It takes more than the promise of hope and change to become an American President in NatsTown. Over 40 guys and gals reported to Nationals Park Saturday afternoon as “presidential candidates” for the 2010 Racing Presidents. Their goal — prove they’ve got the stamina, strength, and charisma to be an acting Racing President from April to September.
DC isn’t the first or only baseball town to have a mascot run a race in between innings down the warning track. In fact, baseball mascot races are part of what make the teams that have the races even more fun to watch!
Milwaukee beat every other team to it in the 1990’s when they created “The Sausage Race”. And yes – it is what it sounds like – four types of sausage, one prize … the glory of winning an in-between inning novelty racing game from inside a giant physics problem of a costume.
The Sausage Race became an instant fan favorite before the bottom of the sixth inning at every home game for the Brewers at Miller Park. The mascots are now known as “Klement’s Racing Sausages” (Klement’s Sausage Company is located in Milwaukee and provides the Brewers with their products). To top it off, there are five of them: Brett Wurst (a bratwurst), Stosh (a Polish sausage), Guido (an Italian sausage), Frankie Furter (a hot dog), and Cinco (a chorizo).
What is it about other cities having food as their in between inning mascots? Pittsburgh followed similar route in 1999 when they debuted The Great Pittsburgh Pierogy Race N’at. The original race taking place at Three Rivers Stadium (the home of the Pirates at the time) featured just three pierogies, but now there are four that run the race each game: Jalapeño Hannah, Cheese Chester, Sauerkraut Saul, and Oliver Onion.
These edible delights have even visited DC twice to race in both 2008 and 2009 (Teddy chased the pierogies while holding a giant aluminum foil fork and knife, just in case he caught ‘em).
Fans love a good mascot. Mascots are exciting to be around. They’re always available for a good photo op. and never boring. They wear funny costumes and can’t talk. Heck – if mascots were real people, they might make for one memorable first date. But let us not forget that the Washington Nationals are the only team with an “in between inning” mascot that isn’t a type of food.
The Nationals have got something way better than food. They’ve got Presidents.
DC never does what DC isn’t comfortable doing (with the sole exception of opening the Federal Government on a delayed start last Friday when it was obvious that Metro wasn’t ready for it). There is no better way to represent the city’s history and love for history than with four of our most beloved Presidents showing their faces at every home game. George (#1), Tom (#3), Abe (#16), and Teddy (#26) run the warning track while praying not to topple over in their twelve foot costumes. It’s hard enough trying to keep a level head atop a gravel covered race track – but what about doing that in untouched snow?
This year’s Geico Racing presidential candidates found themselves demonstrating their love for the Nationals by running through the most extreme circumstances (a close second to the severe heat DC sees in July/August).
The fourth inning is home to the President’s Race. It has traveled from the inaugural season at RFK Stadium to baseball’s home in the Nation’s Capital (Nationals Park). But – the President’s Race didn’t happen overnight. Inaugural baseball means inaugural traditions. That’s what the Nationals had in 2005. The PNC Dollar Derby ran during the 2005 season at RFK Stadium between George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Alexander Hamilton as a scoreboard only promotion. Next season, the scoreboard only promo shifted from Dollar Derby to a scoreboard only President’s Race until halfway through the season when “live” presidents were finally introduced.
To date, each President has won a significant amount of races (Abe leads the pack with 125, George is in second with 80, and Tom is in third with 76) – except Teddy. Poor Teddy has never won a race. Ever. Really.
The closest Teddy has ever come to winning a race was this past September, but he was disqualified for having recruited another mascot onto the field to run some interference for him. This is also the fourth year that the Teddy costume was not worn during the Racing President’s auditions.
Teddy might never win, but he generates a good portion of the buzz pertaining to why people come to audition in the first place. Both Daniel Hoicowitz and Jackie Paranzino found out about the auditions from the blog Let Teddy Win, which is run by a Nationals season ticket holder.
Part of why DC loves their President’s Race is because Teddy loses. They want him to win so bad that they’ll go to games to root him on – and even auditions!
“It’s really cool watching the rebirth of a team coming from Montreal who continue to have new beginnings,” Hoicowitz said. “I still can’t believe I actually did this. I stood up and told myself ‘This is so awesome.’”
If there is anything the Nationals organization wants more than a winning season, it’s that they want to show their fans how much they care about them. That’s what the people inside the twelve foot presidential costumes want everyone to know.
One returner, Eli Levine, says there’s nothing more rewarding to him than hearing the hush come over the crowd right before the race starts. Well … that and meeting all of the fans, “[…]particularly the smiles on the kids faces when we take pictures with them.”
The Racing Presidents are more than a bunch of goofballs wearing giant heads atop their own. They love the Nationals and they love Nationals fans. They ran through leftover snowpocalypse snow to show how bad they want to be your Racing Presidents in 2010. The least you can do for them in return is pack the house and root them on to victory.
Who knows – maybe Teddy will win one.
All photos and videos by Rachel Levitin.