Toe-to-Toe with Presidents Teddy Roosevelt and Stan Kasten at first-ever NatsFest

Natsfest crowd at Nationals ParkNationals Park was abuzz with life on this cold winter day as thousands of Washington Nationals fans were drawn to the first annual NatsFest fan fest. For the ticket price of just $10.00, Nats fans were able to wander through the usually-restricted field level concourse, lounge in the home team clubhouse, sit in a $300+ Presidents Club seat, take a swing from live pitching in the Nats’ indoor batting cage, and mingle with the likes of manager Manny Acta, General Manager Jim Bowden, team President Stan Kasten, broadcasters, players, and more.

Jim Bowden answers questions from fans at NatsFestAs Steinberg documents well in this evening’s Sports Bog, the Q&A sessions with Acta, Bowden, Kasten, and Assistant GM Mike Rizzo were packed and lively, with numerous questions about the team’s off-season spending (or lack thereof); but Kasten also drew a number of terrific questions about the fan experience, and in what Steinberg called “perhaps the best moment of the day,” addressed the Teddy question.

Kasten told the crowd that he has been a visitor to LetTeddyWin.com. “I’m asked all the time about this Let Teddy Win stuff,” Kasten said, “and ‘Stan, when is Teddy gonna win?’ as if I’m Nostradamus or something like that. How could I know…? But I do know this: Law of averages says he’s gonna win some day, and the only way to be sure you’re here for when that happens is to come every night!”

Stan Kasten answers questions from fans at NatsFestKasten promised a number of changes to the fan experience for 2009, including expansion of the Red Porch to bring tables into the stadium seating area, centerfield plaza improvements to include a “fire pit,” and more food options including value meals at concession stands and “experiments with all-you-can-eat sections” on select game nights.

Kasten also shed some light on why the giant baseball that had been depicted above the Red Loft in pre-construction renderings of Nationals Park never appeared for the inaugural season, explaining that “something” would be installed above the red loft, but that it was pending negotiations with sponsors. Considering that Kasten oversaw the installation of the giant Coke bottle above Turner Field in Atlanta, it’s all making sense now.

The Washington Nationals Racing Presidents at NatsFestThe Nationals racing presidents were noticeably absent from the concourses and activities throughout the park, but could be found behind a door being guarded by Nationals mascot Screech in the “Kids Zone,” a large room in the stadium’s conference center.

Who knew ball parks had conference rooms?

Washington Nationals Racing President Abe Lincoln at NatsfestThe Kids Zone looked remarkably well-staffed and organized, with young Nats fans being entertained by Clint Khoury and the Nat Pack, plus racing presidents Teddy, Abe, George, and Tom, and activities including a moon bounce, wiffle ball, face painting, balloon animals, caricatures, and even a Guitar Hero arcade.

Most remarkable was that the kids zone crowd paled in comparison with the lines that formed for all the “adult” activities. Even the wait for a hand-painted caricature was minimal compared to the time people were spending upstairs waiting for a photo with Ryan Zimmerman. The kids looked like they were having a blast, though it made me nervous to see Abe Lincoln helping kids in and out of the moon bounce. I just don’t trust that guy…

Segways are no help to Teddy in presidents race

The Washington Nationals are pulling out all the stops for the final week of the home season, with a promotional schedule filled with special events and fan giveaways.

Presidents race riding segways at Washington Nationals gameToday at Nationals Park, the team upped the ante for the presidents race as well, putting all four of the racing presidents on Segway personal transporters for the last day game of the season.

Teddy Roosevelt pulled out first and took and early lead, followed closely by Thomas Jefferson and Abe Lincoln. With the Segways acting as natural speed-equalizers, it was Teddy’s race to lose, but he lost control of his segway at the outfield turn, and started spinning in circles. Tom beat Abe to the finish line to take his first presidents race victory since August.

Perhaps Teddy needs to take Segway lessons from general manager Jim Bowden, who rides a Nationals logo-covered Segway around the team’s spring training fields in Viera, Florida.

After a day off Monday, the Nationals will host the Florida Marlins for the final home series of the season starting Tuesday night.

Photo by flickr user culhanen

The Real Problem with Willy Mo Peña

Lost amid the all-star headlines yesterday was the news that the Washington Nationals’ beleaguered left fielder Wily Mo Peña was likely headed to the disabled list.

Wearing Teddy's Number 26, Wily Mo Pena grounds into a double play.  Flickr photo by MissChatter.The 26-year-old would-be slugger might very well be the biggest disappointment for the Nationals in a season choc full of disappointments. Touted as an everyday middle-of-the order power hitter when GM Jim Bowden acquired him from Boston, Peña has instead hit an embarrassing .205 this season with just two home runs and 10 RBI.

Now an MRI has revealed that Peña has been playing with a small tear in his left rotator cuff and a frayed labrum in his left shoulder, something the Nationals should have diagnosed much earlier. Bowden pointed to this discovery as “certainly the main reason” that Peña has not performed, but just to be safe, may I suggest that the Nationals made another mistake that could be affecting Wily Mo’s play.

Teddy Roosevelt Jersey T-Shirt Number 26When the Nationals brought Peña here from the Red Sox, they changed his uniform number from 22 to 26, the number previously worn by pitcher Ramon Ortiz.

Surely Wily Mo asked for the number he’d worn while with the Cincinnati Reds, but if he’d been paying attention, he might have noted that the #26 is already owned by the most cursed member of the Nationals for the last 3 seasons: Teddy Roosevelt.

