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.

Commissioner: NCAA Athletic Scholarship Rule Puts Baseball at a Disadvantage

Rob Manfred (left), the commissioner of Major League Baseball, answered questions at The George Washington University on Monday, December 6, 2016. Mark Hyman, an assistant professor of sport management at GW, moderated a discussion headlined by Claire Smith, Richard Justice, and Tim Kurkjian
Rob Manfred (far left), the commissioner of Major League Baseball, answered questions at The George Washington University on Monday, December 6, 2016. Mark Hyman, an assistant professor of sport management at GW, moderated a discussion headlined by Claire Smith, Richard Justice, and Tim Kurkjian (left to right).

The stagnation in the number of African American players represented in Major League Baseball is attributable to the increased competition from the Dominican Republic and the sport’s inability to effectively recruit multi-sport athletes, according to MLB commissioner Rob Manfred.

Manfred told an audience, gathered at The George Washington University on Monday night, that there are added incentives that make sports like football and basketball more appealing than baseball to multi-sport athletes.

“You play football, you can go to the University of Michigan on a full ride…you can play on Saturday afternoons on national television,” he said. “If you’re really good, you can stay three years and go to the NFL.”

The commissioner also explained how a similar set of rules allow college basketball players to collect full scholarships. Basketball players, he said, also have an opportunity to leave school at a time when they can maximize their earning potential.

Baseball, Manfred said, has less to offer multi-sport athletes. High school students can sign professional contracts after graduating high school, but the life of a minor league baseball player is much less glamorous.

“Usually what happens there,” he said “is they put you on a plane and send you to play in a Florida State League where it’s about 102 in the shade and nobody’s in the stands.”

Manfred was critical of the NCAA rules that restrict college baseball programs to 11.7 scholarships.
Manfred was critical of the NCAA rules that restrict college baseball programs to 11.7 athletic scholarships.

Manfred was most critical of the lack of sufficient athletic scholarships that college baseball programs can offer student athletes.

An NCAA regulation limits baseball programs to just 11.7 athletic scholarships. This makes it difficult for coaches or recruiters to entice athletes to join their programs which carry 35 players who split scholarships or may be promised a scholarship if another player leaves the program.

The lack of available scholarships makes it even more difficult to attract a more diverse group of athletes who would prefer the certainty of scholarships in other sports, according to Manfred.

The evening’s discussion about a lack of diversity in baseball came just three months after Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones called baseball “a white man’s sport.” Jones, who is African American, made the statement when asked about why there had not been any protests among baseball players similar to those staged by players in the NFL during the National Anthem.

According to a study by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, just 8 percent of the players on 2016 Opening Day rosters were African American. The lack of involvement is also evident in college sports where just 2.9 percent of college baseball players in 2014-2015 were African American, according to an article in the Chicago Tribune.

Manfred asserted that MLB is making strides to promote the sport in African American communities. The youth baseball academies in Philadelphia, Compton, Houston, New Orleans, Cincinnati and Washington, D.C. are just some of the successful programs that are promoting sport. Two other academies in Texas and Kansas City are currently under construction and the goal, Manfred said, is to have academies in “every major league city.”

These academies along with programs like the Elite Development Invitational, a baseball training event that takes place in Historic Dodgertown, are geared toward popularizing and developing the sport among African American community.

The lack of a competitive NCAA scholarship system, however, may prevent these programs from achieving their fullest potential as more multi-sport athletes choose the free-ride and the fame.

Pitch: A Review of “The Interim” and Dusty Baker’s Support of Aroldis Chapman

Al Luongo, like Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker, had to face the media after making an insensitive off-the-cuff statement. (screenshot from Episode 2)
Al Luongo, like Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker, had to face the media after making an insensitive off-the-cuff statement. (Screenshot from Episode 2).

Ginny Baker did not make another start in the second episode of Pitch. “The Interim” focused, instead, on the San Diego Padres clubhouse and the team’s manager–Al Luongo.

