Once a year, the Nationals organization provides a tease for Nationals fans; an event signaling the looming arrival of spring training and generating excitement for the upcoming baseball season. This fantastic event is called NatsFest. Many Major League teams put on fan festivals around this time, and the Nationals are not to be excluded in that count. The 2014 NatsFest was Saturday, and even though I was over two hours late because of taking the SAT, I was there nonetheless. However, the 2014 festivities were much different than the festivities four years ago in 2010; the first year of NatsFest. They were two much different scenes, so I decided to share my experiences at both.
In 2010, NatsFest was held at Nationals Park. Basically every part of the stadium was open; you walked in through the main gates, got to tour the locker room, hit in the real batting cages adjacent to the locker room, get autographs signed inside on the second level of the stadium, and listen to guest speakers such as Tim Kurkjian and George Will. Best of all, it was free and not very crowded at all. The Nationals had had a dismal year the previous season in 2009, and the fan support was accordingly low. Not saying it was empty, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the 8,400 that were at the Gaylord Convention Center this past Saturday.
We parked in the stadium’s parking lot, got the tickets we had reserved, and made our way in for what would be such a memorable experience. I saw players up close such as Pudge Rodriguez and got to have my picture taken with Ryan Zimmerman. Back then the lines weren’t so crazy, so I went back a second time and got a picture with then-manager Jim Riggleman and then-National Jason Marquis.
We toured the locker room, and as I mentioned, I took a few hacks in the batting cage across the hall. Those are the experiences not easily forgotten. The ones where you see up-close what you’ve watched so long on TV and have a new-found understanding for, in this case, your beloved team. The Nationals organization did a spectacular job in preparing their first fan festival. I did not attend in 2011, 2012, or 2013, so we decided this year it was time for a return trip.
A lot changes in four years, and indeed much has changed since that memorable NatsFest at Nats Park four years ago. As the college search is kicking into gear, I had to take the SAT bright and early Saturday morning. When I saw the date coincided with that of NatsFest I was dissapointed because I figured since the SAT was so extensive, I would not be able to make it over there in time. Luckily, the problem was solved. I raced out of the test as soon as we were allowed to leave and my dad and I were on our way to the Gaylord Convention Center with just about an hour and a half remaining. But hey, better late than never right?
We walked through the doors and stood there taking in our surroundings; looking at the vastness of the room and trying to decide what we wanted to do first. We took a lap around the Center, seeing the photo stations, the autograph stations, the main stage, and the makeshift field where Ross Detwiler was being bombarded by little kids for autograph requests. Dad and I listened to a panel which consisted of Mike Rizzo and newly aquired Nationals Jerry Blevlins and Doug Fister. It was interesting hearing them discussing their goals for the season, and Blevlins added some humor when he was asked how he could hit since he was coming from the American League. He responded by saying that he had one at-bat last season in an 18 inning game and he felt accomplished when he hit a foul ball in that at bat. He quipped that we should thus view him as a contact hitter this season.
The highlights of the afternoon for me personally were the people I got to meet. As an aspiring journalist and broadcaster, when I saw Bob Carpenter,
the Nationals’ TV broadcaster, just standing by himself, I jumped at the opportunity to finally meet him. To be honest, I’m not sure exactly what we discussed because I was a little shocked, but I’m sure it was legendary. I watch the games and listen to his commentary every day, and to finally meet him in person was a fun experience. Also, a few minutes later, I saw my friends from The Nationals Archive standing in the back of a Q&A session. Over the past year I have loved reading their blog posts and interacting with them on Twitter, so meeting them gave me the chance to let them know how much I appreciate all of their work. Finally, as we were exiting, I shook hands with the one and only Matts Bats, another Nationals blogger. If you haven’t heard of him, check him out. He’s doing some pretty incredible things for being a nine-year-old. Needless to say, since college is on my mind, that kid will have no lack of things to write on his college resume in a few years.
So, all in all, even though it was only for an hour and a half, being able to go to NatsFest this year was definitely worth it. While it was different than being at Nationals Park, it was nonetheless an awesome day. I got to listen to the players, interact with people I wanted to see, and enjoy the spirit of my fellow Nats fans looking forward to this upcoming season.
16 days until Spring Training everyone…16 days.
