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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

One of my greatest days as a Washington Nationals Fan.

Two weeks ago today, I enjoyed one of the best days I've ever experienced as a Washington Nationals fan. It actually began just after midnight, when I'd gotten home from the Nats/Phillies game the night before, and I was watching the telecast that I'd recorded and knocking around the Internet reading baseball news. I knew that there was an outside chance that the Nats might sign 6th round draft pick Jack McGeary, and just before the midnight deadline for signing draft picks, so I went to Barry Svrluga's Nationals Journal on to see if there was any news. My jaw just about hit the floor when I read what he posted there, at around 11:53 p.m. that it was a done deal - wow! I was incredibly excited, realizing that this meant that the Nats were 20 for 20 on signing their top 20 draft picks, something that I believe only the San Francisco Giants had also done. With McGeary, that meant that the Nats had THREE lefties ranked in the top 15 prospects in the country, something that I would later hear from scouting director Dana Brown was almost unheard of, a feat that one might not ever see again for a generation. I guess to say that I was excited is really an understatement - I was ECSTATIC! This was unbelievably awesome. I emailed my friend with the Nationals who informed me that the deal had just been completed at 11:30 p.m. at the Capitol Grill restaurant (those of you who've paid attention will remember that the Capitol Grill is the same place where the Esmaylen Gonzalez signing occured) then they informed me that the press conference was at 4:00, and did I want to come? DID I? DID I? Are the home hats red? Does Manny Acta speak Spanish? Of COURSE I wanted to attend! At this point, I could barely get to sleep, I was dreaming about future Nats rotations with Ross Detweiler, Josh Smoker and Jack McGeary dominating the National League, alongside our "veterans" Shawn Hill, Jason Bergmann and Matt Chico (yes, I also dreamed that we'd go to a six-man starting rotation. Hey, it's my dream, okay?)

The next morning, I went to work and then left early to go to the ESPN Zone to meet Ryan Church. The good folks at the ESPN Zone had offered me a discounted lunch not long after USA Today-Sports ran that blogger piece where I answered some questions about the Nats and my blogging experience, so I decided to accept their offer that day. I arrived there early and met with their very nice marketing manager, Leigh Friedman, and she seated me in a prime spot where I could see Ryan, and I had a nice chicken caesar salad and an iced tea (gotta try and eat healthy were I can and, besides, I had to go back to work afterwards). The crowd was the largest one that they've had so far for one of these events, had to have been at least 50 people. (It was so many, that the Nationals folks with Ryan had to urge fans to get through the autograph line at the end quickly and only get one item autographed, since Ryan had to get back to R.F.K. for practice.) Once again, Charlie Slowes was the master of ceremonies and he got folks to participate in trivia contests, and ask Ryan some questions. My question to Ryan was the one about his showing patience at the plate this season. What I SHOULD have mentioned along with that question was, that it seems that his patience at the plate also translated into more walks, so he's getting on base more and that's a good thing. Ryan was very kind to every and all the fans, and I don't think that anyone left disappointed. He very kindly signed my "team" ball, and I got a photo with him (note: Ryan is the one on the right, I'm the big goof in dire need of a haircut).

(Photo credit: Shannon Parks)

While waiting in line, I had a brief but very nice chat with my server, Karen, who told me that she is a D.C. school teacher. If she takes as great care of her students as she did with me, then I have to think that she has very fortunate students, indeed. I think that she appreciated having so many more lunch tables to work with on what might otherwise be a slow August Thursday.

After briefly returning to work, I left for R.F.K. to attend the 4:00 press conference where the team introduced Jack McGeary. Please note, I was NOT there in any kind of "official" or blogger capacity, I was invited by a kind friend on the club who thought that I would enjoy seeing it as a devoted fan. I reported to the stadium where a nice intern, appropriately named Ryan, escorted me down to the press room, which looked familiar as I think it must be the same room where Manny Acta does most of his postgame conferences. As we walked towards the press room, I saw Manny Acta walking that way and speaking to someone, and it was all I could do not to rush up to him and say hello, but I restrained myself. Once inside the press room, I saw all the cameras set up and a few people eying me with what I thought to be a "Who the heck is that and why is he here?" look. (Ha!) I saw MASN's Debbi Taylor, and sat in her row of chairs. We even chatted for a brief moment about McGeary and the almost-unprecedented deal that the Nationals gave him, paying for his Stanford college tuition and having him play baseball for them in the summer. The signing bonus was definitely out-of-slot where the league is concerned, but it was brave of the Nationals to do that, and I have to believe that team president Stan Kasten was the point man on that argument. The Nationals owners and management aren't mavericks, they don't do things differently just for the sake of being different. They seem perfectly willing to abide by and operate within the framework that MLB uses and not be boatrockers, but as general manager Jim Bowden explained to the press, this was a unique situation, and Jack McGeary was a special individual. He was worth 1st round money, and should have gone in the first round to any other club with the vision to draft him, which they didn't. The Nationals had that vision.

