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Navy Yards’ restaurants don’t strike out...

With no fans allowed in the park, eateries near Nationals Park cope the best they can...

WASHINGTON – The Nationals put together a fifth-inning rally as their game with the first-place Atlanta Braves was heating up here Thursday night at Nationals Park.

But a few blocks away the night was winding down for Freddie Ekuban, the bar manager at restaurant Declaration Nats Park on First Street SE just around the corner from Center Field Gate.

On a historic day for pro sports in North America, with games being held in at least six major leagues, Ekuban was getting ready to close at 8 p.m. as two of the six televisions in the eatery played the Nationals’ game that was being held a long home run away.

“We have $4 beer for Nats’ games, home or away,” said Ekuban, wearing a dark blue and white Nationals’ mask he bought online. “We get some fans on the patio and they enjoy that. I turn the sound up and they enjoy that.”

“It’s the closest thing to a baseball feel as you can get. On Opening Day, we had peanuts and that was a big hit,” added Ekuban, who began working at the eatery last year.

While the Nats were blowing a 5-0 lead Thursday and losing 7-6 to the Braves, Ekuban and his wife – a bartender who also works at Declaration Nats Park – were getting ready to close for the evening.

Besides having the Nationals on television, his restaurant was also showing the U.S. Open tennis tournament from New York while another TV was showing auto racing.

Under Phase 2 of D.C. reopening guidelines, restaurants are allowed to operate at 50 percent of capacity indoors, according to The Washington Business Journal.

Local restaurants near Nationals Park got a boost Thursday as the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs opened the season at home with a win against the Houston Texans.

A few blocks from Declaration Nats Park, several customers were eating outside near The Commons on Half St SE as several TVs had on the first NFL game of the season.

Due to the pandemic, fans are not allowed at Major League games at Nationals Park or around the country.

If that was not the case, there is a good chance 40,000 fans would have been at Nationals Park this weekend for the series with the Braves.

“It’s actually better than we thought it would be,” Ekuban, who lives in Hyattsville, Maryland, said of business during COVID-19.

Fox Channel 5 in Washington, citing information from The Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, reported in July that 25 to 30 percent of independently owned restaurants in D.C. could close for good due to the pandemic shutdown.

For now, there is more than just baseball games being played inside Nationals Park.

Washington City Paper reported in June that World Central Kitchen has made at least 500,000 meals at Nationals Park. They’ve made an additional 300,000 since.

“Since early April, World Central Kitchen has been operating large scale meal production using several of the kitchens at Nationals Park. Close to 800,000 free meals have been produced and then distributed using our loading dock facilities. Members of the Nationals and Levy Foods, in addition to community volunteers have helped cook and package the meals, which are delivered to pick up points in the neighborhoods surrounding Nationals Park, as well as the neighborhoods near our Youth Baseball Academy, across the river in Anacostia,” according to a Nationals’ spokesperson.

“It’s chicken, peas, carrots, chicken stock, and all that creamy stuff over rice, garnished with parsley,” chef Mollie Moore told the publication. “It somehow became my signature dish, and I’m not quite sure why, but as long as everybody loves it, it can be mine.”

While the world champion Nationals are slumping in the shortened 60-game season, Ekuban is already looking ahead to Opening Day in 2021.

He estimated the Nationals are the favorite team of his customers, followed by D.C. United – which plays its home games at nearby Audi Field – then the NHL’s Washington Capitals, the local NFL team, and then the Washington Wizards of the NBA.

Declaration Nats Park started on Opening Day for the Nationals in 2018.

“It was a madhouse,” said Ekuban, who noted the All-Star Game was held here that July.

Then came the World Series last October.

He and others near Navy Yard eateries long for those days again while trying to step up to the plate for now.