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.

Si.com’s Inside Baseball calls presidents race a conspiracy

Today over at SI.com, Inside Baseball’s Joe Lemire throws a nod to LetTeddyWin.com, calling the Washington Nationals presidents race an “apparent conspiracy,” and quotes Nationals pitcher Joel Hanrahan, who predicts that Teddy Roosevelt will never win: “No, never. Absolutely not. I gave up watching that race. I can’t take it any more. At least give me an effort, will you?”

The “Spring Postcard” column is a worthy read for Nationals fans, most notably for Lemire’s account of Assistant General Manager Mike Rizzo’s week in the Dominican Republic.

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…

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