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Baseball fans will have to settle for early voting at Nationals Park

There’s no cold beer, but registered Washington voters can cast a ballot and see the Nats’ 2019 World Series trophy

Mark Fischer helps set up an early voting center in the PNC Diamond Club at Nationals Park on Monday.
Mark Fischer helps set up an early voting center in the PNC Diamond Club at Nationals Park on Monday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Well, it ain’t the World Series, but I guess it’ll do.

Last year’s champions couldn’t even clear the low bar required to make the 16-team Major League Baseball playoffs during this odd, COVID-shortened season. But at least Washington fans can soak in the relatively empty confines of Nationals Park for early voting. 

The District of Columbia has long embraced early voting, and the coronavirus pandemic has only made it more of a priority. Starting Tuesday, 32 venues open to the public. 

That number includes not just the usual assortment of recreation centers and schools but also six locations carrying the label “SUPER VOTE CENTER!” (All caps and exclamation point courtesy of the D.C. Board of Elections promotional material, not me.)

“We were looking for some facilities that would be of interest beyond just voting,” said Nick Jacobs, spokesman for the D.C. Board of Elections.

Enter Nats Park. It’s big, spaced out, has good ventilation and — bonus for baseball fans — will feature the 2019 World Series trophy and other award hardware in a window of the team shop, so people in line to vote at the home plate entrance can view it, sort of like the Butter Cow at the Iowa State Fair.

“We’re trying to create an opportunity to satisfy those multiple needs,” Jacobs said of attracting pandemic-weary citizens.

Other SUPER VOTE CENTERS! include Capital One Arena, home to the Wizards basketball and Capitals hockey teams and performances by Bruce Springsteen and the World Famous Lipizzaner Stallions; Entertainment and Sports Arena, home to the Mystics and Capital City Go-Go hoops teams; the Omni Shoreham Hotel, home to political confabs and satirist/piano man Mark Russell; and Dock 5 @ Union Market, home to hipster foodie/craft liquor/fashion pop-ups and pricey weddings.

SUPER VOTE CENTERS! can accommodate 100 voters at a time, twice as many as a regular, non-all-caps place. And the extra cultural oomph is hard to ignore.

At Nats Park, voters get Diamond Club treatment, or what passes for it during early voting. Hey, the views of the field are nice.

When I arrived for a walk-through on Monday, I had my temperature checked (which is more virus scrutiny than you’d get seeking entrance to the Capitol). After that, I got a blue wristband to indicate I was OK for passage through the concourse.

Ozzy Vieira assembles a ballot marking station while setting up an early voting center at Nationals Park on Monday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/)

The wristband was a cruel reminder of the canceled first part of the season, marked as it was for an event that never came, a Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Nationals game on April 21, 2020. No sense letting it go to waste.

Even more cruel: The Dodgers are still playing — in the World Series, no less.

A year ago, I was one of the delirious Washington Nationals fans here, attending all three disappointing home losses to the Houston Astros, as well as all four away game wins that were broadcast at the park on its NatsHD scoreboard.

Game 7 in particular, a cold and rainy late-night celebration, was a joy: the franchise’s first world championship, secured in a come-from-behind victory by a ragtag bunch whom few believed in. Parades, pomp and circumstance followed. Not even President Donald Trump awkward-hugging catcher Kurt Suzuki at a White House event could dampen the good vibes.

Chances of a repeat were slim, but in baseball, hope springs eternal. That is, until a global pandemic hits.

Stick to sports? I wish we could have. But the novel coronavirus scrambled the way we interact, the way we gather, which of course is itself the subject of much political debate.

Which brings us to this year’s election.

This probably wasn’t what public officials and the baseball folks had in mind when they broke ground at Nationals Park. But it does feel about right. Public money and incentives were used to construct the facility, a commonplace practice across the country.

Politicians are frequently trotted out to throw first pitches and yell “play ball.” The stadium hosts the Congressional Baseball Game. And the Nationals embrace pop political iconography with their racing president mascots — George, Tom, Abe and Teddy — and pay homage in promotional materials to presidents at D.C. baseball games over the years.

So when Nationals Park and other sports venues open their gates so the public can exercise the franchise, it’s an appropriate, if unforeseen, use of the facilities — a natural culmination of sports’ presence in the body politic.

If only they were serving cold beer.

Lucky for us, they’re pouring just outside, at the many establishments surrounding Nats Park that missed out on so many fans during this strange year.

Given the particulars of this election season and the events that have led up to it, we all deserve a drink. But you might want to vote first.

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