Teddy Stops by Pinstripes for Nationals Opening Day Viewing Party

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Teddy posed for photos with fans who attended Tuesday afternoon’s Opening Day Viewing Party.

Teddy, one of the beloved Washington Nationals racing president, stopped by Pinstripes on Tuesday afternoon for a sparsely attended, but memorable Opening Day viewing party.

The event was not highly publicized and was not even on my radar until Tuesday morning when it appeared as a sponsored link on my Facebook timeline. I shared the Facebook post and retweeted the Eventbrite page to @NatsGalleryBlog followers on Twitter to spread the word about the event.

The invitation promised happy hour specials, free bowling and bocce, Nationals prizes and a visit from the racing presidents.

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The availability of DC Brau, a District Drafts classic at Nationals Park, made choosing a happy hour beverage easy and the barbecue chicken pizza was very tasty.

Perhaps the most exciting moment of the afternoon, aside from Bryce Harper’s home run, was the visit from Teddy. Teddy made a grand entrance down a staircase and was extremely excited about Opening Day. He was so excited that he started running around the entrance to the bar, high fiving customers, and enthusiastically clapping his hands.

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Teddy stuck around for trivia which started after the second inning.  Prizes for correct answers included a Ryan Zimmerman autographed baseball, a Tanner Roark autographed red hat, and two pairs of Nationals tickets.

I answered the first question correctly and went home (err…to my 7:10pm class) with the autographed baseball.

Having viewing parties when the Nationals are on the road can be a great way to keep fans engaged and excited. If the events are more widely promoted within circles of Nationals fans, they can have the potential to be successful events.

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Do you want to know how you would have done during trivia? Here were some of the questions:

Q: What was the Nationals Spring Training record?

A: 19-4 (.826)

Where did the Nationals play when they first moved to Washington?

A: RFK Stadium

Max Scherzer threw two no-hitters during the 2015 season? How many pitchers have accomplished this feat?

A: Five

Q: What awards, besides MVP, did Bryce Harper win for his 2015 performance?

A: Silver Slugger Award and NL Hank Aaron Award

Mark Lerner Explains Move to Palm Beach

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Mark Lerner, principal owner of the Washington Nationals, spoke with my graduate school class on Saturday afternoon.

Mark Lerner, principal owner of the Washington Nationals, took some time before Saturday afternoon’s rainout to discuss the future spring training site of the Nationals—The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches—with my graduate school class from The George Washington University.

Lerner described two primary reasons that factored into the team’s decision to move from Space Coast Stadium, the team’s spring training home since 2003, to West Palm Beach.

“The number one thing is geography,” Lerner said.  “There is a much denser population around West Palm Beach.”

The amount of time that players and fans spend traveling to games can be very long. The closest road trip the Nationals make during the Grapefruit League season is a one hour trip to Osceola County Stadium to play the Houston Astros. The next closest facility is Tradition Field in Port St. Lucie where the Nationals travel to play the New York Mets. That facility is a one hour and ten minute drive from Space Coast Stadium.

The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, which will be shared with the Astros, will strategically place the Nationals in a region where less travel is required.  Both teams will be just 15 minutes away from the spring training facilities of the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals, who play in Jupiter, and 45 minutes away from Tradition Field.

Attendance at Nationals home games, and the aforementioned away games, will surely increase as a result of the 120 mile move south to a county with a larger population. Palm Beach County, with its estimated population 1.372 million people, has more than twice the amount of residents as Brevard County.  Fans who want to see the Nationals play will, therefore, have easier time following the team around the region.

Lerner also described how the size of the clubhouse in Viera was another motivation behind the decision to let the Space Coast Stadium lease expire.

Bob Miller, assistant general manager and vice president of the Nationals, added that the clubhouse has space for just one treadmill and he emphasized that a much larger locker room is needed to accommodate the players and the larger clubhouse staff. Miller also said that the new clubhouse will accommodate the team’s nutrition and health programs.

It will have a kitchen, dining area and a private chef who will prepare meals for the players. This area will certainly be a step up from outdoor picnic tables, Sterno candles and catered meals.

Fans also have a lot to look forward to for spring training 2017. The new facility was designed by HKS architects–the same architects who designed the state-of-the-art spring training facility for the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies. It will have 6,400 fixed seats plus a berm in the outfield. Lerner estimated it can accommodate as many as 10,000 people.

