Nats fans rewarded for braving the cold

With wind chills in the single digits and a fresh blanket of snow covering DC, Washington Nationals fans proved their loyalty as they braved the ice and snow to line up for the 11:00am opening of today’s 2nd annual NatsFest at Nationals Park.

For those suffering from withdrawal after four months without baseball, the day offered a full slate of player interaction, hot stove talk, and optimism about the season ahead.

Fans got an opportunity meet many many of the team’s high-profile off-season roster acquisitions, including Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, Jason Marquis, and Brian Bruney, at scheduled photo opportunities and autograph sessions. The team also had Ryan Zimmerman’s Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards on display in the Lexus Presidents Club.

Rob Dibble was the lively host of a series of Q&A sessions running all afternoon in the Red Porch restaurant and simulcast live on the HD scoreboard and on TVs throughout the ball park. The sessions featured General Manager Mike Rizzo, Manager Jim Riggleman, team president Stan Kasten, and baseball know-it-all George Will.

Dibble did a great job of driving the discussion, and set the panelists up with a few questions of his own. Rizzo, Riggleman, and Katzen offered no surprises (if you haven’t heard, they are looking for a middle infielder and don’t want to rush Stephen Strasburg, Jesus Flores, or Ian Desmond) . They received few hardball questions from the fans, who are enjoying a honeymoon with the newly-named GM and Manager, but the relative lack of surprises felt welcome when compared to previous years under Jim Bowden.

The format was a nice improvement over last year, and gave each executive a chance to focus on his area of expertise. Riggleman talked game management philosophy, and Kasten fielded a bevy of questions about marketing and broadcast deals (all but promising expanded radio reach by 2011).

After skipping the Winter Caravan, the Nationals racing presidents made their first official team event appearance of the year, greeting guests as they entered the ball park and cavorting around the Club level through the afternoon. Teddy appeared well-rested and fully-recovered from last season’s hamstring injury, and was caught silently assuring many inquiring fans that 2010 would be his year.

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