January 28, 2013 [LINK / comment]
I was in the Washington area on Saturday, and took advantage of the opportunity to attend "NatsFest,"the first time I had done so. It's basically a way to get the fans fired up for the forthcoming season by having the team members talk, mingle, and sign autographs. (You have to get a special "autograph voucher" months in advance, however.) The event was a big success, numbers-wise, and my guess of about 5,000 people in attendance turned out to be correct. (See WaPo article below.)
Outside it was bitterly cold, but inside the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, the air was heated by excited mobs of Nats fans scrambling to get a better view. At one point I had to wait in line over ten minutes because the room was filled to capacity. Good grief! It's a sign of the team's great achievements (and near-triumph) last year: Everybody loves a winner!
My impression was that the players are very confident in their prospects for defending the National League Eastern Division championship this year. It's hard to argue that they are the team to beat, but as we all know, injuries can change things dramatically during the regular season, and anything -- anything! -- can happen in the postseason.
Even with the program, you can't tell which players are going to be in which places at which times, so getting good pictures was a matter of luck. At one point Bryce Harper, Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann were on the left side of the stage, and Gio Gonzalez, Tyler Clippard, and (I think) one other guy on the right side, but I couldn't get a decent photo of the latter group. I got a new camera with a 50x zoom lens for Christmas, and it came in handy on Saturday. I look forward to using it at Nats games this year. I added a big batch of photos from NatsFest to the Washington Nationals photo gallery page, including nine closeup photos of the players.
I caught the last part of General Manager Mike Rizzo's introduction of Dan Haren (pitcher) and Denard Span (outfielder) in the main ballroom. They represent the team owners' commitment to fielding a team capable of going all the way in the postseason. They are both happy to be playing for Washington.
One of the big questions is how Drew Storen has handled the stunning loss to the Cardinals in the NLDS Game 5. I was pleased to see that he is as upbeat as ever, having put the whole mess behind him. Storen expressed appreciation for all the fan support, and remarked that he was caught be surprise by news that Rafael Soriano had been signed, taking Storen's place as the main closer. I hope they all get along... For more on the NatsFest event, see the Washington Post and MLB.com.
Two of the players sported a massive growth of facial hair: Jayson Werth and Danny Espinosa. With his long hair, Werth almost looks like a cave man. (Future commercials for GEICO?) From a closeup picture I took of Danny, I think it's pretty clear that he used dye to make his beard black. ("Does he or doesn't he? Only his hair dresser knows for sure." -- a TV ad from the 1960s) Evidently, he is emulating Brian Wilson and some of the other San Francisco Giants players who look like Russian Orthodox priests.
One of the big "headline" events was the introduction of the newest president: William H. "Bill" Taft, who succeeded Teddy Roosevelt in 1909. He then had a falling out with his fellow Republican, who then ran against him on the Bull Moose ticket in the 1912 election, which is how Democrat Woodrow Wilson got elected president. (See my Presidency reference page.) If I understand correctly, most of the presidents' races this year will feature a lot of rivalry between "Bill" and "Teddy." (I'll bet they're going to have an Excellent Adventure! )
My only big complaint was the long lines in the various food concession kiosks. I guess they didn't expect that many people to show up. Three times I gave up and went to a different line, only to wait even more. The pizza line was shorter, but all they had was cheese pizza, not the gourmet or pepperoni choices. It was pretty good, at least. Another minor gripe is the way the players were kept in groups of three or four, in rooms filled with hundreds of people. If they had them in groups of two or three, in more rooms, it would have been easier for more fans to get closer to the players.
The final event of the afternoon was a mock "Jeopardy" game, pitting Ross Detwiler against Drew Storen and Jayson Werth. Conceptually, it was a great idea, something that "Saturday Night Live" has parodied very well over the years, but some of the questions were absurdly trivial. For example, how many square feet are there in the main scoreboard at Nationals Park? Even I don't know that! The categories were:
At one point Werth asked where Adam LaRoche was, making me wonder if he had been expected to attend. And what about Stephen Strasburg? Each player has contractual obligations to make a certain number of public appearances on behalf of the team each year, and in some cases such as with Ryan Zimmerman, they fulfill that duty with some kind of charity fund-raising event. Werth was really cracking a lot of jokes up there, adding to the festive spirit of the day. I was very impressed that at the end, he signed autographs for a bunch of people who were standing at the edge of the stage. He didn't have to do that, and it shows he cares about the fans. I was holding up an 8x10 print of the photo of him hitting a game-tying home run in the bottom of the ninth inning on September 8, but I just couldn't get close enough to the stage before he left. Oh well. Anyway, a good time was had by all!
Afterwards, while I was walking away from the Convention Center, I noticed that Jordan Zimmermann and a few friends were walking in the same direction, just a few feet away. That gave me a chance to get a better closeup photo of him than I had gotten when I was inside. The Washington Nationals page has been updated with the expected roster for 2013, and popup closeup photos for those players whom I photographed.
Natitude 2013: "Play it again, Sam!"
Just in time for Pro Bowl 2013 yesterday, I made some minor updates to the Aloha Stadium diagrams. The entry portals are now shown, a few minor corrections have been made, and of course, new data on the number of grandstand rows and fair and foul territory are now shown. The Pro Bowl was actually pretty interesting for most of the first half, but the NFC just blew the AFC away in the second half, winning by a score of 62-35.
And of course, I expect to have the Superdome diagrams updated in time for this Sunday's Super Bowl game.