Last week, I had a great opportunity to go to beautiful Orioles Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Maryland to interview Orioles closer Darren O’Day about his nomination for the Bob Feller Act of Valor Award. O’Day was honored for his award nomination at a pre-game ceremony. During our interview, I also asked him a few questions about other topics, including his upcoming free agency and his unique submarine delivery, which will I will publish in a later post. This Matt’s Bats Chat with Darren O’Day is about and his work helping military charities and his nomination for the Bob Feller Act of Valor award.
The Act of Valor Award is given out to three people who share the characteristics of Bob Feller: an active MLB player, a member of the Navy, and a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Award winners are selected because they are dedicated to serving our country and share the values and integrity of Bob Feller. In addition to the Orioles’ O’Day, other MLB nominees this year included Brad Ziegler of the Diamondbacks, Dustin Pedroia of the Red Sox, Adam LaRoche of the White Sox, Jay Bruce of the Reds, Trevor Bauer of the Indians, Jonathan Lucroy of the Brewers, Wade Davis of the Royals, Steve Cishek of the Cardinals, Brian Dozier of the Twins, Curtis Granderson of the Mets, Sean Doolittle of the A’s, Charlie Morton of the Pirates, Ian Kennedy of the Padres, and Craig Stammen of the Nats. The winners will be honored at an award ceremony at the U.S. Navy Memorial in downtown Washington, DC in November.
I asked O’Day what it means to him that he is nominated for an award named after the great Bob Feller. “It’s truly an honor. When I heard I was being nominated for this award, I went and researched him. The more you learn about him, the more in awe you are of his decision to take time off from Major League Baseball to serve in the Navy. He gave up four years of his career to potentially get hurt or die in the line of duty. Like I said, it’s a great honor to be associated with an award in his name.” O’Day told me the story about the opportunity he when he was 6 or 7 years old to meet Bob Feller at a minor league baseball game in his hometown of Jacksonville, Florida. O’Day handed Feller a pen to sign an autograph for him, and it exploded on him!
O’Day has done many terrific things that earned him this nomination. One of the things O’Day and his wife, FOX News reporter Elizabeth Prann, have done is organize a “Barbecue for the Troops” event that helps support the USO. O’Day explained the whole process to me. He told me that he sponsored the event at Camden Yards and guests brought donations for the USO. In the event’s inaugural year in 2013, O’Day raised $17,000. The USO is great because it helps deployed troops and their families.
Another activity O’Day and some other Orioles help out with is the Military Sunday Suite. Orioles players donate money to buy a suite every Sunday at Orioles Park for active military members, and they get to meet some players during batting practice, get a t-shirt, and are recognized during God Bless America and the 7th inning stretch. “The sacrifices they make and the things they have to forgo to serve in the military, we couldn’t make up for that. Tickets to a game pale in comparison to that. We couldn’t really make up for that, but we try to do something small and do something nice,” O’Day told me.
That’s not all O’Day does to support the military. He also supports a cause called Luke’s Wings, and for the past three years he has donated money for every strikeout he records. Luke’s Wings helps families travel to be with injured service members during their hospitalization and rehabilitation. “I like their mission. When somebody decides to serve in the military, it not only affects them, it affects their whole family.” “When a service man or woman is injured, they have a lot to deal with, and their families also have a lot to deal with. Luke’s Wings takes care of their families and provides funding to get them flown out whereever they need to go to see their injured family member. It makes it a lot easier on the family to take a lot of the financial burden off them.” In 2013, O’Day raised over $2,300; in 2014 he raised over over $3,600, and this year he will donate over $4,000. “I wish I would have raised more, because that would’ve meant more strikeouts,” he joked.
Finally, once a year when the Orioles face their interleague rivals the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park, O’Day and other Orioles players make a visit to Walter Reed Hospital in Bethesda to meet with some Wounded Warriors in the rehab center there. Most of the patients are going through physical therapy after serious injuries. “Some of the baseball players can relate on a much smaller level”, O’Day told me, “because we have also had injuries.” “They have just had a huge change in their life, so we like to go down there and hang out with them for a day. We get to know them a little bit, and a lot of them are baseball fans, and hopefully get to make one day a little bit better for them.” He added, “there’s a lot of good men and women who pass through there and I have actually developed relationships where I keep in touch with some of them who passed through there.”
