Thursday, March 31, 2011

Natsfest 2011--Harper & Hondo & Nats Memorabilia Make The Day

When rain began to fall and the opportunity to watch Our Washington Nationals take batting practice at yesterday's Natsfest was cancelled, fans were left a void of things to do from around 4PM until 5:30PM when all scheduled Q & A Sessions began and the opportunity for player Meet & Greet and Photo Stations which followed.

Thankfully, MASN's Phil Wood put on display in the Stars & Stripes Club (3rd Base Side) some of his vintage Washington Senators memorabilia--some dating back to the early 1900's to pass the time. On exhibit were Sam Rice, Bucky Harris, Ted Williams & Frank Howard uniforms (among others). A nice selection of caps and batting helmets--including an extremely rare white with red Curly "W" expansion Senators cap worn a few times in the mid-1960's and a Hondo batting helmet that was originally blue with red Curly "W" painted over before the 1968 season to red--when The Washington Senators changed their primary color from blue to red.
And some of the baseball pennants were spectacular--including a 1912 "American League Washington" blue felt version that stood out.

Good stuff.

My Favorite Player Of All Time!!--Frank Howard--again put on his usual show in one of the PNC Diamond Club Q & A Sessions Sohna and I attended beginning at 5:30PM. Along with VP of Player Development Bob Boone and Special Advisor to the GM Davey Johnson, Hondo again told one of his favorite stories of making 8 outs in six at-bats at Fenway Park and getting a standing ovation from Boston Red Sox Fans. The story never gets old and you can tell--Big Frank loves the limelight retelling the tale.

Bob Boone and Davey Johnson--sitting in wonder on stage--enjoyed the rapture Frank had on the audience. For some reason most every fan stood the entire time Hondo told his very funny story.  And being like only Howard has always been with fans--Old Number 33 in your scorecard stayed behind after this session ended, signing and taking pictures with anybody that wished to meet him.

The Man Is A Class Act.
Speaking of Johnson, Davey mentioned in this session hosted by Phil Wood that when he played for The Baltimore Orioles, Frank Howard lined the hardest hit line drive he's ever seen right past the head of Brooks Robinson (the Hall of Fame 3rd Baseman for the O's). "Brooksie was the greatest 3rd baseman ever, but even he couldn't get his glove up fast enough to catch that scorched liner. After the inning ended, I remember Brooks coming back to the dugout white as a ghost saying: 'If my head was just 1/2" higher--I would be dead now!!'  I've never seen a ball hit so hard in my life."
In fact, this Q&A session was very informative--Boone talking at length about how impressed he is with the quality of catchers coming up in Washington's Minor League System--mentioning Wilson Ramos, Derrek Norris, Jesus Flores and raving about Sandy Leon's throwing arm. "Our Minor League System, in general, when I first got here wasn't really worth watching. It is now. We've got some good players at every level of this organization."
Our other favorite part of the day--happened totally by chance. There were no scheduled autograph sessions with any player or coaches during this NatsFest which made the Photo Station lines extremely long since every season ticket holder in attendance showed up for this event. In fact, The African Queen and I got into the photo line at 6:15 for the 1st of the two consecutive half hour sessions on the 1st Base Side of the Stars & Stripes Club and never got close to the front when Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Slaten, Sean Burnett, Tyler Clippard, Cole Kimball and a couple of other players were posing with fans.
Thankfully patience paid off, when as we finally neared the front of the line with the final half hour photo session 15 minutes through--Bryce Harper walked in and started taking pictures with fans waiting. That made the day for not only us--but every single fan that hung in there for that period of time--happy.

We also took photos with Laynce Nix & Alex Cora, Tom Gorzelanny plus John Lannan and Chad Gaudin (who was quite funny and had a very nice brief chat with The African Queen).

NatsFest's first event of the day was a Season Ticket Holder exclusive Q & A with Our GM Mike Rizzo, Manager Jim Riggleman and players Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche. Hosted by NBC's Meet The Press Moderator Dick Gregory--this PNC Diamond Club event was standing room only.
In fact, as the afternoon moved to early evening and normal weekday work hours ended--more and more fans seemed to show up at Nationals Park. We didn't attend the "Meet & Greets" set up along the 1st & 3rd Base concourse with the entire team, coaches and front office members--but we noticed the line snaking all the way to Center Field Plaza and into the cold and chilly rain.

Other highlights: 
Ryan Zimmerman's 2010 Silver Slugger Award.

Madame Tussauds Wax Museum put on display nice figures of Presidents George Washington and Richard Nixon.  Museum officials were also handing out special buy one, get one free coupons to visit their 10th and F Street location.

Also on display in the Stars & Stripes Club was memorabilia from Our Washington Nationals--including the pitching plate from Stephen Strasburg's debut game and signed Montreal Expos Jersey's worn by Gary Carter and Andre Dawson last year when they were honored at Nationals Park for the Ring Of Fame and their inductions into the Baseball Hall Of Fame.
Levy Executive Chefs Phil Bucco and Terrence Louzan told us that the Stars & Stripes Club will feature a complete overhauled menu for 2011, more choices, more variety. And that Teddy's Barbecue is no longer. Apparently the new Union Square Hospitality Group that will run The Miller Lite Scoreboard Walk includes Blue Smoke pit barbecue and USHG wanted an exclusive offering at their locaton. Chef Bucco stating a "loaded" hot dog stand (10-different choices) will replace Teddy's Barbecue.

And finally, the weather really wasn't the issue yesterday. Even if Natsfest was held in January (which we still prefer along with the Hot Stove Luncheon)--a cold, wet and dreary day could be expected. Natsfest 2011 needed more ways for fans to distribute their time. As the crowds became larger as the day wore on--many ended up attending the same events causing traffic jams.

Sohna and I are not autographs fans, but we know many others are. If autograph sessions are set up to coincide with photo stations--that would split the crowd and allow more fans, more contact and a better opportunity to meet some of their favorite players.

PS: A few other photos from Natsfest 2011

All Photos Copyrighted--Nats320--All Rights Reserved

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