Nationals Winterfest 2016: Player Photos, Autographs and Game Shows

The Washington Nationals hosted Winterfest on Saturday and Sunday at The Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C.
The Washington Nationals hosted Winterfest on Saturday and Sunday at The Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C.

The Washington Nationals hosted Winterfest at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center over the weekend and it was a great opportunity for Nationals fans to meet and mingle with some of their favorite players. We highlighted some of the most exciting moments from Sunday in this blog post.

Meeting Players

One of the most exciting opportunities that fans have at Winterfest, that they are not usually afforded during the regular season, is the opportunity to take photos with players. There were two player photo stations set up near the main stage where players rotated taking photos with fans for thirty minute intervals. The meetings at the photo stations were not opportunities to get autographs, but they were terrific opportunities to welcome the new players and wish them well as they prepare for spring training.

There were five sessions at each photo station each day and fans interested in taking photos with players could meet up to 20 players each day.

Some of the players who posed at the photo stations on Sunday included: Chris Heisey and Wilmer Difo, Koda Glover and Max Scherzer, Trea Turner and Pedro Severino, Dusty Baker and Trevor Gott, Adam Eaton and Derek Norris, Ryan Zimmerman and Matt Grace as well as Michael A. Taylor and Matt Grace.

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These players were excited to meet their fans and they deserve major props!

Nationals players who were noticeably absent from Winterfest this season included Bryce Harper (who looked like he was enjoying himself at a Duke basketball game), Jayson Werth and Anthony Rendon.

Getting Autographs

The best way to guarantee your autograph at Winterfest this year was to purchase an autograph voucher online as soon as they went on sale. A Nationals Insider email alerting fans that vouchers were going on sale at 10:00 a.m. on December 2 was distributed at 9:06 a.m. the same morning which resulted in many fans missing out an exciting opportunity. The vouchers were all sold out when I checked my email at 11:00 a.m. that morning, but someone, generously, gave me a voucher after they overheard me speaking about the Nationals in a conversation.

I redeemed my autograph voucher for a special bracelet and got in line for my autograph session featuring Stephen Strasburg and Joe Ross. It was an amazing experience to meet Strasburg and Ross.

Player Interaction

Winterfest offers plenty of other opportunities to see players around the convention center floor at the different elements.  Eaton, Ross, and Scherzer stood with Santa Claus on Sunday afternoon for family photos.

Sammy Solis and Norris greeted fans at the top of The Slider.

A.J. Cole was also out and around the convention center. He started the clock for children at the steal home challenge.

New For 2016

There were a handful of new elements this year at Winterfest. The Ballpark of The Palm Beaches, the new spring training complex that the Nationals and Astros will share in 2017, had a presence behind The Slider. This area had a video playing about tourism sites in the area showcasing restaurants, spas and the beaches. Fans who stopped by also walked away with a koozie, spring training schedule, and pamphlets about new ballpark and other activities in the area.

An exhibit showcasing the Ballpark of The Palm Beaches was new for 2016.
An exhibit showcasing the Ballpark of The Palm Beaches was new for 2016.

There were also multiple new main stage events to complement the classic events like the gingerbread house contest. The games allowed fans to get a better feel for the personalities of their favorite Nationals.

Dusty Baker and Chris Speier teamed up against Strasburg and Tanner Roark for Smitten Mittens Duo Battle–a game show modeled after “The Newlywed Game.” The teammates took turns answering questions about their partners while one was behind the stage in a “soundproof room.” Some of the answers made the audience laugh including one where Speier said his favorite postgame meal was ribs when Baker predicted it would be salad. It was also funny to watch when Roark correctly anticipated that Strasburg’s favorite flight activity was to watch movies on his iPad.

X’s and Bows was another new game this year and it was hosted by Charlie Slowes–the veteran play-by-play announcer for the Washington Nationals. Ryan Zimmerman and Stephen Strasburg teamed up with members of the audience to answer trivia questions about Nationals players to get three of their ribbons or bows in a row. Some of the highlights of the event included Ryan Zimmerman answering a question about where he went to college (University of Virginia) and Stephen Strasburg answering a question about the year he was drafted (2009). It was also fun to watch the players correctly answer trivia questions about some of their teammates.

Room For Improvement

Winterfest was a terrific experience, but there are definitely areas where there can be room for improvement. Two of the longer lines were for the video pitch exhibit and the batting cages. Adding an additional two batting cages and encouraging some of the younger attendees to use the rookie batting cages  would go a long way at reducing the waiting time for attendees.

Winterfest planners can also consider rotating out some of the exhibits such as the New Era cap exhibit and the snow globe photo station to make room for more popular or new exhibits for 2017.

Mark Lerner Explains Move to Palm Beach

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Mark Lerner, principal owner of the Washington Nationals, spoke with my graduate school class on Saturday afternoon.

Mark Lerner, principal owner of the Washington Nationals, took some time before Saturday afternoon’s rainout to discuss the future spring training site of the Nationals—The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches—with my graduate school class from The George Washington University.

Lerner described two primary reasons that factored into the team’s decision to move from Space Coast Stadium, the team’s spring training home since 2003, to West Palm Beach.

“The number one thing is geography,” Lerner said.  “There is a much denser population around West Palm Beach.”

The amount of time that players and fans spend traveling to games can be very long. The closest road trip the Nationals make during the Grapefruit League season is a one hour trip to Osceola County Stadium to play the Houston Astros. The next closest facility is Tradition Field in Port St. Lucie where the Nationals travel to play the New York Mets. That facility is a one hour and ten minute drive from Space Coast Stadium.

The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, which will be shared with the Astros, will strategically place the Nationals in a region where less travel is required.  Both teams will be just 15 minutes away from the spring training facilities of the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals, who play in Jupiter, and 45 minutes away from Tradition Field.

Attendance at Nationals home games, and the aforementioned away games, will surely increase as a result of the 120 mile move south to a county with a larger population. Palm Beach County, with its estimated population 1.372 million people, has more than twice the amount of residents as Brevard County.  Fans who want to see the Nationals play will, therefore, have easier time following the team around the region.

Lerner also described how the size of the clubhouse in Viera was another motivation behind the decision to let the Space Coast Stadium lease expire.

Bob Miller, assistant general manager and vice president of the Nationals, added that the clubhouse has space for just one treadmill and he emphasized that a much larger locker room is needed to accommodate the players and the larger clubhouse staff. Miller also said that the new clubhouse will accommodate the team’s nutrition and health programs.

It will have a kitchen, dining area and a private chef who will prepare meals for the players. This area will certainly be a step up from outdoor picnic tables, Sterno candles and catered meals.

Fans also have a lot to look forward to for spring training 2017. The new facility was designed by HKS architects–the same architects who designed the state-of-the-art spring training facility for the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies. It will have 6,400 fixed seats plus a berm in the outfield. Lerner estimated it can accommodate as many as 10,000 people.

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Rendering of The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches which will have a larger berm in the outfield. (Photo from PalmBeachPost.com)

“We are not afraid of spending money on the ballpark,” Lerner said.

The ballpark will have clear sight lines, improved berm seating, and distinct areas for fans to get autographs.

“My number one goal was to give fans a Nationals experience,” Lerner said. “There is nothing like spring training baseball.”