: Purchase merchandise from the team store before the fourth inning, and it will be delivered to your seat.

Five bobblehead giveaways are on the schedule, beginning with the Stephen Strasburg World Series MVP edition Friday. In addition to nights dedicated to “Star Wars” (a frankly cool Juan Solo bobblehead, July 16) and Marvel (“The Unstoppable” Josh Bell, June 11), this season sees the debut of a DC Comics night, with a Wonder Woman bobblehead (Aug. 26). Other theme nights include Intern Night on July 14; the return of Caturday, with no actual cats allowed, on July 30; and nights dedicated to Filipino heritage (Aug. 27) and Italian heritage (Sept. 27).

For families, there are two notable additions: From May to August, one Sunday per month has been designated Summer Reading Sunday, with Nationals players Sean Doolittle and Bell reading to young fans, plus book-themed activities sponsored by groups including the Smithsonian and the Library of Congress. Also, giveaways targeted at 12-and-younger fans, such as a Juan Soto jersey (April 23-24) and bucket hats (July 2-3), will be split over two weekend days instead of just one game. Kids still run the bases after every Sunday game.

Finally, one of this year’s more visible additions isn’t actually in the ballpark: The BetMGM sportsbook, a bar with more than 40 TVs and 17 kiosks and six windows at which customers can place bets, is just outside the center field gates, in the old Center Field Social event space. There’s no direct access to the book from the ticketed areas of Nationals Park, so it’s a place to gather before or after games. And the BetMGM app works in the stadium if fans want to wager from their seats.

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