Monday, January 22, 2007
Nats Caravan ESPN Zone
With a surprisingly light day at work this afternoon, I was able to head over from Capitol Hill to The ESPN Zone in Downtown, DC for the Nats Caravan Autograph Session. Today, the first of 8 consecutive days for the Caravan that will make its way through, DC, Maryland, Northern Virginia, Richmond and Virginia Beach. Arriving just after 2PM, thinking I was late, I walked right into Nationals Manager, Manny Acta. Acta remembered me right away from our brief meeting at RFK two weeks ago, gave me a hug and asked "When's My Interview?" I instantly replied, "Anytime you wish, my friend," tapping his chest. "I'm holding you to it," he snapped back, both of us laughing.
Together, we headed into the main area of the restaurant. Radio Broadcasters, Charlie Slowes and Dave Jageler were the hosts. Acta, along with Centerfielder Nook Logan and Pitcher, Mike O'Connor sat together on a raised dais, first answering questions from the crowd. Ryan Zimmerman will not be attending any of the Caravan Events in the DC Area. Ryan is in Viera, Florida, training and will fly up to Virginia Beach for the Saturday and Sunday events later this week, that according to a Nationals PR Rep, who I spoke with today.
And, TO MY GREAT RELIEF!! SCREEEEEEEECH!! was there. Back out in public, glad to see his BEST FRIEND, take pictures, greet all the kids in attendance--performing all his usual antics.
About 100 fans showed up, including my good friend Hugh (Chicken Man-- Hugh waves that rubber chicken each and every game from behind the Nats Dugout at RFK), most of the usual questions: "Welcome to Washington? "Thanks for coming, etc"
Raising my hand, Charlie Slowes, gave me the microphone, and I asked Manny what influence he will personally have on The Nationals recruitment of young talent in Latin America?
He responded "Let's see what influence I have on my current players on the roster, right now, first (laughing). But, seriously, I believe it will help us a lot in the long run. We've (Nationals/Expos Franchise) had no presence down there (in the Caribbean) for over 5 years. We have a lot to do to change that perception of not being a player in chasing talent. Certainly, I have some influence in my home country, and throughout the region. I think I can help"
Mike O'Connor did reveal that he WILL NOT be ready, in all likelihood for Spring Training, or the start of the regular season. His elbow operation has not recovered sufficiently to allow him to pitch. Expect Extended Spring Training for this GWU Graduate.
One of the best answers of the affair, came after a female questioner asked Manny, seriously: "What are you hoping to get out of our starting pitching, its appears to be in shambles, except for John Patterson?"
To which Manny immediately replied: "We (The Nationals) have petitioned Major League Baseball to allow us to only play one game per week, then JP can pitch every single game for us!!!" And, the crowd roared in laughter.
After everyone calmed down, Acta seriously said, "I am always confident we can find a few good players, pitchers down on their luck, that have for whatever reason, never been able to succeed in The Majors. And, we have some good young talent, looking to impress. We may be better off, than many think."
On three separate occasions, I have had the opportunity to speak with Manny Acta (the first being his Introductory Press Conference), and he continues to impress with his smiles and outgoing ways toward fans. He's extremely friendly, and made the point today that, not only himself, but all the Nationals players will be available, at different times, throughout the 2007 campaign for fan meet and greets, including autographs. Granted, he has yet to manage a single game, and, only after the season begins will the man's real talents emerge. But, you have to like him, from what little I have seen of him, he's very striking. Manny Acta is GENUINELY A NICE MAN!!
When all the fan questions were answered, everyone lined up to go through the autograph line. Every Fan attending received a gift from the team, either a Curly W Cap or Junior Nationals Tote Bag (for the kiddies). There was more than enough time to take pictures with everyone. Not only were Manny, Nook and Mike generous with their time, but also Charlie and Dave, who were kid enough to chat with me. "15 Minutes with Charlie & Dave" will post up in the next few days. While working my way through the autograph line, Manny mentioned to Nook Logan about the Nats320 blog. Logan was interested enough to ask me what the web address was--he was going to look it up, to see if he might be interested in participating. Cool, I thought. Then, I asked Logan, "Who is faster, you or Bernie Castro?" Nook looked up at me, smiled knowingly, and simply said, "Me, easily." I responded: "During Spring Training this season, I want to see the MATCH RACE." Logan laughed.
The Caravan began the day at Kimball Elementary School on Minnesota Avenue, SE and after the ESPN Zone Stop moved on to Children's Hospital in NE.
I was not expecting to make it to any of the events today. But, I was glad everything worked out for a break to Nationals Baseball. And, of course seeing SCREECH is always a good thing for my household. The African Queen was quite pleased to hear her "Boyfriend" was out & about, again. Even on a cold, icy, wintry day, Baseball can always warm my heart.