In an organization that has had more than it’s share of bad luck, Teddy has easily been the most snakebitten of all. Until Teddy’s run of bad luck clears up, the organization might think about keeping #26 set aside just for him.

My advice to Wily Mo: Rest that shoulder, and when you come back, ask for a new number.

Photo of Wily Mo Peña courtesy of Nationals blogger Miss Chatter.

Goodbye John Patterson

John PattersonThe Washington Nationals surprised nobody but their own fans by releasing pitcher John Patterson today. I was surely not alone in being taken by surprise. A lot of us had hopes that he could still play the role of staff ace, having been mesmerized by his flashes of brilliance in 2005 and at the very beginning of the 2006 season, before arm trouble got the best of him.

But after failing to hit 90 mph in Spring Training, and stinking it up this week in his final spring training game in front of Nats owner Mark Lerner, the team clearly had seen enough.

The remarkable thing is that he wasn’t traded or waived. Patterson’s release means that general manager Jim Bowden couldn’t get a single bite on Patterson via trade. If no major league team was willing to take on Patterson’s $850,000 contract, then you know we’ve all been drinking the Kool Aid. Good luck John (just not against the Nats).

The Washington Nationals Got Younger. Will They Be Better?

It’s been rumored that Stan Kasten is considering adding more presidents to the presidents race at Nationals Park in 2008. Could this be part of The Plan to make the team younger as they seek to build a champion? Teddy Roosevelt is currently the youngest of the racing presidents, but he was born 149 years ago, so none of them are exactly spring chickens.

But seriously, the team did get younger this week. The question on fans’ minds is did they also get better?

At the recently-concluded winter meetings, Washington Nationals GM Jim Bowden made several big moves. When the dust cleared, the Nationals had said goodbye to Brian Schneider, Ryan Church, Jonathan Albaledejo, Billy Traber, Justin Jones, and Glen Gibson.

The new faces on the Nationals include Lastings Milledge, Elijah Dukes, Tyler Clippard, Aaron Boone, Matt Whitney, Garrett Guzman, and as has been reported by Barry Svrugla., catcher Paul LoDuca.

Followers of the Washington Nationals such as Mark Zuckerman and Chris Needham seem to agree that the team made a lot of progress this week. But while I applaud Bowden for executing against The Plan, I’m not ready to greet the moves with anything other than a little cautious optimism.

Did the Nationals address needs? Yes.
Did they get younger? Absolutely.
Did they acquire some upside potential on the cheap? Without question.

On the flip side, they also created some holes that have yet to be filled. There are no left-handed bats to speak of, and more importantly, they left themselves with only Jesus Flores at the catcher position. The signing of LoDuca doesn’t fill that hole. It only puts an exclamation point on the fact that they couldn’t fill it. LoDuca’s 1-year contract is a stopgap until a long-term solution is found.

At some point, when the Nationals acquire their catcher of the future, let’s take a look at what they had to give up to get him, and then we can do the math. If it turns out that another year of seasoning is all Jesus Flores needs to become an all star behind the plate, then Bowden looks like a genius.

Washington Nationals Trade All Their Left-Handed Starters

When I first saw the cozy right field dimensions of the new Nationals Park, my first thought was “if their averages don’t improve at least we’ll see more home runs from Ryan Church and Brian Schneider.”

Well, today the Washington Nationals announced that they had traded Brian Schneider and Ryan Church to the New York Mets for outfielder Lastings Milledge. Milledge is only 22 years old and filled with raw talent, but the Mets are in “win now” mode, and are willing to trade potential in change for consistency and experience, particularly behind the plate.

I have to commend Jim Bowden for continuing to advance The Plan. Schneider in particular was a fan favorite — an original National whose experience is credited with holding together last year’s rag-tag pitching staff. Still, it’s hard to criticize the team for getting younger and cheaper while filling a hole. It could be an absolute steal if Milledge fulfills his potential in a Nationals uniform.

Here’s what concerns me. Am I the only one who noticed that the Nationals just traded their only 2 left-handed starting pull hitters in exchange for another righty?

With Church and Schneider gone, switch-hitting Dmitri Young is the only potential regular starter with even a slightly better career batting average vs. left-handed pitchers. Here are the career splits for the 11 Nationals position players who stand to get the most starts. The right column shows the difference in batting average when facing right-handed pitching (for Nook Logan, I only included his right-handed at-bats, since he is no longer a switch-hitter).

Player vs Right vs Left Difference
Dmitri Young .286 .295 +.09
Cristian Guzman .263 .263
Felipe Lopez .257 .260 -.03
Ronnie Belliard .270 .284 -.14
Nick Johnson .264 .295 -.31
Austin Kearns .257 .289 -.32
Lastings Milledge .246 .281 -.35
Wily Mo Pena .247 .283 -.36
Jesus Flores .220 .270 -.50
Ryan Zimmerman .267 .330 -.63
Nook Logan .237 .314 -.77

As you can see, things are fairly stable with the switch hitters at the top of the list, but it falls off the charts pretty quickly after that.

I hope the Nats have found the centerfielder of the future, but I just can’t get too comfortable with this young lineup. Last year, as a team the Nationals batted only .250 vs. right-handers while hitting .272 vs. lefties. You won’t find a differential like that on a playoff team, yet after today’s trade, how can it possibly improve?

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