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.

Schedule for Sunday’s NatsFest 2010

The week-long Washington Nationals Winter Caravan comes to a climactic end this Sunday, January 31 with the second annual NatsFest at Nationals Park.

Ryan Zimmerman at NatsFest, photo by Eve Roytshteyn MLB.comNationals fans who caught last year’s inaugural event were treated to an unusual level of access to players and management, as well as behind-the-scenes opportunities to visit the home and visitor clubhouses, batting cage, Lexus Presidents Club and more. This is a can’t-miss event for the true Nats fan.

General admission tickets are available at nationals.com for $10 (adults) and $5 (kids), and include parking in the B & C garages adjacent to the centerfield plaza. Season ticket holders have until midnight Saturday night to claim their tickets for free.

The full schedule of events is available for download here. This year’s schedule includes photo and autograph sessions with players, clubhouse tours, batting cage sessions, a Kids Zone with the Nationals racing presidents, various giveaways & charity auctions, plus Q&A sessions with GM Mike Rizzo, Manager Jim Riggleman, team President Stan Kasten, and journalists George Will and Tim Kurkjian.

Last year’s Q&A sessions drew packed crowds, so this year, the sessions have been moved to the Red Porch Restaurant, and guests are being asked to register on a first-come, first-served basis beginning at 11:00am in the Exxon Strike Zone. If you don’t want to ask a question yourself, don’t worry. Each session will be simulcast throughout the stadium. In fact, last year when we failed to get into Manny Acta’s Q&A session, we watched from the comfort of the Nats’ clubhouse. Nice!

Photo of Ryan Zimmerman by Eve Roytshteyn/MLB.com.

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