Davey Johnson calls for the sacrifice. Chicken Man delivers.

After Monday night’s game vs. the San Diego Padres, Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson was asked whether the already injury-riddled team was snakebitten after losing two catchers in just three days.

“There’s been superstitions, to change our luck and do different kinds of things,” he said. “Sacrifice a chicken or something. I mean, you know, I’ve heard it all.”

What Johnson didn’t know was that Hugh Kaufman was listening.

If you’ve watched the Nationals on TV, chances are you’ve seen Kaufman. The self-styled “Rubber Chicken Man” sits directly behind the Nationals dugout for almost every game, waving a red Curly W flag in one hand and a bright yellow rubber chicken in the other.

And at some point during the season, the chicken loses its head.

Washington Nationals Rubber Chicken Man Hugh KaufmanWashington Nationals Rubber Chicken Man Hugh Kaufman at Nationals Park“The beginnings of the ritual Rubber Chicken Sacrifice started 7 years ago,” says Kaufman. After a hot start to their inaugural season in 2005, the Nationals found themselves losers of 11 of 15 games in July.

Kaufman felt that the good energy had been sapped from the ball park — that the fans and the team had become “flat,” “lame,” “out of sync.” So he got a rubber chicken and ritually sacrificed it at RFK Stadium.

With the bad Juju expunged, the mood seemed to improve, so Kaufman has repeated the ritual at least once a year ever since, starting each season with a new chicken, and decapitating it when it seems the Juju gods have turned on the team.

So when Davey Johnson called for the sacrifice, Hugh knew what he had to do. “I’ve probably sacrificed a dozen chickens in the last seven years,” Kaufman says.

At high noon on Wednesday, Kaufman and some of his Facebook followers met at the gates to Nationals Park, and the deed was done.

Washington Nationals Rubber Chicken Man Hugh Kaufman displays his Chicken Mode T-ShirtRubber Chicken Man Hugh Kaufman and Let Teddy Win Sacrifice a chicken at Nationals ParkIn response to Davey Johnson, Rubber Chicken Man Hugh Kaufman Sacrifices a chicken at Washington Nationals Park“I think Davey has recognized the whole history of baseball Voodoo into the whole history of the sport, and so again has shown tremendous leadership for this squad.”

Kaufman did his homework, following the orthodox Jewish tradition of Kaporos, in which chickens were ritually sacrificed before the Yom Kippur holiday. “This is an offshoot of that,” Kaufman explained before pulling out his butcher knife. “That’s where you transfer the sins to the animal, and so if there are any hidden sins in that Nats locker room, Cool Heat or something like that, that gets transferred to the chicken so when you take the head off, that gets rid of the bad Juju.”

After spinning the chicken counterclockwise above his head, Kaufman asked me to hold the bird, and brandishing a Davey Johnson autographed baseball, finished the job.

Kaufman, an engineer and longtime administrator for the EPA, has built a following since those early days at RFK Stadium. Last season, he started passing out rubber chicken pins from his perch above the Nats dugout as a means of welcoming members to the “Secret Society of the Rubber Chicken,” a group that now claims several Nationals players among its ranks (full disclosure: I am a long-time member as well).

Chicken Mode T-Shirts at Nationals ParkAt spring training this year, some members sported new Chicken Mode t-shirts as a fan counter-point to the “Beast Mode” shirt that’s most closely associated with outfielder Michael Morse.

“Michael Morse loves his “Chicken Mode” shirt,” says Kaufman, “even though he can’t stop laughing every time he looks at it.” Pitcher Gio Gonzalez is also a fan.

As for the chicken? It’s not going anywhere. “The Juju gods have been appeased,” says Kaufman. “No more injuries.” And for the rest of the season you’ll still find Hugh Kaufman right above the Nationals dugout, waving a red flag and a now-headless rubber chicken.

Update: DC Sports Bog’s Dan Steinberg was there and filed this report for the Washington Post

Video to follow. Update: Here it is.

Teddy Roosevelt gives up lead to antagonize Phillies fans

Teddy Roosevelt stops in the Washington Nationals Presidents RaceWashington Nationals racing president Teddy Roosevelt challenges the Phillies Phanatic“Take Back the Park” weekend continued on Saturday afternoon as a near-sellout crowd filled Nationals Park to see the Nats take on the Phillies.

As expected, buses from Philadelphia were lined up outside the Park, and the fans they brought made a lot more noise than they had the night before. Most notable were the taunts from the stands behind former Phillies outfielder Jayson Werth, who acknowledged the jeers with a tip of his cap before crushing a three run homer to break the game open in the fifth.