One of the first scenes of the second episode involves a frustrated Al venting to team captain Mike Lawson in the clubhouse. Al quickly rattles off a list of the pressures that he is facing.

“My team’s broke. I’ve got pitchers taking swings at centerfields. I’ve got a girl getting dressed in a closet. I got a pissy owner. And on top of that, now I have psoriasis on my elbows.” Al then deadpans a solution, “So, I’m gonna fix my psoriasis. Your gonna fix the other stuff.”

This conversation makes it clear that the old-school manager is overwhelmed. Al lost control of personnel decisions in the Pilot episode when owner Frank Reid called up Ginny to make her debut. In addition to losing control of personnel decisions, Al’s team was seemingly “broken” by the decisions of the Padres players who were resistant to having Ginny on the team.

Before the audience can start to feel bad for the frustrated manager, a breaking news story on MLB Network revealed Al made a controversial statement about Ginny two years earlier. Al nervously looked back at Ginny when the video clip was played on the team bus.

Al was very embarrassed by a video surfaced showing him make crude remarks about Ginny. (Screenshot from Episode 2).
Al was very embarrassed by a video that surfaced showing him making crude remarks about Ginny. (Screenshot from Episode 2).

Al told a scrum of reporters, “Yeah, Well I hope she makes it to The Show one day. I mean have you seen her? Easy on the eyes. Sure a lot of the guys would love to have her in the locker room.”

The statement Al made was absolutely inappropriate. It undermined Ginny’s talent as an athlete and objectified her beauty as something that would keep the major leaguers entertained.

Al ends up making a very genuine apology to Ginny and then reads a statement to the press. Al made a reference to his daughter in his private apology and also added, “I’m probably missing something here. The world kinda passed me by when they made the Internet. Anyway, it won’t happen again.”

Al’s statement to the media was more “boiler-plate” and seemingly ripped right out of a book by a professional PR agency. At the end of his statement he is barraged with questions about the state of affairs in his clubhouse and he relents, “Geez..can we just go back to talking about how pretty the girl is?”

These statement about the Internet and his slip at the end of the statement were both revealing. The statements show that although Al may be a good manager, he struggles with the added burdens of managing in 2016.

Managers may have been able to get away with speaking with more candor to the media during the early stages of his career. Less eloquent or poorly phrased statements may not have been printed. The times, however, have changed and managers are expected to be able to speak to the media with the knowledge that raw video of their statements will be released to the public.

This episode incident may have resonated with baseball fans who tuned into coverage of the 2015 Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tennessee.

During a press conference with reporters, Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker made a statement about Aroldis Chapman–a free-agent closer who was under investigation by Major League Baseball for a domestic violence incident.  

Baker, who was in his first months as manager at the time, is known for his years of experience in the sport as an All-Star outfielder and as a manager. He is very relaxed when he speaks and he speaks with candor. The relaxed nature of his interviews can be seen in his body language during post-game interviews where he can be seen scratching himself or adjusting his jersey while answering questions.

Baker defended Chapman, his pitcher from when he managed the Cincinnati Reds, from accusations that he “pushed” and “choked” his girlfriend during an October altercation. He said, “I don’t believe the reports,” and he questioned whether or not Chapman was the aggressor in the altercation.

Baker elevated his support by calling Chapman, a “heck of a guy.” He added, “I will go on the record and say I wouldn’t mind having Chapman.”

Baker who speaks off-the-cuff during his meetings would later walk back his comments and slip the same way Al did at the end of his interview by insinuating that African and Latin American players throw the ball harder than white players and that acquiring Chapman would help make the game more diverse.  

The fictional incident in Pitch is another great example of how the TV series is doing a great job at reflecting reality in Major League Baseball. Baseball is not like a movie script. Players and managers are fallible and Pitch continues to do a great job by not romanticizing the game.

Nationals Magazine Digest: Postseason 2016

The latest edition of Nationals Magazine is on sale at Nationals Park
The latest edition of Nationals Magazine is on sale at Nationals Park.