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Rendering of The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches which will have a larger berm in the outfield. (Photo from PalmBeachPost.com)

“We are not afraid of spending money on the ballpark,” Lerner said.

The ballpark will have clear sight lines, improved berm seating, and distinct areas for fans to get autographs.

“My number one goal was to give fans a Nationals experience,” Lerner said. “There is nothing like spring training baseball.”

A Review of Nationals Winterfest

This weekend was truly “everything you loved about NatsFest…all wrapped in a holiday bow.” It may have been even better than NatsFest.

The most significant improvement to the annual event was the amount of fan interaction with players. Last year, the opportunities to mingle with players were much more limited. A majority of the meetings took place at player photo stations–where fans had the chance to grip and grin with some of their favorite players.

This weekend there were plenty of opportunities to take photos with players at the photo stations, but it was also not unusual to see players mingling with fans at every activity in the exhibition hall.

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Fans were able to shake hands and pose for photos with players at three photo stations.

Jayson Werth was on top of “The Slider” and helped push fans down the snow tubing themed slide. Dusty Baker posed for snow globe photos. Taylor Jordan tossed baseballs with fans at the carnival games station. Stephen Strasburg gave advice to fans at the steal home challenge station. Oliver Perez greeted fans preparing to encase themselves in plastic bubbles at the snowball run station. Players were everywhere and they were excited to meet the fans.

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Taylor Jordan looked on as I aimed for the Philadelphia Phillies target at the carnival games station.

Winterfest was also defined this year by the presence of Bryce Harper. Harper sat out last year’s NatsFest, according to General Manager Mike Rizzo, because of an arbitration hearing that was scheduled for the following week.

The 2015 National League MVP more than made up for last year’s absence. Harper navigated the Walter E. Washington Convention Center with a five man security detail, but he was still incredibly accessible to fans as he posed for photos and taught baseball mechanics at the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy Field.

Harper may have been closest to fans on Sunday during the Lip Sync Battle which commanded national attention from the news media when he accessorized with a pink feather boa and danced to a song by the Spice Girls. He subsequently serenaded a young fan from his knees to the tunes of “My Girl” by The Temptations.

Main stage events including Nats Pictionary, a favorite from NatsHD Live pre-game show, and Youngbloods Q&A, where Gio Gonzalez sassed four rookies about their off seasons for 30 amazing minutes, seemed like an upgraded from last year’s NatsFest. These events replaced less exciting main stage events like the gingerbread house building contest and Jerry Blevins’ discussion about his all-time favorite movies.

There were only a few areas that warrant improvement for next season’s Winterfest.

The video pitch simulator station was one of those places. The virtual reality station gave fans the opportunity to throw pitches and then watch a batter smack it out of the ballpark. Unfortunately, the experience took more than a couple of minutes for each fan to experience which made waiting on a line of more than 30 people seem like an unwise investment.

The conclusion of Winterfest can also be improved. Sunday’s festivities on the main stage unceremoniously ended with Matt Grace and Taylor Jordan watching children faceoff in reindeer ring toss which didn’t establish a real sense of closure for fans.

The official final event of the day was the mascot home run derby which felt like a strange way to close the event compared to last year’s grand finale when the entire team gathered on the main stage for a sendoff.

We would start looking forward to next season’s Winterfest, but that could wait until October.

A Diamond Experience at Nationals Park

Washington Nationals fans have been treated to 50 percent off their orders from Papa John’s this season the day after the Nationals score seven or more runs and win.  Naturally, I was excited when I saw a “Curly W” and the Papa John’s logo in a Tweet offering an opportunity to unveil a prize.  It wasn’t the discount pizza deal that my friends and I were craving, but I tweeted #PJNationals anyway with the hope of unveiling a free pizza. 

Ten days later, I received an email alerting me that I won two passes to watch batting practice on the field and PNC Diamond Club seats.  I immediately texted my girlfriend, Margaret, about the contest and she agreed to fly in from Houston for Saturday’s game (and our two-year anniversary).

Margaret and I watched batting practice on the field before Saturday's game.
Margaret and I watched batting practice on the field before Saturday’s game.

We arrived at Nationals Park and were met by, Andrew, an employee on the sponsorship team, outside section 107.  Andrew gave us green wristbands, which gave us field access for batting practice, and escorted us onto the field.

I usually roam between the two outfield corners in pursuit of a coveted home run ball, but this experience was even more exciting because I realized that I may never again have such an opportunity.  Margaret and I were among two dozen fans who stood on the warning track behind home plate on Saturday afternoon. 