Teddy Roosevelt too had a chance to silence his critics, taking a big lead into the home stretch of the afternoon’s presidents race.

But Teddy spotted a fan with a sign along the first base line, and was inspired enough to stop cold and display it for the whole stadium to see.

The sign read “Teddy Can Beat the Phanatic!” The opportunity to antagonize the Phillies fans was too much for Roosevelt to resist.

On this day, even die hard members of the Let Teddy Win movement couldn’t find fault with Teddy’s priorities.

Video courtesy of Miss Chatter

New food & other changes for 2012 at Nationals Park

The Strasburger 8 pound burger at Nationals ParkAfter taking their first two series on the road, the Nats bring a winning record back to DC Thursday to kick off what many hope will be a new era noted for Curly Ws on South Capitol Street; but the changes in store for the home opener at Nationals Park go beyond the team’s winning ways.

New food options

Nationals Park food offerings have once again been updated in the off-season, with the most press going to the 8-pound Strasburger, a monstrous $59 offering meant for sharing and available only for select games at the Red Porch restaurant above center field. It will make it’s debut on opening day.

The Taste of the Majors stand behind section 117 has once again received a menu update with new and constantly-changing dishes that represent the visiting team. Look for 5-way Cincinnati Chili for the opening series against the Reds.

The Union Square restaurants along the Miller Lite Scoreboard Walk are adding a number of menu items, including hot dogs, pies, and Sweet Frites at Box Frites, Quesadillas and Churros and El Verano Taquería, and a fried chicken sandwich at Blue Smoke.

The former location of Florida Rock cement factory outside Nationals ParkAnacostia River Walk near Nationals ParkA turning point for the neighborhood

Many expect 2012 to be a turning point for the team on the field, and as timing would have it, it’s looking like a turning point for the neighborhood outside the stadium as well.

Outside the First Base gate, the long-envisioned river views from Nationals Park are finally beginning to take shape, as the Florida Rock cement factory that stood between the stadium and the river has finally been demolished.

For the first time, fans can walk along the river from a new bridge by Nationals Park to the new Yards Park development, including the Foundry Lofts building, which houses the first of several new restaurants.

Before and after the game

Half Street Fairgrounds at Nationals ParkHalf Street Fairgrounds outside Nationals ParkOn the opposite side of the field, the Half Street Fairgrounds makes its debut just across from the Centerfield gates, on the block formerly occupied by The Bullpen. The Half Street block is now dotted with an array of brightly-painted shipping containers stretching from M to N Streets, with each containing a different local food stand. Look for trucks from Bayou and Surfside, plus Red Hook Lobster Pound, DC Empanadas, Curbside Cupcakes, Tasty Kabob, Big Cheese, and others, with live entertainment before and after games. Fairgrounds owner Jason York told ABC 7 News they are “combining Eastern Market with food trucks.”

What hasn’t changed

Parking around Nationals Park remains a great value. Prices did not go up, and lots are as cheap as $5 if you’re willing to walk 10 minutes up South Capitol street. In previous seasons, availability has not been a problem, but lots fill fastest for sellout weekday games such as Thursday’s opener, so plan ahead.

Strasburger photo via Twitter by Tracee Wilkins

Nationals Park introduces the 8-pound StrasBurger

The Nationals will offer a new menu item at Nationals Park in 2012: an 8-pound cheeseburger dubbed the “StrasBurger.”

The Washington Nationals have introduced an 8 pound burger called the StrasBurger (8 pounds including toppings and fries)The Red Loft and the Red PorchNationals Victory Knot PretzelTaste of the MajorsAs announced by the Nationals and first reported by Dan Steinberg over at the Post this afternoon, the burger will be available at the Red Porch restaurant in the centerfield plaza.

The Nationals said the burger weighs eight pounds total including toppings, and is made from a combination of ground brisket, chuck and short ribs:

“The burger is served on a large burger bun with our secret sauce, American cheese, shredded lettuce, sliced tomatoes, sliced red onions, pickle chips and served with a cone basket of fresh cut fries and a pitcher of your choice of soft drink. This signature dish is the perfect entrée to share at this affordably-priced family restaurant.”

This is the first time we’ve seen the Nats pitch the Red Loft as an “affordable family restaurant.” The price hasn’t been disclosed, but if you’re willing to share, it will likely be a value. An eight pound burger should be able to feed multiple families.

The new item builds on the appeal of the “Victory Knot,” the two-pound pretzel built for sharing that has been available at the Red Loft for the past two seasons. All we need now is a 200-ounce beer and Nats fans will have a value meal for the ages.