In creating this blog, I pondered for a long time how to give it my own unique spin. There is such a large number of blogs out there, especially on my die-hard favorite team, the Washington Nationals. I watch the games every day, tweet my frustrations, and vent my enthusiasm to many of my friends who probably couldn’t care less about the great sport of baseball, much less the Nats. So I sat back and thought, how could I virtually verbalize my thoughts and knowledge about this sport and team I love so much, while also adding a spin to it which, hopefully somewhat, might separate it from the vast number of other writing outlets that have been created. A separation which can sort of set it apart so that it does not get lost in the heaps of more popular blogs surrounding it. While I know there are plenty of other sources you can read to acquire the knowledge you’re looking for, maybe there will be a bit of info in here that will suit your needs.
I’ve been a sports fan, first and foremost baseball, as long as I can remember. I grew up in a baseball-less Washington, D.C. and rooted for my mom’s hometown team, the Cincinnati Reds. It was around the age of 6 when my life as a live baseball fan really took off. I had attended games at Cinergy Field in Cincinnati, even seeing a brawl I still remember between the Giants and the Reds. While those games were fun, I was too little to appreciate everything going on around me (plus I hated fireworks so every time there was a long fly ball my hands immediately went to my ears). That was when my dad decided to take me to our local minor league team, then the Potomac Cannons. Oddly enough, they were the Single-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. For those of you who, through obviously no fault of your own, are not familiar with Potomac, they have a small, run-down stadium with game attendance that often times you can count yourself. I brought my glove to the game and couldn’t wait to get to our seats – in the field box which is right on the field. It was during the game that my life of baseball and bond with the game was forever sealed.
There was a foul ball rolling down the fence which a member of the opposing bullpen picked up. He made sure the ball got to me, and I couldn’t believe what I now had in my possession. A game used foul ball. I couldn’t wait to show my mom. However, in my youth and excitement, I was not keen enough to put the ball away and mark it as my first. It has since gotten lost among the heaps of foul balls which I have collected from both major league and other Potomac games over the years.
Later on, the Washington Nationals moved to DC from Montreal and I finally had a home team to root for. They promptly acquired the Potomac Cannons from the Reds, and their name was changed to the Potomac Nationals. I have since grown up watching and becoming attached to many
current members of my favorite team in their earliest professional stages. I’ve watched my favorite player, Ian Desmond, ascend the ranks. I’ve seen Espinosa, Lombardozzi, Eury Perez, as well as countless others, in an up-close game. I’ve also seen a number of players, such as Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper, Wilson Ramos,
and Ross Ohlendorf, make rehab appearances there. When I see a player enter the Washington games which I’ve seen at Potomac, I can clearly recall the announcer’s voice calling out their name in that small stadium in Prince William County. I have raced out of the stadium to chase foul balls (yeah, it’s small enough to do that), and analyzed game after game with my dad in those creaky old stands. One day I finally became savvy enough to write who hit each foul ball on the ball so I know who hit it when they make it into the major leagues. I most likely have a ball from Desmond, but it kills me every time I watch him play to know that just like my first ball, one of his foul’s is probably sitting amongst the bucket.
You may be thinking by now, is this a life story, or a blog? I wanted to give you some insight into my career as a Washington Nationals fan so that you can see I’m not a bandwagoner of the 2011 or 2012 seasons (which by the way I do not condemn by any means. The more fans the merrier!). I suffered through ’08 and ’09 along with my beloved team, but all the while knowing that one day we would achieve greatness. I have sat all over RFK stadium, and listened to the number of MASN broadcasters over the years. So now nearly every summer night, somewhere in the house can be heard the voices of FP Santangelo and Bob Carpenter, breaking down every pitch of our team.
Not one spring has passed where I have not donned a uniform myself and helped a team win baseball games. I am now a junior in high school and a member of our Varsity baseball team. It’s one thing to watch the pros perform at the highest level every day, but it’s another to actually be a part of the action; spitting sunflower seeds in the dugout and going through highs and lows yourself. Playing baseball and watching baseball has become somewhat of a lost art, a passion which many today fail to grasp. That is what I hope to bring about with this blog. That someone out there somewhere, be it a Nationals fan or a curious reader, may come to appreciate our National Pastime just a little bit more. And hey, maybe become a Nats fan along the way.
So that is what I hope sets this writing space apart from the others. My unique articles on the Nats, baseball goings-on, and intriguing historical pieces which will draw in the non-Nats fan. I plan on writing nearly everything about the Nationals, from my personal thoughts to team news, while also including other posts about happenings around the MLB, historical baseball events or notable achievements, a post here and there about high school baseball, and the off article on my thoughts on other large news. That was what I thought of with the name; to include, but not completely limit it to, the Nationals. Rather, for it to be about baseball, just mainly on the Nats. As an aspiring journalist, perhaps this can be an alley to bettering my skills and improving my chances for a successful future. I hope you can find useful information out of reading my posts. Here’s to a winning year.