Lincoln holds off challengers to take his 3rd title as the Nationals racing presidents bid farewell to Stan Kasten

In the end, it was no contest.

After a back and forth month in which both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson made strong runs at first place in the presidents race standings, back-to-back repeat champion Abraham Lincoln held off all challengers in the final race of the season, pulling away for a convincing victory and claiming the presidents race title for the third year in a row.

More importantly, the race marked the fifth straight season of futility for #26, Teddy Roosevelt, who failed to deliver in the final home game for Nationals president Stan Kasten, the aleged architect of the anti-Teddy conspiracy.

Racing presidents farewell to Stan KastenNo sooner had Nationals mascot Screech declared Lincoln the winner, when he joined the presidents in holding up signs of appreciation for Kasten, who announced last week that he would be leaving the team at the end of the season.

During his five year tenure with the Nationals, Kasten has been both praised and criticized for his marketing of the team and the Nationals Park experience, including the now-famous 4th-inning presidents race. A Nationals Park farewell tribute was punctuated by a presentation of cupcakes to Kasten by Teddy Roosevelt.

The racing presidents will carry some compelling story lines into the off season. After three straight titles, is it fair now to declare this a presidents race dynasty for the Great Emancipator? With Kasten departing, will we see the team take a tougher stance on Abe’s cheating? Most importantly, with new management in place, will 2011 be the year the Nationals finally let Teddy win?

Video courtesy of YouTube member lfahome (whose video of Tuesday’s race was featured tonight on ESPN)

The Grinch steals victory from Teddy Roosevelt

The final homestand of the season at Nationals Park has been filled with surprises for loyal Washington Nationals fans, with myriad promotions and giveaways as part of the team’s fan appreciation month.

But those fans lamenting another goose egg of a season by a certain racing president were merely teased by the prospect of getting the ultimate gift — a Teddy Roosevelt victory.

The Grinch prevents Teddy Roosevelt from winning the presidents raceOn Sunday at Nationals Park, that gift was dangled in front of them as it appeared outgoing team president Stan Kasten was finally going to let Teddy win. Roosevelt pulled away from the pack and appeared un-catchable heading into the home stretch.

Perhaps it was Kasten who was waiting in ambush, wearing a Grinch costume.

The Grinch flew onto the field from the first base stands, plowing into Teddy, knocking his glasses off and ensuring that the losing streak would remain intact.

Video courtesy of YouTube member lfahome

Calling for a Teddy victory Friday night

DC-based musician, blogger, and fellow marketing professional Mike Holden writes in his blog Thursday that Stan Kasten and the Nationals should consider restoring a little dignity for the 40,000-or-so fans who snapped up tickets to Friday night’s game against the Cincinnati Reds based on reports that pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg would be making his major league debut that night.

“What better way is there to reward those in attendance for this non-Strasburg start,” Holden writes, “than with something that’s just as rare as Pitching Jesus?” A Teddy Roosevelt victory, says Holden, still gives the fans “something that some will proudly say they were there in-person for.”

Our readers have speculated variously that Teddy’s mounting losses will come to an end when the the Nats win the division, or make the playoffs, or win the World Series, or even when Strasburg makes his debut; but I’m in Mike’s camp. Reward the faithful. End the suffering. Give us something special. Let Teddy Win tonight!

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.

Nationals blogs forced to fill the print gap

With the Washington Nationals preparing for their most highly-anticipated spring training since the team moved to DC, the oft-snakebitten franchise finds itself without a voice at DC’s major newspapers.

The Washington Times today announced restructuring and layoffs that include drastic cut-backs in local news and sports reporting. The staff reductions of over 40% mean the Times is throwing in the towel on local print news to focus on national politics.

The announcement comes after Washington Post Nationals reporter Chico Harlan reported that he is leaving the Nationals beat as soon as the Post can find a replacement.

Of course, anybody paying attention saw it coming. Two seasons ago, when Harlan took over the Nats beat, he made it clear he wouldn’t stay in the job more than a couple of years. As for the Times, even their most tenured sports reporters have been interviewing for jobs this year as they watched readership drop and were continually asked to do more for less.

Nats followers will surely miss Mark Zuckerman and Ben Goessling’s Chatter, and the commentary of Thom Loverro, who last season so eloquently argued that the Nats must Let Teddy Win in order to escape the curse of Teddy Roosevelt.

But I’m going to miss Chico the most. Harlan won me over in his first weeks on the job, but the humor and eloquence with which he chronicled last year’s train wreck of a season merits a plaque in the sportswriter’s hall of fame.

As for the Nats, the sad reality is that come opening day, the Nationals Park press box will be home to just one full-time print journalist who has never covered the team.

Nationals president Stan Kasten has always had a love/hate relationship with bloggers, but his decision last season to embrace the Natosphere is looking mighty prescient. As print coverage continues to wither, a small army of loyal and dedicated Nationals bloggers continues to cover the team’s every move. The team has followed up this off-season with conference calls and invitations to press conferences as the Nats announced their skipper and GM.

The Natosphere is remarkably strong for such a young franchise. For better or worse, it represents the most consistent local coverage of our favorite team. Kudos to the Nats for recognizing the growing role of blogs in local coverage.

Stan, has it come to this already?

Stan KastenOMG.

Only one day into the season and Nationals president Stan “Nats Town” Kasten is on the radio in Philadelphia this morning inviting Phillies fans to come down to DC for the Nationals’ opening series vs. the Phillies at Nationals Park!.

My lord. I want the team to fill its coffers, but how about doing a little better job marketing right here in DC before stooping so low! Kudos to Dan Steinberg at D.C. Sports Bog for bringing this to the attention of Nationals fans.