The Nationals also announced that the “Taste of the Majors” concession stand behind section 117 will once again get a revamped menu — a seemingly annual tradition. And once again, the team is attempting to do a better job of delivering on the original concept. That is, the stand will have a constantly-changing menu with a dish from visiting team’s city, available during that series only.

It’s a fun concept that’s hard to execute, but like they say, maybe the fourth time’s the charm. Let’s check out what they have in store for the Nationals’ 2012 season:

Atlanta: Smothered Fried Chicken Platter
Baltimore: Baltimore Pit Beef Sandwich Platter
Arizona: Arizona Dog Platter
Chicago: Chicago Dog Platter
Cincinnati: 5-Way Cincinnati Chili
Colorado: Colorado ‘Mile High’ Burger
Houston: Houston Nacho
Los Angeles: L.A. Dog Platter
Miami: Miami Cuban Dog
Milwaukee: Milwaukee Beer Brat Platter
New York (Mets and Yankees): Coney Dog Platter
Philadelphia: Philly Chicken Cheese Steak Platter
Pittsburgh: Pitts Burger Platter
St. Louis: BBQ Rib Platter
San Diego: San Diego Fish Taco Platter
San Francisco: San Fran Garlic Fries and Shrimp Platter
Tampa Bay: Tampa Salty Dog Platter

Hmm… Kudos to the Nationals and Levy Restaurant Group for continuing to try to make this concept work, but with more than half of the “regional specialties” listed as burgers or dogs, they might still have some work to do.

Ballpark Bus to Nationals Park gains momentum with first five area locations

Ballpark Bus to Nationals Park appears to be here to stay.

Ballpark Bus to Nationals Park - LogoSince we first wrote about the venture, which aims to give suburban Nats fans a new transportation alternative, the fledgling company has established pricing, lined up its first five official Ballpark Bus Stations, and begun taking reservations at www.BallparkBus.com with ticket prices as low as $15/game.

“The response we’ve received from Nats fans has been excellent,” said co-founder Brian Bowman. “As baseball season creeps closer and closer, we expect our reach to expand exponentially.”

BallPark Bus to Nationals Park - Official Station

Participating restaurants are pitching in to market the service in the hopes of becoming suburban hubs for Nationals fans

Initial demand was strongest in suburban Virginia, where all five of the first Ballpark Bus Stations are located. They include Clyde’s restaurant in Ashburn, The Greene Turtle in Ballston, Velocity Five in Centreville, Glory Days Grill in Reston/Herndon, and The Greene Turtle in Sterling.

“A lot of folks in Maryland are asking when they’re getting a station, particularly along I-270,” added Bowman. “They can rest assured that we are looking at several potential locations.”

How it works

The Ballpark Bus system is modeled after regional bus models, where discounts are provided for booking early and routes are added based on meeting a minimum level of demand.

Reservations for each series will open three weeks prior to the first game, and those booking in the first three days of availability get a discounted price. Riders can sign up for email alerts to get notified when discount tickets go on sale for future series.

What if they don’t hit the minimum number of riders? Bowman says if they are unable to reach the minimum, they will notify all reservations via e-mail “several days before your game.” No payments are processed until the bus is confirmed. When a bus is confirmed, tickets are sent via email and remaining seats are sold up until game day.

Bowman says participating restaurants are playing a big part in getting the word out, as they try to establish themselves as suburban hubs for Nationals fans. At least one, the Greene Turtle in Sterling, is offering 20% off food purchases when you show your Ballpark Bus ticket.

Expect the Ballpark Bus team to try to inject a little fun for riders as well, such as a free Ryan Zimmerman autographed baseball for one lucky rider to the Nats home opener. “We’ll be doing fun stuff like that all year,” says Bowman, “Guess how many strikeouts Strasburg will have on the way to the game, and we’ll reward gift cards and other prizes to the winners on the way back home.”

Full Nationals Promotion/Giveaway Schedule for 2012

Here it is — the full Washington Nationals promotion/giveaway schedule for the 2012 season at Nationals Park.

There are a several additions to the preliminary schedule we previously shared. Notably, the very popular Pups in the Park promotion, in which a section is reserved for canine guests, returns to Nationals Park for four dates in April, June, July, and September. Only the previously announced luggage tag giveaway has disappeared.

The 2012 promotion schedule includes three Saturday post-game concerts (bands all to be announced), and bobblehead nights for Michael Morse, Stephen Strasburg, and Ryan Zimmerman. Fan Appreciation Day has been redubbed “Fantastic FANale.” The only announced Fireworks for the season are on Tuesday, July 3rd.