We saw Jose Lobaton, Tyler Moore, Pedro Severino, Trea Tuner and Dan Uggla hit in the batting cage and then watched the Phillies take their turn.  It was very special to watch from such a close distance and hear players talk about their swings.  Players from both teams had fun and laughed a lot as they waited to bat.

After batting practice, we took the elevator up to the field level and made our way to the PNC Diamond Club.  The Diamond Club is a VIP club at Nationals Park featuring all inclusive food and drinks.  We got in line outside of the club to have our tickets scanned and we were outfitted with a yellow wrist band which gave us access to reenter the club if we needed to exit for any reason.  We did not have any reason to leave.

With about one hour to go before the first pitch, we surveyed the food and drink options.  The spread looked very tasty and seemed so foreign to a college student accustomed to Nats Dogs who occasionally splurges on some Hard Times nachos. 

I sampled the fluffy pizza, a juicy buffalo chicken sandwich, and salmon (because when in the Diamond Club…).  The Diamond Club also offered a carving station, salad bar and an exceptional dessert spread.  Cookies, m&m cupcakes, chocolate pretzel bars, red velvet cake shooters were just a few of the available snacks.  Traditional ballpark snacks like peanuts and Cracker Jack were also options.

Six beers and three wines were on draft.  Soda fountains were also located on both sides of the club.  There were plenty of places to sit down to eat, but it is recommended that you arrive early to reserve a table.  We found a comfortable bench area close to the dessert station, but there were also plenty of high top tables available which did not require a reservation.

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We headed to our seats before the first pitch and were greeted by Jonathan, our server for the game.  He pointed out the menu curled up inside our cup holders and told us he would serve us during the game.  Jonathan later took our orders on a device the size of an iPhone and our food was delivered by a runner.  Drinks followed shortly after the food was served. 

Jonathan was responsible for several rows of people in our section so it was somewhat tough to get his attention.  When we did get his attention we ordered traditional ballpark food–a cheeseburger with fries and pretzel bites.  Both arrived by the next inning and were very dry.  The beer arrived cold and covered with a lid.

The hamburger was very dry and was not hot when it arrived.
The hamburger was very dry and was not hot when it arrived.

The stadium seats provided us with a terrific view of the action.  I could not stop saying, “These are the greatest seats I’ve ever had.”  The cushioned seat was very comfortable and the sight line allowed for an unobstructed view of the strike zone.

Saturday’s game was not a high scoring affair, but Stephen Strasburg pitched a gem and finished with 13 strikeouts.  It seemed as if almost nobody in the entire Diamond Club realized how well Strasburg had pitched.  To give you a sense of the apathy in my section, an usher approached me in between innings to tell me that it was exciting to have a true fan sitting in his section.

We had a terrific sight line from our seats in the Diamond Club
We had a terrific sight line from our seats in the Diamond Club.

The lack of fan enthusiasm and the average ballpark fare did not break my excitement.  I left Nationals Park having had a true VIP experience.  I hope to come back again soon.

Review of “The Grind”: Perfect for One of Those Rare Days Off

Barry Svrluga's newest book is perfect for one of those rare days off during the grind.
Barry Svrluga’s newest book is perfect for one of those rare days off during the grind.

Barry Svrluga, The Washington Post’s national baseball correspondent, stopped by the Washington Nationals’ team store on a few occasions in late July to talk with fans and sign copies of his newest book–The Grind: Inside Baseball’s Endless Season.

Readers will find themselves emotionally consumed by the 162-game season as Svrluga presents it through several distinct individual perspectives.  Each chapter, therefore, has its own recognizable mood.

Readers will feel the exhaustion of veterans Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth as they workout with strength and conditioning coaches starting in January to prepare for spring training.

Baseball marriages are revealed to be not “all roses and butterflies” thanks to Svrluga’s deep dive into the relationship between Ian Desmond, his wife Chelsey and his children.

Many casual fans think starting pitchers are lazy because of their “time off” in between starts.  This notion is discredited as Doug Fister’s routine is described in vivid detail from the moment he exits a game against the Colorado Rockies to his next start against the Baltimore Orioles.  Readers will develop a greater appreciation for a starter’s schedule and will understand when Steve McCatty, the Nationals pitching coach, says, “four days off is not four days off.”

Perhaps the most colorful insight in the book is about Kris Kline, the Nationals assistant general manager and vice president of scouting, as he drives hundreds of miles to evaluate potential prospects at college games that most scouts skip.  Readers will feel especially satisfied to “hear” that player’s name called during the draft. 