The final issue of Nationals Magazine for 2016 featuring the Washington Nationals celebrating a walk-off victory is now on sale at Nationals Park. The latest magazine includes a vibrant series of photographs featuring “Signature Moments” from the 2016 regular season and two short articles written by the radio broadcasters.

Nine “Signature Moments” are featured in the magazine. Fans should definitely pick up a copy of the magazine to relive the moments by checking out the photos and reading the recaps. Video clips celebrating the “Signature Moments” were featured on NatsHD before the previous postseason games.

  1. April 4 – The Pursuit Begins – The section celebrates the success of Harper on Opening Day and the arrival of Daniel Murphy.
  2. April 14 – One Hundred Grand – Bryce Harper hit his 100th career home run in style.
  3. April 24 – The Roller Coaster – I never leave games early because of games like these. Bryce Harper delivered a game saving pinch-hit home run and Chris Heisey delivered a game winning home run in the 16th inning agains the Minnesota Twins.
  4. May 9 – The Accidental Walk-Off – In a game most notable for Harper’s ejection and subsequent outburst against home plate umpire, Brian Knight, Clint Robinson hit a walk-off home run without knowing the inning of his pinch hit appearance.
  5. May 11 – 20th & K – Max Scherzer had, arguably, the most dominant games of his career when he struck out 20 players in a nine inning game. Strikeouts are sexy.
  6. June 15 – 2 Legit 2 Quit – Jayson Werth told his critics that they could kiss his ass after he delivered a walk-off against the Chicago Cubs.
  7. June 30 and July 3 – See You L-8-R – Danny Espinosa won NL Player of the Week honors after an offensive outburst against the CIncinnati Reds. His most notable achievement was hitting home runs from both sides of the plate in both games including two grand slams.
  8. July 29 – Rule of Three – This one took place late at night on the road in San Francisco. Dusty Baker made a triple switch and substituted in Danny Espinosa, Ryan Zimmerman and Sammy Solis. The result was the first 3-3-5 triple play in MLB history.
  9. September 9 – The Perfect Ending – Trea Turner could probably be elected Mayor if he wanted to put his baseball career on hold. The two time NL Rookie of the Month belted two home runs including a walk-off home run to center field to top the Philadelphia Phillies.

In “You Never Know,” Dave Jagler writes about how the Nationals can very feasibly have a successful postseason run. Jagler describes how anything can happen in October and that teams with the most elite hitters, starters and bullpens are not guaranteed the Commissioner’s Trophy.

Charlie Slowes echoes a similar sentiment in “Hero Time.” Slowes describes how players like Daniel Murphy, Max Scherzer, Trea Turner can each play a role in a successful postseason run.
The magazine also contains a large (two-page) scorecard which you can use Thursday to score the game.

The Completely Anticipated Anti-Climactic MLB Debut of Ginny Baker

Ginny Baker had an anti-climactic Major League debut. (screenshot from Episode 1)
Ginny Baker had an anti-climactic Major League debut. (screenshot from Episode 1)

Ginny Baker was not a phenom who appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a sixteen-year-old. She was not advertised as “Baseball’s Chosen One,” nor was she drafted first overall in the MLB Draft.

Washington Nationals fans, who comprise the greatest amount of my readers, have been fortunate to see many of the team’s first round draft picks breeze through the minor leagues and have seen them have an almost immediate impact in “The Show.”

Prodigies like Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, who were drafted first overall in their respective MLB Drafts in 2009 and 2010, are not typical. Most players don’t even make the majors.

The chance of making the Major Leagues after being drafted after the 21st round of the 40 round draft is only about 7 percent, according to an article on Bleacher Report. The chances of making the Major Leagues for a player getting drafted out of high school, like Baker, is even slimmer.

Baker, the audience learns during a tense moment with catcher Mike Lawson, took much longer to develop before her Major League debut. She pitched in the minor leagues for five years and even played two years of winter ball.