The Nationals clearly don’t anticipate the need to promote their three series vs. the Phillies, or their interleague series vs. the Yankees and Rays. Those fifteen games are notable for their absence of giveaways.

2012 Washington Nationals Promotional/Giveaway Schedule

Tue 4/3 3:05 BOS Exhibition Game
Schedule Magnet (1st 20,000 fans)
Thu 4/12 1:05 CIN Opening Day Cap (1st 20,000 fans)
Fri 4/13 7:05 CIN T-Shirt (1st 15,000 fans)
Sat 4/14 4:05 CIN Stephen Strasburg Bobblehead (1st 15,000 fans)
Sun 4/15 1:35 CIN Jackie Robinson Day
Signature Sunday
Kids Run the Bases
Sat 4/21 1:05 FLA Pups in the Park
Sun 4/22 1:35 FLA Ryan Zimmerman Kids Jersey (1st 100,000 fans 12 & under)
Screech’s Birthday
Signature Sunday
Kids Run the Bases
Thu 5/3 7:05 ARI Drawstring Backpack (1st 20,000 fans)
Wed 5/16 7:05 PIT Military Appreciation Night
Thu 5/17 7:05 PIT Ladies Night
Sat 5/19 7:15 BAL Nationals Script Cap (1st 30,000 fans)
Sun 5/20 1:35 BAL Kids T-Shirt (1st 10,000 fans 12 & under)
Signature Sundays
Kids Run the Bases
Sat 6/2 4:05 ATL Pups in the Park
Post-game Concert: Dierks Bentley
Sun 6/3 1:35 ATL Signature Sundays
Kids Run the Bases
Sun 6/17 1:35 NYY Signature Sundays
Kids Run the Bases
Thu 6/21 7:05 TPA Black Heritage Night
Tue 7/3 6:35 SFO Post-game Fireworks
Thu 7/5 7:05 SFO Replica Truck (1st 15,000 fans)
Sat 7/7 4:05 COL Pups in the Park
Sun 7/8 1:35 COL Signature Sundays
Kids Run the Bases
Fri 7/20 7:05 ATL Beer Stein (1st 10,000 fans 21 & older)
Sat 7/21 7:05 ATL Post-game Concert: The Wallflowers
Sun 7/22 1:35 ATL Kids T-Shirt (1st 10,000 fans 12 & under)
Signature Sundays
Kids Run the Bases
Sat 8/4 7:05 FLA T-Shirt (1st 20,000 fans)
Sun 8/5 1:35 FLA Michael Morse Bobblehead (1st 15,000 fans)
Signature Sundays
Kids Run the Bases
Fri 8/17 7:05 NYM Retro Cap (first 10,000 fans)
Sat 8/18 7:05 NYM Post-Game Concert: Third Eye Blind
Sun 8/19 1:35 NYM Signature Sundays
Kids Run the Bases
Sat 9/1 7:05 STL On-Field Team Photo Day
Sun 9/2 1:35 STL Kids Run the Show
Signature Sundays
Kids Run the Bases
Sat 9/8 1:05 FLA Ryan Zimmerman Bobblehead (1st 15,000 fans)
Sun 9/9 1:35 FLA Signature Sundays
Kids Run the Bases
Thu 9/20 7:05 LAD Hispanic Heritage Night
Sat 9/22 1:05 MIL Team Poster (1st 20,000 fans)
Pups in the Park
Sun 9/23 1:35 MIL Signature Sundays
Kids Run the Bases
Wed 10/3 1:05 PHI Fantastic FANale

Open auditions to sing the national anthem at Nationals Park

DSC_5017The Washington Nationals have announced that they will hold their 5th annual national anthem auditions at Nationals Park on Saturday, March 10th.

The first 90 people to submit an application will be invited to the auditions, which are closed to the public. To be selected, send an email with your resume and a head shot (recent photo) to anthem@nationals.com.

Note that the team is not looking for originality. Auditions must be “in the traditional style,” and no more than 90 seconds in length. Groups and instrumentalists are invited to audition, but singers must perform a capella.

The Nationals will also hold tryouts for prospective ballgirls this month. If you are at least 18, athletic, energetic, and able to track foul balls without interfering with the play, you can submit a resume, cover letter and recent headshot to entertainment@nationals.com by February 21. Tryouts will be at Nationals Park on Saturday, Feb. 25.

Photo by Flickr user Adam Fagen

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