Friday, July 01, 2011

ziMS Foundation--2nd Annual "A Night At The Park"

“The hardest thing, believe it or not, is to figure out how to give all the money away that we’ve raised," stated Ryan Zimmerman.  "We’ve worked hard and people give their hard earned money to us and we just don’t want to give it away. We've built a mutual trust.  And we feel like we’ve found a good group of four or five organizations that deserve to get the money and we are going to do the right thing with it.”

Our Washington Nationals star player was standing on the red carpet next to his parents, Cheryl & Keith, just outside the PNC Diamond Club at Nationals Park talking about their charitable organization. For the second year in row, the ziMS Foundation--dedicated to finding a cure for Multiple Sclerosis, was holding their Washington, D.C. signature event--"A Night At The Park". As many Nats Fans are aware, Ryan's family oriented effort is personal in nature as Cheryl was diagnosed with MS in 1995. Since 2006, the ziMS Foundation has awarded over $500,000 to needy organizations. Non-profit groups that are dedicated to not only finding a cure for MS but for the treatment, support and the building of educational programs necessary for inflicted families.

Ryan Zimmerman: “Our main benefactor is the Neurology Department at the University of Virginia. We’ve given them over $280,000 now. They’ve become, in essence, our main partner. They are one of, if not, the top clinic in the country involving MS--whether it’s for finding a cure or developing new medicine to help cope with the disease.  Back closer to home (in Virginia Beach, Virginia), we've given almost $150,000 to the local chapter (MS Society of Hampton Roads). They’ve been instrumental with my mom from the beginning. And in the past couple of years, they’ve organized a few getaways for those with MS. But it’s just nice to have someone at home to help.”

Gar's Mikey Mo' Stance
With Gar Ryness-The Batting Stance Guy
Approximately 1000 tickets were sold for last night's 2nd Annual Event at Nationals Park. Magician David Blaine returned to give a special performance for VIP Ticket Holders in the PNC Diamond Club. Country Music Star Rodney Atkins performed on the temporary stage placed overtop the Presidents Club Seats and The Batting Stance Guy, Gar Ryness (a funny, funny man), was the Master Of Ceremonies. 
"Logistically, we learned a lot from the first year. We've moved the VIP Room up (from Presidents Club to the PNC Diamond Club) so the two groups (VIPs & General Admission) can really interact in a way that wasn't possible last year," stated Brodie Van Wagenen (Ryan's Agent from CAA Sports) before the event began. Last year, it was isolated for both groups. We are expecting a much smoother night and double the amount of guest from last year. In fact, we've got 14 corporate sponsors--up from the seven from last year. It's a nice step forward."

A silent auction was set up along the main concourse, 1st Base Side, of Nationals Park. CCA Sports not only lined up charity items from Ryan Zimmerman and his Washington Nationals teammates, but also a variety of sport and entertainment memorabilia ranging from basketball to The Beatles to the glamor of Hollywood. Also on hand in support of the ziMS Foundation were quite a few of Ryan's Washington Nationals teammates and coaches. Over the course of the evening, we encountered Rick Eckstein, Jim Lett, Trent Jewett, Jayson Werth, Michael Morse, Danny Espinosa, Adam LaRoche, Alex Cora, Roger Bernadina, Laynce Nix, Brian Bixler, Jordan Zimmermann, John Lannan, Drew Storen, Collin Balester, Todd Coffey, Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett, Jason Marquis and Ryan Mattheus.

During the live auction of "A Night At The Park" attendees had the opportunity to bid on a Fighter Pilot Experience (Top Gun Flight Training), VIP Trip to the 2012 Masters, VIP Trip to the 2012 Grammy Awards, a 2011 US Open Tennis Package, a 2011 VIP MLB All-Star Game Package and Private Visit with Ryan Zimmerman (with 15 tickets included) for a suite at Nationals Park for a mutually agreed upon Nats game in 2012. Over $63,000 was raised during the Live Auction after two bidders in hot pursuit of the Grammy Awards Show package both were granted as winners when their bids reached $15,000 apiece. The ziMS Foundation goal for "A Night At The Park" 2011, including silent auction, ticket sales and corporate sponsorship was $200,000.