Readers can finish the 170-page book in an evening, so it is perfect for one of those rare days off during the grind. 

Endure the grind and order Svrluga’s book here.

Catching up with Frank Howard

It was a pleasure to meet Frank Howard--a Washington, D.C.--baseball icon on Friday afternoon.
It was a pleasure to meet Frank Howard–a Washington, D.C.–baseball icon on Friday afternoon.

Frank Howard was a name at the bottom left corner of the Washington Nationals game notes.  He was obviously important.  The title of the section in the game notes was “Capital Punishers.”  The notes said the hit 237 home runs with the Washington Senators between 1965 and 1971—the most in Washington’s history.  Ryan Zimmerman was second on the list and he trailed Howard by 51 home runs.

Frank Howard's name was unfamiliar to a 23 year old Washington Nationals fan.
Frank Howard’s name was unfamiliar to a 23-year-old Washington Nationals fan.

Howard’s name dropped off the game notes a few weeks ago and his name disappeared from my mind until Monday morning when I discovered a unique Facebook event.

Frank Howard—nicknamed “Hondo,” “The Washington Monument” and “The Capital Punisher”—would be meeting with fans on Friday afternoon and he would be signing autographs on wine bottles at a Costco in Washington.  The event was supposed to promote Major League Baseball licensed wine.  You can read more about MLB’s journey into the wine business here and here.

Between Monday morning and Friday afternoon, I learned to appreciate Hondo’s accomplishments including his 1960 N.L. Rookie of the Year season, his 1963 World Championship and his two home run titles with the Washington Senators.  Hondo’s storied home runs which painted the RFK Stadium bleacher seats white also colored my perception of his career.

Hondo was a friendly and gentle man.  He spoke with fans and Costco shoppers (who didn’t know who he was) about his career with great pride.  The 6-foot-8-inch Washington sports icon was humbled when a fan started listing his nicknames.

“That’s what’s left of him,” he said, gesturing to his frame with a smile, when the fan rattled off Washington Monument from his list of nicknames.

Frank Howard signed a few autographs for me and wished me luck on my graduate school studies.
Frank Howard signed a few autographs for me and wished me luck on my graduate school studies.

Hondo told me he doesn’t go to Nationals games frequently, stating that he did not want to be a distraction to fans.  He beamed, however, with excitement when he discussed a prior speaking engagement at Nationals Park where he taught youth baseball players about the dangers associated with steroid use prior to a home game.  When he does go to games he will sit in a suite with the team’s staff.

I look forward to, hopefully, seeing Hondo back at Nationals Park in a few years.  It would be nice to see him shake hands with Ryan Zimmerman after he hits his 238th home run.

Cheers to you, Hondo.

In the Chatting Cage with Joe Ross

Joe Ross was a guest on the Chatting Cage on Wednesday evening.
Joe Ross was a guest on the Chatting Cage on Wednesday evening and he answered questions from fans.

Joe Ross, the Washington Nationals rookie pitcher, appeared on MLB Advanced Media’s Edward Jones Chatting Cage and he answered questions from fans for about 15 minutes on Wednesday evening.

The Chatting Cage is a web series moderated by Jeremy Brisiel and the show is influenced almost entirely by fans who Tweet or video chat questions to premier athletes and coaches.  Previous guests have included Alex Cobb, David Wright, Giancarlo Stanton and Bud Black.

We sent our question to Ross on Twitter using the hastag #ChattingCage and were excited to hear his response. These were the top three questions that Ross answered on the show.

What is your favorite thing about Washington?

Probably the stadium and the fans.  I love pitching in front of the big crowds that we get, hearing them cheer as we score runs and getting some quality wins.  It’s really what I like.

The Chatting Cage is hosted by Jeremy Brisiel who has been joined by Alex Cobb, David Wright, Giancarlo Stanton and Bud Black.
The Chatting Cage is hosted by Jeremy Brisiel who has been joined by Alex Cobb, David Wright, Giancarlo Stanton and Bud Black.

Who has the better stuff on the mound you or Tyson [Ross]?

I’m gonna have to say Tyson.  Until, I can prove myself, by default, I would have to say him.  He’s doing really well. I get lucky enough, since I’m on the East coast, by the time our game is done, I can catch some late innings of his….He’s actually not a bad hitter as well. It’s always fun to watch him dig into the box.

