It is hard to envision Bryce Harper smashing home runs or Stephen Strasburg striking out batters when fresh snow covers the frozen field at an empty Nationals Park, but Washington Nationals Executive Director of Ballpark Operations and Guest Experience Jonathan Stahl is busy preparing for opening day and making sure every individual with a ticket to the game enjoys the experience when the weather warms up and thoughts turn to the national pastime.
Stahl, 29, grew in up Fairfax where he attended Gesher Jewish Day School. On Sunday, March 8, he will be honored with the Tikkun Olam Alumni Award at Gesher’s Guardian of the Bridge gala at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts. After graduating from Gesher, Stahl attended Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School. He received a bachelor’s degree in hospitality management from Syracuse University before moving back to Washington to work for Kimpton Hotels.
Joining the Nats in 2008 to open the ballpark, he currently oversees food and beverage, customer service, transportation and cleaning.
Stahl lives in Petworth with his fiancée and is involved in the local Jewish community. This year he became a member of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington’s board. Stahl is also on the advisory committee of the Jewish Food Experience and is involved with Friends of the Israel Defense Forces.
Stahl recently sat down with Washington Jewish Week at Nationals Park to talk about improving the game day experience, kosher food options and his predictions for the upcoming season.
How does it feel working for your hometown baseball team?
It’s pretty awesome. I came from the hotel industry and I really enjoyed that. But working for an organization where the entire city gets behind you is pretty amazing. Being able to walk around and see somebody wearing the logo of the company you work for is something you can’t really do in any other industry.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
It’s taking care of our guests. We have over 2.5 million people that come through this ballpark and they come here for different reasons. Some love baseball. Some love the Nationals. Some love the team that we’re playing. But no matter why they are here we want to make sure that they have the best possible experience. So it could be an 80-year-old individual who has never been here before or a little child also coming here for the first time. We’re going to make sure to take care of that person as best as we possibly can.
What are you doing to improve the guest experience for this upcoming season?
We’re always looking to improve the guest experience here at the ballpark. One of the things that we’re doing is taking fan safety extremely seriously, as we always have, but we’re improving upon it. So we’re adding metal detection at every entrance to the ballpark. With doing that, we know it’s going to take a little longer to get to the ballpark, so we’re increasing the number of gates that we have to make sure that we have more access points. We are encouraging our fans to use alternative gates other than center field as well. In addition to that, we’re working on some new food concepts here.
How do the Nationals accommodate observant Jewish fans? Is there kosher food at the ballpark?
We absolutely have kosher food here in the ballpark. We partner with Max’s Kosher Grill. They have a stand over in section 143. They have their shawarma, falafel, kosher sausage, hot dogs and a couple different other items. They’re obviously only open when it’s not Shabbat or a holiday. But they’re here to serve anyone who is interested in getting some kosher food at the ballpark.
Any predictions for the Nats this upcoming season?
I think we’re going to be a really exciting team to watch. I don’t like to predict what’s going to happen in the end because I don’t want to jinx it. But this is really going to be a great year. We have a lot of talent on the field and I know that our players are really excited about coming out here for the 2015 season. If you’ve been keeping up with spring training, they’re already talking about it. They’re going to give their effort. We here in the ballpark are going to do the same thing. So I think it’s going to be a great season for Nats baseball.