Archive for December, 2014

Countdown to the 2015 NHL Winter Classic: 1 Day

Here’s the final part of the “Countdown to the NHL Winter Classic”.

Probably the best tradition you’ll see at Nationals Park occurs during the middle of the fourth inning. The origins of the Presidents Race began in 2006 as a video promotion, similar to the origins of Milwaukee’s Famous Racing Sausages. Then, on the first home game after the All-Star break, the Racing Presidents came to life, racing from center field, down the warning track to the right field foul pole before reaching the finish line near first base. The Presidents Race features likenesses of five former Presidents of the United States, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and William Howard Taft. However, the Presidents Race got some notoriety for having one of the longest winless streaks in the history of sports.

Prior to the final regular-season game of 2012, Teddy Roosevelt never won a race (with a huge emphasis on the word never). In the first year of the live-action Presidents Race, Teddy was disqualified by using a golf cart or popping out of nowhere from the first-base dugout. The following season, Teddy was disqualified by ziplining down from the outfield stands on Opening day, using a bicycle rickshaw, and “Secret Service” escort. By the time the Presidents Race moved to Nationals Park, Teddy’s streak of futility continued, getting disqualified by using a motor scooter, or cutting the right field corner. During the last two years of Presidential election in the United States, the rallying cry during the Presidents Race was “Let Teddy Win!” (as a matter of fact, “Let Teddy Win” is the name of a very popular Nationals blog dedicated solely to the history of the Presidents Race) Then came the afternoon of October 3, 2012: the day Teddy Roosevelt finally won.

After that win, the Nationals rolled into the Postseason for the first time in franchise history. Their opponent in the NLDS was the defending World Series Champions, St. Louis Cardinals. After splitting the first two games in St. Louis, the Nats needed to win to out of three games on their own home field to advance to the NLCS. In the first Postseason Presidents Race, Teddy Roosevelt won. (As of right now, Teddy is undefeated in Postseason Presidents Races [5-0].) The 2013 season saw Teddy win more Presidents Races (11). Last season was a career season for the Racing President that was once considered the butt of jokes. Teddy won on opening day, and he never looked back, going on to win 29 races en route to his first Presidents Race season championship.

Teddy Roosevelt was also the first Racing President to meet and greet with Nationals fans. You can get your picture with George, Abe, Tom, Teddy, and Bill before the game inside the Center Field entrance or out in Section 131 after the Presidents Race is run.

Well, that wraps up the “Countdown to the NHL Winter Classic”. I hope you enjoy the game tomorrow, and wish all of you a safe and happiest of what the New Year has to come.

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Countdown to the 2015 NHL Winter Classic: 2 Days

Here’s part 5 of the “Countdown to the NHL Winter Classic”.

If you didn’t know by now, not only am I a big hockey fan, I’m also a big foodie. Any time I head to a sports venue, not only do I want to see a good game, I want to try my hands on some good grub to munch on. Now Chicago has its deep-dish pizza, Chicago-style hot dogs, and Italian beef sandwiches. Washington has its half-smokes, Ben’s Chili, and Greene Turtle root beer. Well, the folks at Levy Restaurants, the official foodservice provider of Nationals Park, created something specifically for the Winter Classic that combines the flavors of both Chicago and Washington. The District Duel is a foot-long half smoke topped with Chicago-style slow-roasted Italian beef, creole mustard, banana peppers and giardiniera. It sells for $15, and if you can’t make it to Nationals Park for the Winter Classic, Levy says the District Duel will be sold at the Verizon Center during select Capitals games after the Winter Classic. During baseball season, Nationals Park would sell their infamous StrasBurger out on The Red Porch in Section 100. The StrasBurger, named after Nationals ace pitcher Stephen Strasburg, is a monstrous eight-pound all-beef burger made from a combination of ground brisket, ground chuck, and ground beef short ribs, served on a large bun with secret sauce, American cheese, shredded lettuce, sliced tomatoes, sliced red onions, and pickle chips. The burger also comes with a one-pound cone of fresh-cut fries and a 64-ounce pitcher of soda. The StrasBurger sells for $59. Another Washington chili institution also calls Nationals Park home. Fred and Jim Parker opened the first Hard Times Cafe in Alexandria’s Old Town in 1980. Since then, Hard Times opened up 13 more locations across the District, including stands at both Nationals Park and the Verizon Center. They are famous for their authentic Texas-style and Cincinnati-Style Chili. The best way to try their chili is the Chili Bubba, which is cornbread topped with two of your favorite Chilis (I prefer half-Texas, half-Cincy), then smothered with cheddar cheese, tomatoes, onions, and sour cream.