The audience learns that Baker pitched in the minor leagues for five years during a tense moment with catcher Mike Lawson. (screenshot from Episode 1)
The audience learns that Baker pitched in the minor leagues for five years during a tense moment with catcher Mike Lawson. (screenshot from Episode 1)

In addition to not having “Strasburg-like” talent to breeze through the minors, Baker also had to cope with the expectations of having to perform well to meet the expectations of women and girls who followed her career.

Katie Nolan, the host of FS1’s Garbage Time, weighed in on Baker’s anticipated debut in a cameo. Nolan takes a defensive position as she weighs in on Baker’s talent and the iconic nature of her debut.

Nolan can be heard saying, “If you want to say she’s only getting her shot because she is a woman go ahead…bitch and moan all you want gentleman, but tonight a girl is going to be the lead sports story in the world and if that upsets you, maybe you’re just getting your period, go get him Ginny.”

Other national sport media personalities including Colin Cowherd, Matt Vasgersian and Joe Buck also all weighed in on Baker’s debut. It was also clear from their comments that they too were more focused on the social implications of her start than her talent.

Instead of living up to the anticipation the way Strasburg did when he struck out 14 batters without allowing a walk, Baker crumbled.

It was painful to watch her struggle to throw a single strike and then “surrender” when she begs to be taken out of the game by her manager.

As I watched, Baker struggle I began thinking about the major league debut of another pitcher. Julio Urias who made his debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers this season when he was just 19-years-old.

Urias’ start was anticipated by the national sport media. Most pundits were able to speak knowledgeably about his discovery by the Dodgers as a 16-year-old in Mexico. Expectations were high for Urias. The LA Times panned him as a “phenom” who was making a start for the team who despite having the highest payroll in the division was floundering.

Julio Urias' anticipated Major League debut was also anti-climactic. He lasted just 2 2/3 innings.
Julio Urias’ anticipated Major League debut was also anti-climactic. He lasted just 2 2/3 innings. (photo from Newsday)

Urias struggled mightily in the national spotlight. I cringed as the New York Mets had their way with him. He threw 36 pitches in the first inning and gave up three runs and four hits.

Urias exited the game after throwing just 81 pitches in 2 ⅔ innings in a Dodgers walk-off loss to the New York Mets.

He looked a lot like Baker on the mound. Urias was under a tremendous amount of pressure in a very similar way that Baker was under pressure.

Baker’s anti-climactic debut was a dramatic viewing experience that was well captured by the show’s writers. An immediate “Bakermas” performance tantamount to “Strasmas” would be too unrealistic.

It will be exciting to see how quickly the writer’s have Baker’s performance improve and whether she will in fact be demoted the same way Urias was after his spot start.

Pitch: Thoughts From The Gallery

Nats Gallery Blog is adding a blog post series about Pitch--a new FOX drama about the first woman to play in the majors.
Nats Gallery Blog is adding a blog post series about Pitch–a new FOX drama about the first woman to play in the majors.

The George Washington University has a mandatory “University Writing” requirement for all undergraduates where students learn to refine their writing skills while exploring a topic of their interest. The University offered classes about Jackie Robinson, Asian American culture, video games and a whole lot more. 

I, desperately, did not want to take a class with required readings that along the likes of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. I, instead, enrolled in Dr. Caroline Smith’s Mad Men class. The assignments, readings and discussions were all based on the themes from Mad Men–the Emmy Award winning TV show on AMC.  The class was terrific and it made me a more active TV viewer. It also provided me with experience as a blogger. 

Fox premiered a new TV drama on September 22, 2016 called Pitch which follows the life of Ginny Baker–a fictional rookie pitcher who is navigating the pressure of pitching in the majors as the first woman player. 

The show caught my interest with its ads that played all summer long and I am excited to have something to write about after the Washington Nationals finish their long playoff run.

These posts will not summarize the shows. Instead, they will focus on one or two of the prevailing themes of the episodes which I will analyze from the perspective as a baseball fan (not an academic).

Enjoy the series and leave your comments at the end of each post!