I saw Mr. and Mrs. McGeary, Jack's parents, and when the press conference started, Jim Bowden introduced manager Manny Acta by stating that the last time that he, himself, had predicted that someone would win an award, they did, and Bowden was predicting that Acta would win National League Manager of the Year. Acta leaned to his side, rather askance, and playfully said, "Stop...." to much laughter. It was a happy, funny moment. Acta is humble, and possibly a tad uncomfortable with such adulation, given the team's record, but I was ready to applaud right then and there (heck, maybe I did, I can't remember..) Bowden introduced Jack McGeary, scouting director Dana Brown, development director Bob Boone, and it was a nice press conference, everybody happy and smiling, including yours truly.

After the press conference, I had to leave the stadium, but since it was so close to the time the gates would open for the night's game anyway, I drove to the proper parking lot and entered the stadium right when the gates opened, at 5:30. I said a quick hello to Rico and ran down towards the Nats dugout to try and get some autographs. I managed to get Luis Ayala's autograph on my team ball, and it was kind of funny. I allowed some kids to get in ahead of me (really, it has to be more important to them, and how often do they get to go to the games, compared with me?) and Ayala saw that I had a Sharpie pen and he needed one, so he asked me if he could borrow mine. Naturally, I said, "Sure!" and I just HAD to add, "Anything for the best guy in our bullpen!" That made him smile, which was nice to see, it meant that he was enjoying the moment. I'd handed him my ball along with my Sharpie, and when he handed them back, I didn't think that he'd signed my ball, so I proferred it again, and Ayala said that he had signed it, whereby I looked at it and noticed that, indeed, he had. "Oh!", I said, "you signed it so fast that I didn't even notice! Thanks!" Ayala smiled and was off. As I was standing there, I saw the McGeary's walking off of the field, where they had been observing practice and chatting with various folks. Since I recognized them, as they came off of the field, I asked Jack McGeary, "Mr. McGeary? May I be the first Nats fan to request your autograph?" (Yes, he's 18 years old, and I'm calling him "Mister" - well, he makes a lot more money than I do, so he's earned the right to be called "Mr." McGeary now). At that, both Jack McGeary and his parents smiled and seemed very tickled to be asked. I always bring a brand new unwrapped baseball for just such an occasion, and I got it out and offered it up. Some guy standing next to me beat me to it, but I still believe that I hold the honor of being the first Nats fan to ask him for an autograph on a ball. You can believe that I will follow his career with more than a passing interest. I applauded the McGeary's and thanked them for having Jack sign and congratulated them for getting everything that they wanted, his Stanford education assured and a career in baseball. My only regret is that I didn't have the presence of mind to get a photograph with him. I'm pleased to report that Jack McGeary is a polite young man, very tall (I'm 6'3" and he's taller than I am) and I told the McGeary's that I hoped to be able to blog nice things about Jack for many years to come. Jack, if you should ever happen to read this, thanks again, you made this fan's day.

Now completely floating from meeting Ryan Church and Jack McGeary, I walked up towards the press cafeteria to say hello to Ellie and chat a bit. After we talked, I noticed a familiar-looking man walk out of the cafeteria and towards the railing of the Terrace Food Court. I looked at Ellie and gave her one of those, "Is that who I think it is?" looks, and she just nodded her head. So I walked over to the man and introduced myself - "Mr. Lerner?" I asked, and Mr. Theodore Lerner, the principal owner of the Washington Nationals turned around and spoke with me. I introduced myself, and when I informed him that I was an 81-game season ticket holder, he smiled. He seemed very pleased to be able to speak with a season ticket holder and I was only too happy to congratulate him on his family's ownership of the team, and on that day's Jack McGeary signing. He didn't say much, but I didn't expect him to be a verbose man, quite the contrary, I imagined him to be a man of very few words, but when he DID speak, it meant something, and you listened. He DID say in response to my thanking him on the McGeary signing that it was a big step for them, but I assured him that it was the RIGHT step, and that every true Nationals fan was behind it 100%. I am extremely proud of the Lerner family's ownership of the Nationals, and it meant the world to me to be able to thank Mr. Theodore Lerner personally.

I swore that I'd recall every detail of that day, and I wish that I had written about it before two weeks had gone by, but I seem to recall that the rest of the evening was less-memorable. I know that I already blogged about the game, though - The Phillies beat the Nats, which was the sole sour note of what was one of the greatest days I've ever had as a fan of the Washington Nationals. A day that I'll never forget.

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