Stan, we love the plan, but this is not the way to win the hearts of DC fans.

Barack Obama to throw out the first pitch at Nationals home opener

Barack Obama will throw out the first pitch at Nationals Park for the Washington Nationals home opener on April 13.Ben Goessling reports in Saturday’s Washington Times that president Barack Obama will throw out the first pitch at the Washington Nationals home opener against the Phillies on April 13.

The Times cites a club source who spoke “on the condition of anonymity” because no announcement has been made.

Team president Stan Kasten and various members of the Natosphere have hoped that Obama will make the presidential first pitch an annual tradition in Washington. That seems more likely than converting Obama into a Nationals fan — at least in the short-term.

Lots of tickets still available at Nationals.com.

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…

Teddy Heads to Syracuse for Friday’s Hot Stove Dinner

syracuse-chiefs-logoTeddy Roosevelt is kicking off the new year with a trip to Syracuse, New York, to help welcome the Washington Nationals’ new AAA affiliate Syracuse Chiefs to the Nationals family.

This Friday, January 16, marks the Chiefs’ 48th annual “Hot Stove Dinner” — a $50-a-plate event in which fans shmooz with team brass and get a preview of the upcoming season. Washington Nationals president Stan Kasten and manager Manny Acta will be in attendance Friday night, along with Chiefs manager Tim Foli, but I’m betting the line will be longest for photos with our favorite racing president, #26 himself.

The forecast calls for snow showers and a high temperature of 12 degrees, so Teddy had better bundle up. If you’re heading to Syracuse, tickets are available at the Chiefs’ ticket office or by calling 315-474-7833.

Ideas to improve the Nationals Park experience

The Red Porch at Nationals ParkThis morning, Steven over at the Fire Jim Bowden blog posted his ideas for improving the fan experience at Nationals Park. Some of the ideas may not be practical, but I hope Stan Kasten takes it seriously. Some of the no-brainers include allowing fans to watch batting practice, and calling off the security guards when a fan throws back an opposing team’s home run. And yes, I’d like to know what happened to that planned big baseball over the red loft.

Possibly the best and biggest no-brainer of an idea is opening up the gates after the 11th inning and during the Saturday night movies. You’d be giving something away for free without cannibalizing revenues, boost concession sales, and specifically give back and build relationships with the community immediately surrounding Nationals Park. Check it out.

Teddy Roosevelt/Stan Kasten interview on ESPN’s First Take

CORRECTION: I had originally thought this would air Friday, but it aired this morning on ESPN2:

Nationals’ president Stan Kasten says in the interview that the presidents race is not fixed, and that “it’s inevitable” that Teddy will win. He also hints that there may be more 1-on-1 races in Teddy’s future like his recent race against the Orioles Bird.

Presidents race nominated again for best on-field promotion

It’s not necessarily a compliment to Stan Kasten to say that the presidents race is the best thing the Washington Nationals have going, but let’s just say that with half the starters on the DL and the team flirting with the worst record in baseball, the awards this year will be few and far between.

Washington Nationals racing presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abe LincolnRegular readers know that the Washington Nationals presidents race was named best on-field promotion of 2007 by Gameops.com, a web site which connects sports teams and
event producers with ideas and tools
for on-field promotions.

GameOps editor John Cudo, who works for the Cleveland Cavaliers
and himself spent 7 years as the
mascot for the Minnesota Timberwolves, reported this week that the Washington Nationals presidents race has been nominated again for best on-field promotion of 2008.

Cudo has written numerous times about the presidents race and claims a “mild addiction” to the Let Teddy Win blog, calling it “a season long tutorial on how to keep a promotion you do every night interesting.”

According to Cudo, the annual Best Of awards are among the most popular features of their site. Nominations come from readers and are judged by a panel of industry leaders and insiders. “The decision (last year) was overwhelming and simple,” Cudo told me via email. “Nearly everyone who had an opinion held the race in DC in very high regard.”

I’m rooting for the racing presidents to pull off the repeat. It may be Teddy’s best chance to claim a victory this year.

Photo by flickr member melanie.phung

Teddy Roosevelt Goes 0-for-Pittsburgh

The Washington Nationals’ long road trip started off with a whimper, as the team took just 1 of 3 games this week vs. the Pirates at PNC Park in Pittsburgh.

Washington Nationals Racing President Teddy Roosevelt at PNC Park in PittsburghIt was however a slightly more successful series if measured in terms of fan goodwill. The rivaly between the Washington Nationals and Pittsburgh Pirates falls somewhere between benign and nonexistent, so this year the teams decided to inject a little extra fun into the contest by sending mascots to the other team’s stadium.

After hosting the Pirates’ Racing Pierogies at Nationals Park in May, the Nationals visited Pittsburgh’s PNC Park this week with members of the Nat Pack in tow, including racing presidents George, Tom, Abe, and Teddy.

After Teddy’s disastrous turn running anchor for the presidents in relay races against the pierogies in games 1 and 2, the mascots hung up the cleats for game three today and just entertained the fans.

Kudos to Stan Kasten and the Nats organization for spreading the goodwill and putting the presidents on the road. I hope we get to see more of this type of reciprocity with other teams around the league.

Just keep the Phillie Phanatic out of Nationals Park.

Photo courtesy of Angela Calo

Presidents Race “Best On-Field Promotion of 2007″

GameOps.com, a web site focused on sports entertainment and promotions, recognized the Washington Nationals presidents race with its Golden Steagle award for best contest or on-field promotion of 2007.

Of course I couldn’t agree more, but this is a nice feather in the cap for Stan Kasten and the young Nationals marketing team, especially considering that Gameops.com covers teams across a spectrum of sports (including frequently more creative minor league teams).

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