Imagine a quiet Sunday morning. The city is silent from the few inches of snow that stuck to the ground yesterday. Most everyone’s either still asleep or in the comfort of their own homes trying to keep warm. It’s the last day of the first month of 2010. So, you choose to lounge around. Huge mistake. Why? You’re missing out on the most pristine, once in a lifetime moment baseball fans in DC have had since the game’s big move back to town.
NatsFest 2010 was — in a word — awesome. Although it’s easy to doubt their dedication during the season, fans turned out in the hundreds (and early!) for a fun-filled fan fest hosted by their favorite men in red. Nationals fans of all-ages wrapped themselves around the park entrance for close to an hour before the 11 a.m. start time of NatsFest. Their devotion was somewhat shocking considering their team’s losing for the past five years, but let us all remember that the Nationals are still teenagers by baseball standards. They’re new. They’re in their awkward, “growing-up” phase. Can you really blame them for trying to find out who they are among all of the other big kids playing the game?
It sure isn’t easy trying to put together a winning franchise when you’ve got teams like the Yankees coming around and buying up all the talent on a first-come first-serve basis. But, despite those facts, Nats fans turned out to support their boys in this snow-filled, second annual Nationals love-fest.
What made this baseball winter wonderland even better is that there was no NHL Winter Classic to disturb this day in DC baseball. Unlike the historic Wrigley Field and Fenway Park who have hosted the Winter Classic on their snow covered diamonds, this day in DC baseball history allowed fans to interact with their home team and their home stadium without hockey getting in the way.
Some of the days event options were question and answer “press conference sessions” for fans with questions for Team President Stan Kasten, Sr VP & General Manager Mike Rizzo, Manager Jim Riggleman and Nationals Season Ticket Hold/Washington Post columnist George Will. This was no “What’s your favorite color?” or “Who’s your favorite player on the team?” kind of Q&A. This was a serious, sit-down, “Tell us what’s up?” kind of scenario.
When asked what the team needs to win in 2010, Riggleman (who is in his first year with the Nationals) said that’s easy — a healthy, hardworking pitching staff. “This is a performance driven industry,” he said. “The better clubs have the better pitching.”
Riggleman believes the team is well on its way with the few returners and promising newcomers (i.e. Jason Marquis).
While some fans sat through all five question and answer sessions, the rest of “Nats Town” were running rampant around the park trying to sneak a peak at all the new talent acquired during the off-season (Riggleman and Marquis included). The lines for an autograph from Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez were wrapped around the entire Stars & Stripes Club hallway extending to the doorway the leads back outside into the cold. The future Hall-of-Famer was in the highest demand of the day, only second to the Nats Big Man on Campus — the one and only, Mr. Ryan Zimmerman (who was impossible to reach unless you strategically planned how you were going to get to him).
Fans who wanted to meet their favorite players had a few options: you could either wait in a really long line to get your picture taken with them at a certain time OR you could wait in another really long line to get their autograph — but sadly, you could never get both at one time. The Nationals don’t release a final list of who is going to be at which station and when before the event begins so whoever you end up with after NatsFest is over is a true testament to your will and devotion as a die-hard fan who won’t settling for anything less than getting what you want.
Fans, players, and Nationals management weren’t the only folks in-house yesterday. Big Zimm’s heavy hardware (aka his 2010 Golden Glove and Silver Slugger) called the Lexus President’s Club their home for the day. Fans were able to catch a peak and even take a picture with the illustrious pieces of baseball glory. Sure, they’re no replacement for a World Series trophy, good things come to those who wait! And … the Nationals should prove to be no exception.
RHP Craig Stammen (pictured below, on the right) who starts his second full-season with the Nationals this spring remains optimistic about the upcoming year, especially after the response NatsFest got.
“Sometimes people get down on us,” Stammen said of Nationals fans. “It’s nice to see them all come out today and show how much they really care.”
Stammen was just one of the few guys from the team who showed up for the picture/autograph opportunities scheduled for the festival.
“The Nationals empire is coming soon,” Stammen said. “The Verizon Center is always packed because the Caps and the Wizards create a winning product. It’s our time now.”
So what do Nats fans have to look forward to in 2010? New management, new players, and a new outlook on where their team stands among the rest of Major League Baseball. Remember — the team is still young, but once they’re out of their awkward phase they’re sure to show the rest of the big leagues who the men in red from Washington, DC REALLY are.
All photos by Rachel Levitin.