"In each of these fundraisers," continued Van Wagenen, "the money is being put directly back into these communities. That’s why this event is so important. And that’s why having the corporate community show such an overwhelming support is so important for our success in being able to raise some serious money." Last night, The National Capital Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society received a check from the ziMS Foundation for $35,000. And Dream Makers, a Washington D.C. area non-profit committed to supporting and empowering children whose parents have MS was granted  $25,000. "And I think it’s this recognition by others of Ryan’s efforts reflecting dollars back into local D.C. Charities that is getting the corporate community to recognize what's going on here and getting them to come out to support their own within their own town," concluded Van Wagenen.
“Like in any other venture, you make strides every day," says Ryan Zimmerman. "The more money these groups get, the more research they can do. It's a day-to-day thing, like it is with the actual disease. So just like everyone else involved, we hold out hope and continue to do what we have to do to help find a cure. In fact, It’s amazing (how far the ziMS Foundation has come) because when you start something, you don’t even know how much it will grow. And how quickly things develop. We’ve given away more than $500,000 in less than six years. Those first couple of years we were just figuring it all out. Now, were hoping to take this to the next level and make it very, very special.”

Remember, the entire ziMS Foundation is a volunteer organization run by Ryan, his parents Cheryl & Keith, brother Shawn, with the help of many family friends in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

P.S.--Ryan also mentioned last night that the annual ziMS Foundation Golf Tournament has maxed out. "Unless we get another 18 holes we are in trouble," he joked. "We are proud though how that event has gotten better and better each year to where we have the Gala on Friday night--which basically runs like clockwork now. It's become a fun event for us back home. Golf attached to a charity fundraiser like this, we've found--is a great time!!

P.P.S--Odd Ball Auction Item of the night: Baseball Bat signed by Pete Rose stating: "I am sorry I bet on baseball."

All Photos Copyrighted--Nats320--All Rights Reserved

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Pittsburgh Pirates Baseball Club & The PNC Park Lexus Club

As excited as "Mikey Mo" was in slamming out his first home run of 2011 at PNC Park yesterday, our weekend visit to one of baseball's nicest and friendliest ballparks was just as exhilarating. Having visited Pittsburgh each of the past fours years to watch Our Washington Nationals take on the Bucco's, The African Queen and I chose premium seating at Pittsburgh's ballyard for Saturday & Easter Sunday.

The perfect decision.

First off all, it rained all weekend in Western Pennsylvania. Friday night's game was cancelled. Saturday evening's was delayed. On Sunday, the wetness never really let up until the final out was recorded.  With Mother Nature not cooperating, the comforts of The Pittsburgh Pirates Baseball Club and The Lexus Club provided two great retreats from the elements.

Second off all, both sections were OUTSTANDING!!

For Saturday evening's game, Sohna and I purchased Pirate Baseball Club Seats (similar to the Stars & Stripes Club at Nationals Park). PNC Park's features were impressive. Inside, there was plenty of room to stretch out, countless leather lounge seats and sofas, four pool tables. pinball and hockey games, three bars including the rather large Club 3000. Fans could sit down and order food from a waitress, or purchase some upscale offerings from one of the handful of vendors located throughout the club level concourse.

Walking past the BucsWok, it was easy to notice that all offerings were served up fresh and made to order. After finishing off our rather large servings of Teryiaki Beef and Sweet & Sour Chicken ($9 apiece)--we have to say that was one of the better meals we've ever had from a vendor at any ballpark, anywhere.

On display throughout the Pittsburgh Pirates Baseball Club Level are artifacts from the 124 year history of one of baseball's oldest franchises. For example: 1905 Fred Clarke style baseball bat, 1971 Nelson Briles World Series Glove, Doc Ellis No-Hitter Cleats, Hall Of Famer Paul Waner Glove, a replica Louisville Slugger Authentic Babe Ruth Bat and some very colorful sportcoats from longtime Pirate great play-by-play announcer Bob Prince.

Even the condiment stands featured autographed baseballs and Pirate memorabilia on the walls. Outside the Pittsburgh Pirates Baseball Club--but within the seating area--three verandas offer spectacular views of Pittsburgh's skyline. Not knowing what to expect upon showing up at PNC Park for Saturday's game, we came away impressed with PNC Park's Club Level.
Then came Sunday's game in the Lexus Club and things only got better.