Tomorrow’s finale of the countdown, has to do with probably the most famous mascots in Washington. And no, I’m not talking about the Capitals’ Slapshot or Screech from the Nationals.

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Countdown to the 2015 NHL Winter Classic: 3 Days

Here’s part 4 of the “Countdown to the NHL Winter Classic”.

The setting for the Winter Classic at Nationals Park is one of the most elaborate out of all previous playings of the NHL’s signature event. Out in Center Field, the teams will enter behind a replica of the United States Capitol. The auxiliary rink where the kids skate on is reminiscent of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. And the stage where musical acts will perform during intermissions look very similar to the footprint of the Lincoln Memorial. Here’s a collection of photos as posted on Twitter:

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Countdown to the 2015 NHL Winter Classic: 4 Days

Here’s part 3 of the “Countdown to the NHL Winter Classic”.

The press box at Nationals Park is officially called the Shirley Povich Media Center. Povich is considered the most socially significant major sports voice of the 20th Century. He began his career working at The Washington Post in 1923. Two years later, he was named Sports editor, a position he would hold until his retirement in 1973. He was one of the first people who championed integration in professional sports. When Jackie Robinson signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, he wrote ”Four hundred and fifty-five years after Columbus eagerly discovered America, Major League Baseball reluctantly discovered the American Negro.” When Don Larsen pitched his perfect game for the New York Yankees in 1956, Povich wrote one of the most famous leads ever: ”The million-to-one shot came in. Hell froze over. A month of Sundays hit the calendar. Don Larsen today pitched a no-hit, no-run, no-man-reach-first game in a World Series.”

How influential was Povich in Washington? President John F. Kennedy was such a big Povich fan, he clipped Povich’s columns and used excerpts from them for his New Frontier speeches. Another president, Richard Nixon, a die-hard sports fan, once told Post publisher Phil Graham: ”Shirley Povich is the only reason I read your newspaper.” Even after his retirement, Povich continued to write more than 500 pieces and cover the World Series for the Post. He would write about both the modern game and memories of years past. Fellow sportswriting legend Dan Jenkins described Povich’s style of writing as this: “He wasn’t flashy; he didn’t try to dazzle you with his footwork. He was honest and authoritative. He was the last of the breed who knew everybody and saw everything.”

Shirley Povich died of a heart attack on June 4, 1998. He was 92. He left behind his wife Ethyl (who died in 2004), and his three children, David, Lynn, and Maury.

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Coach’s Corner Rewind: December 27, 2014

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Countdown to the 2015 NHL Winter Classic: 5 Days

Here’s part 2 of “Countdown to the NHL Winter Classic”, which focuses on the Winter Classic venue, Nationals Park.

When the Expos moved from Montreal to Washington in 2004, the only existing venue to call the Nationals home was RFK Stadium. The multipurpose stadium opened in October 1961 as the home of both the Redskins and the second incarnation of the Senators. In its baseball configuration, RFK was notorious for being a “launch pad” hitter’s park. During the Senators days, power-hitter Frank Howard would usually crush balls into the upper deck. By the time the Nationals called RFK home in 2005, the stadium was 45 years old and considered outdated by MLB standards. The decision on where to build the Nationals’ new ballpark was in the hands of then-mayor Anthony Williams. The new ballpark would be located in the Navy Yard neighborhood near the banks of the Anacostia River. Nationals Park took two years and over $611 Million to make.

Nationals Park opened on March 22, 2008 with a college baseball game between George Washington and St. Joseph’s. The first Nationals regular season game occurred on March 30, 2008, when the Nats took on division rival, the Atlanta Braves in a nationally-televised Sunday Night game. The Nats won 3-2 on a walk-off home run by Ryan Zimmerman.