The Bob Feller Act of Valor Award foundation just announced the winners of this year’s awards. This year they are celebrating Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy, Hall of Fame Royals 3rd Baseman George Brett, and Navy Chief Petty Officer Gennell Cody. Although O’Day didn’t win this year, he still has done many great things and I hope to see him nominated again next year. I will attend the awards ceremony again this year and have interviews with Lucroy and Brett.
In addition, look out for the rest of my Matt’s Bats Chat with Darren O’Day, coming soon. We talk about more about his baseball career.
In case you missed my MASN Nationals Buzz guest blog post this week, I wrote about some of the good things the Nationals have accomplished in the past few years, even after a disappointing 2015 season and an ugly finale at Nats Park.
It’s been a weird couple of days to be a Nationals fan. I am used to being excited after a walk-off win, or sad after a big loss. But the past couple of days I have felt a feeling that I have never felt before as a Nationals fan – embarrassment. I was embarrassed by the way Jonathan Papelbon bullied the best player on the team and best player in baseball, Bryce Harper. I was embarrassed that the Nationals coaching staff let Papelbon play after the attack. I was embarrassed all around that no one on the team seemed to care about the things that made fans feel such outrage. This was the worst display of bad sportsmanship on the Nationals since I started following the team. Worse than Nyjer Morgan’s hissy fit when he threw his glove and left a live ball sitting in the outfield. This involved one teammate fighting with another over something meaningless, and then management doing very little to make it right. All on Fan Appreciation Day! I never want to see this happen again.
To top it all off, the Mets clinched the National League East on Saturday, and the once-admired Nationals officially are out of the playoffs when the season ends on Sunday. It’s been an up-and-down (but mostly down) year for the Nationals, capped off by the lowest incident for fan morale that I can remember. But it is still worth acknowledging how far the team has come in 10 years from their inaugural season in D.C. The team made a huge transformation and became a national story in just a couple of years. They have gone from a bunch of Expos players whose names no one really remembers to a team featuring a rotation with the likes of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann. We get to cheer for Harper, the 2012 Rookie of the Year and likely 2015 National League Most Valuable Player.
Since 2012, the Nationals went from a weak team that the Phillies or Braves liked to play to harden their lead in the division to a team that is always fighting to play in the postseason. It used to be that Phillies fans outnumbered the small number of Nats fans at the ballpark, but now Nats Parks hosts 2.6 million fans a year. So even though this year fell well below expectations, and things definitely will need to improve in the offseason to win back fan support, it is worth taking a look at how well the Nationals have done in the past few years and some accomplishments from this year.
When the second Washington Senators left town to go to Arlington, Texas, after the 1971 season, there was vaguely any baseball being played in the Washington, D.C., area. In fact, the Redskins were the only major professional sports team in Washington for two whole years until the Bullets (now Wizards) and the Capitals arrived. More than 30 years passed without Washington having its own professional baseball team. And then, just a month after I was born, the announcement was made: after considering northern Virginia, Washington, Portland, Oregon, Las Vegas, Norfolk and Monterrey, Mexico, Major League Baseball decided that the nation’s capital was worthy enough for their own baseball team.
I’ve written on MattsBats.com about how I became such a huge baseball fan. I think there are a lot of kids like me who have fallen in love with baseball, since my generation is the first one to have a hometown major league team in 33 years. I like the Nats; my siblings like the Nats; my siblings’ friends like the Nats. We have players like Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, Harper and Scherzer, who the team signed for long-term deals, who we will be able to root for all through our childhood. It’s great that little kids are able to actually go to a Nationals game in their hometown, and not just watch it on TV or listen on the radio. I love seeing a kid get a foul ball and holding it up as their most prized possession, because that is how I became a fan. At the same time, the Papelbon incident from Sunday is a good lesson that all of that positive energy can dry up very quickly. No one wants to see the villain beat up the superhero. The Nationals need to make sure they play baseball well on the field, but also that their roster includes players that fans want to root for, not against.