Much like the Lexus Presidents Club at Nationals Park, PNC's version is roomier inside. Leather loungers and sofas--with a nearby fireplace--greet patrons as they enter the ballpark from a private street entrance. The Lexus Club Bar is located behind the lounge area.  The buffet meal set up along a walkway that separates the lounge & bar from the sit down food and waiter service.  Food and non-alcoholic drinks are part of the ticket price. Beer, wine and liquor are extra.

Just like at Nationals Park, Levy Restaurants runs the Lexus Club in Pittsburgh. The food offerings though were different.  On South Capitol Street, the Lexus Presidents Club always offers two carving stations, a cheese and antipasti bar and a host of cold and hot desserts at each game. That's not the case in Pittsburgh. The Pirates Lexus Club has just one carving station and Levy's changes every food offering for each home game.

Also in Pittsburgh, the sit down meal concludes shortly after the game begins and the restaurant shuts down. At Nationals Park, the buffet meal is served until the 4th inning and desserts until the 7th. In the Pirate Lexus Club seats, ballpark snacks, hot dogs and drinks are served. The seat menu in Pittsburgh not as extensive as the seat menu in Presidents Club at Nats Park.

The padded seats were very comfortable, but don't offer as much leg room as Washington's Presidents Club seats.  Still though, The PNC Park's Lexus Club was very, very nice.

But what made both premium level sections at PNC Park so inviting--was how the park's employees greeted every single fan. Every usher, waiter, waitress, server, hostess had a smile on their faces. These employees made us feel at home. Ushers in both the Pittsburgh Pirates Baseball Club and The Lexus Club welcomed us upon entering and explained all the features and what was included with our ticket. If we had any question, someone was always just a few steps away to answer. The employees at PNC Park could not have been nicer and that friendly, attentive, attitude stood out more than the actual comforts of both club levels.
We loved watching Our Washington Nationals take on The Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park this weekend--despite the rain--because The Pittsburgh Pirates Baseball Club level and The PNC Park Lexus Club added great value to the experience.

Game Notes & Highlights: 

We went very retro this weekend. Pittsburgh fans loved our Homestead Grays flannel jerseys worn on Saturday night. The number of people that stopped us to ask where we got them was quite remarkable. It was also surprising how many fans in Western Pennsylvania don't seem to realize the Negro League Heritage both Washington, D.C. and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania share as the home cities for The Homestead Grays. Some didn't understand what Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, Cool Papa Bell, etc. meant to this Nation's Capital.

On Sunday, The African Queen and I returned to PNC Park wearing our 1970's Washington Senators Jerseys. Worn by Our Washington Nationals in Baltimore in 2010, these gray away script "Senators" were a big hit in Pittsburgh for a second year in a row.
When Washington wore their red alternate jerseys in an away game for the first time at Citi Field on April 8th and 9th, the team wore the home red Curly "W" cap. Thankfully, this weekend in Pittsburgh, they switched to the more appropriate two tone blue with red bill Curly "W" cap. It looks better with the gray pants and blue jackets.

We also got a kick out of seeing Joel Hanrahan's photo on a banner flying outside PNC Park. One of the nice subtle additions to Pittsburgh's ballpark are these photo banners.

And finally, PNC Park used the appropriate Washington team logos on their scoreboard this weekend. For the past few seasons during our visits, The Pirates have only used the original 2005 "DC" and Fuddrucker Style Washington Away logos. In 2011, it's all script "Washington" and Curly "W".

PS: By the way, what a mess getting home last night. I-70 east at Breezewood was virtually shutdown due to heavy traffic and a construction lane closure. We barely moved five miles in two hours. Then on I-270, south of Frederick at Urbana, a five car accident shut down the highway again. To add to this never ending road trip back to Alexandria, Virginia--lo and behold--we run into a Secret Service Motorcade coming around Democracy Blvd heading to the Capital Beltway.  Total time from Pittsburgh to Alexandria, Virginia--7 Hours and 30 Minutes. Normal running time: 4 Hours.

All Photos Copyrighted--Nats320--All Rights Reserved