What’s the biggest adjustment about having an everyday spot in the rotation?

Just going out and taking care of business. Once every five days starting, but four days between, is really when you get your work done. I think those four days are just as important, if not more, than your start days because those are what prepare you for your upcoming game. As long as you take care of business those days, I think you’ll be alright. That’s my main thing—trying to stick around the guys and trying to do some things that they do and kind of add on to my game.

See the whole interview here.

Solved: The Nationals Park “Mysterious” Ground Rule

The line to the left of the foul pole is not a foul line.  We unlocked the "mystery" behind this line.
The line to the left of the foul pole is not a foul line. We unlocked the “mystery” behind this line on Saturday.

“Why are there two foul lines in left field?”

I’ve been asked that question two or three times over the last five years.  On each occasion, I posited two or three explanations before changing the subject.

The subject was unavoidable yesterday as I walked with my friend Scott along the warning track during the afternoon season plan holder appreciation event.  We were walking toward the corner.

Scott and I went to the Season Plan Holders event Saturday afternoon and asked about the line.
Scott and I went to the Season Plan Holders event Saturday afternoon and asked about the line.

“Why are there two foul lines in left field,” Scott said.

We brainstormed for a few minutes and then an opportunity presented itself.  Besides the umpires, who best knows the rules of the ballpark? A groundskeeper.

Scott and I called over a groundskeeper who smiled as if he had heard our question dozens of times this season and was about to explain a great mystery.

The line on to the left of the foul pole is not actually a foul line.  The line to the left simply demarcates where a gap between the wall and the outfield reserved seating begins.

If a bounding ball bounces to the left of that line, it is in play.  Look for players to try and leg out a triple.  But if a bounding ball bounces to the right of that line, the ball is dead and results in a ground-rule double.

Ground Rules

The groundskeeper said this unique ground rule has not resulted in any confusion this season, but we will be on the lookout and will update this post as soon as something happens.

Mystery solved.

Nationals Park Blood Drive Tour

The Washington Nationals partnered with INOVA Blood Donor Services to host a blood drive at Nationals Park on Saturday.
The Washington Nationals partnered with INOVA Blood Donor Services to host a blood drive at Nationals Park on Saturday.

The Washington Nationals partnered with INOVA Blood Donor Services to host a blood drive at Nationals Park on Saturday.  Today was my first time giving blood (I actually gave plasma) and I can confidently say that the Nationals made an otherwise stressful process quite enjoyable.

All donors received an exclusive 10-year anniversary t-shirt.
All donors received an exclusive 10-year anniversary t-shirt.

The blood drive took place in a large suite on the club level.  After fans finished their donations, they were given an exclusive 10-year anniversary t-shirt and two tickets to a future Nationals game.  The most exciting “thank you gift” was a ballpark tour.

Enjoy these photos from today’s tour.

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Top 10 Highlights of Nationals New Team Store

The Washington Nationals opened a new team store on Tuesday night.
The Washington Nationals opened a new team store on Tuesday night.

The Washington Nationals opened a new team store on Tuesday night.  It was a huge hit with Nationals fans.  Here are 10 reasons why:

1. A DJ creates an exciting atmosphere.

2. It sells Nationals merchandise in your school’s colors.

Get excited for rivalry night.  Shirts are offered in Virginia or Virginia Tech color schemes.
Get excited for rivalry night. Shirts are offered in Virginia or Virginia Tech color schemes.

3. You can personalize your own bat.

Why go to Louisville.  Personalize a mini bat for $33 or a full size bat for $77.
Why go to Louisville. Personalize a mini bat for $33 or a full size bat for $77.

4. The store offers limited edition merchandise.

Interleague shirts, pins and baseballs are available.
Interleague shirts, pins and baseballs are available at the new team store.

5. There is so much more space than the other team stores.

6. There is an extensive selection of New Era caps, jerseys and player T-Shirts.

7. The store offers signed memorabilia.

For $50 you can take home a baseball signed by Drew Storen, Danny Espinosa or Tyler Moore.
For $50 you can take home a baseball signed by Drew Storen, Danny Espinosa or Tyler Moore.

8. Your purse can look trendier with a Curly W.

9. Fans can take advantage of a $10 discount on any Under Armor T-Shirt.

You don't have to feel as bad about spending money at the new team store with this $10 discount.
You don’t have to feel as bad about spending money at the new team store with this $10 discount.

10. The Nationals are 1-0 on days that the store is open.