Nationals Park was built with an unobstructed view of the Capitol, and the National Mall in mind. The ballpark was built using steel, glass and pre-cast concrete that reflects the architecture of Washington. The main point-of-entry at the park is out in center field near N Street Southeast. The entrance is flanked by cherry blossom trees. On a clear day from the upper deck, the Capitol, the National Mall, and maybe even the Washington National Cathedral. The ballpark was also built to be environmentally friendly. Nationals Park become the first major stadium in the United States to be accredited as a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED Structure. In fact, the ballpark’s design and construction exceeded the target of a “certified” Green Building, and actually received the United States Green Building Council’s even more environmentally-friendly “Silver Status”. Even though the playing surface is 24 feet below street level, everyone who enters the park enters at street level, because the main concourse is built at the same level as the sidewalks.

Out in centerfield, there are three statues dedicated to some of the players who have molded the history of baseball in Washington. Walter “Big Train” Johnson played 21 seasons with the original Washington Senators (1907-1927). With his sidearm release and one-pitch arsenal (he only threw a four-seam fastball), Johnson won 417 games, threw 110 shutouts (which is still a Major League record), and led the Senators to their only World Series championship in 1924. He became a charter member of the Baseball Hall of Fame when he was inducted in 1936. Josh Gibson is one of the greatest hitters in the history of the Negro League. Playing for the Homestead Grays, he led the team to eight Negro League championships in a nine-year span from 1937-1945. In his 17-year playing career, he hit nearly 500 home runs, and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972. Frank Howard played for the second incarnation of the Washington Senators from 1965 until the team moved to Texas in 1972. “Hondo” was one of the most imposing players to ever grace a baseball diamond. Standing at 6′ 8″ and weighing in at 275 pounds, Howard was a two-sport athlete at Ohio State, playing both baseball and basketball. After being drafted by the NBA’s Philadelphia Warriors, Howard decided to switch his focus towards baseball, signing as a free agent with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1958. He went on to win NL Rookie of the Year honors in 1960 and then went on to win a World Series Championship in 1963. In December 1965, Howard was traded to Washington as part of a seven-player deal. It was his time in Washington where he would become a baseball legend. Switching from right field to left field, he went on to hit a franchise-record 237 home runs in his seven years in Washington, also earning other nicknames such as “The Washington Monument” and “The Capital Punisher.”

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Countdown to the 2015 NHL Winter Classic: 6 Days

Here’s the first of my six-part “Countdown to the NHL Winter Classic” series.

It all began with the idea to contract Major League Baseball from a 30-team league to a 28-team league in 2002. The Minnesota Twins and Montreal Expos were originally the two teams to cease operations, but since the Minneapolis Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission won an injunction to keep the Twins playing at the Metrodome, contraction did not occur. With contraction not an option to save the struggling Expos, MLB was forced to find a city for the Expos to relocate to. In the end, thanks to a 28-1 vote by the other MLB team owners on September 29, 2004, the Montreal Expos were officially relocated to Washington, D.C. The one owner that said no to the relocation of the Expos to Washington was Beltway rival Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who famously said that “There are no baseball fans in Washington, D.C.”.

For the first time since 1972, when the second incarnation of the Washington Senators went west to become the Texas Rangers, professional baseball was back in America’s national capital. When it came to naming the new team, Senators was not an option, because the Rangers still owned the rights to the Senators name, which included the “Curly W” mark that is now the team’s primary logo. Well, the Rangers gave the “Curly W” back to Washington, but not the team name. The team was officially named the Nationals prior to the 2005 season, as an homage to the first professional baseball team in Washington which played there from 1901-1956 before changing their name to the first incarnation of the Washington Senators and then moving to Minnesota four years later to become the Twins.

When Ted Lerner became the owner of the Washington Nationals in 2006, his first major job hire was Stan Kasten as team president. Kasten previously built the Atlanta Braves into the powerhouse team that won 14 straight division championships from 1991-2005. “The Plan” that he used to make the Nats the team that it is right now was through player development through drafting, player performance in the minor leagues, and where players “fit in” the Nationals style of play. They wanted to find an pitching ace? Look at Stephen Strasburg. They wanted to find a franchise player? Look at Bryce Harper.

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