Turning back to baseball, even though the Nationals didn’t win the division, it’s not like they’re at the bottom of the standings. They will finish second, likely with a winning record, which is a huge accomplishment when you think back just to the 2011 season, when .500 was a huge milestone. In 2008 and 2009, the Nationals were a terrible team, and they lost more than 100 games. (Usually they say a team will win 60 games, lose 60 games, and whether you make the playoffs depends on how you do in the third 60 games. In those years, the Nats didn’t even win 60 total).
Being that bad had one good side: good draft picks. In 2007, the Nats drafted Jordan Zimmermann, who has gone on to be, in my opinion, the best pitcher in Nationals history. In 2008, they got Danny Espinosa and Tyler Moore, both of whom have been keys to the Nationals bench. Earning the top pick in the draft in 2009, they picked Stephen Strasburg, then Drew Storen and Michael A. Taylor in later rounds. A year later, the draft got them Harper. So without the poor performances of the 2006-2010 Nationals, we wouldn’t be at the spot we are at right now. Zimmermann brought the Nats their first no-hitter. Strasburg has had four consecutive 10-strikeout games this year (and was one strikeout shy on Saturday of tying the franchise record of 14 established earlier this year by Scherzer). Storen has had his dark times, but he is probably the second-best closer in Nats history after Chad Cordero. Moore and Taylor have been great guys off the bench.
There’s a lot to celebrate in the recent years, but part of why this year feels like a letdown is that everyone thought this was the last chance to make a playoff run before Zimmermann, Ian Desmond and other key players leave in free agency. It feels bad not to win the division when in the past couple years you’ve had the best record in the National League or all of Major League Baseball. But this team is still very talented, and this is definitely not the end of the Nationals being playoff contenders. Everyone in the front office knows what needs to be improved, and I can guarantee they’ll be working on fixing the bullpen, adding a big bat (maybe in the outfield) and looking at management over the offseason. Maybe the Nats, like the San Francisco Giants, just do well in even years. If so, there is nothing to worry about.
Congratulations, Mets, on winning the NL East, but we will get you next year. So even though we won’t be raising a championship banner this year, as Brooklyn Dodgers fans always said, “There’s always next year.”
Today in my MASNSports.com Nationals Buzz column, I wrote that if the Nationals aren’t going to make it to the playoffs, maybe DC fans should think about rooting for the Rangers (American League) or Cubs (National League). Read below or click HERE to see why. Personally, I think the World Series will come down to Blue Jays versus Cardinals, and obviously I would want the Jays to win.
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With the Nats 6 1/2 games out of the National League East with 13 games to go, it looks a lot like the New York Mets are going to pull away with the division title. There still is hope, though. The Nats are 6 1/2 games out, and the Mets are coming off a series loss against the New York Yankees. If the Nats can make up enough ground to roll into New York next week within three games of the division lead, they could pull of an end-of-season upset. As much as I would love to see that happen, it is still unlikely. So I have been thinking a lot about who I will be rooting for in the postseason if the Nationals aren’t going to be in the playoffs.
From the American League, I am going with the Texas Rangers, who have a 1 1/2 game lead in the West division in front of the Houston Astros as of Monday night. One reason for my picking of Rthe angers for Nats fans to root for: They used to be the Washington Senators team. In 1960, after the original Washington Senators moved up to Minnesota to become the Twins, MLB awarded two expansion franchises. One of them was awarded to Anaheim, Calif., which became the Angels, and the other went back to Washington. Confusingly, that team was also called the Senators. They played for 11 years at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium in Northeast Washington. In 1971, the Senators got shipped out to Arlington, Texas (between Dallas and Fort Worth) and became known as the Texas Rangers.
In addition to being originally from D.C., the Rangers are a good team to root for in the postseason. This year, the Rangers, like the Nationals, started off slow. In mid-May, the team was sitting in fourth place. But within a month, they found themselves 2 1/2 games behind the Houston Astros for first place. At the trade deadline, the Rangers acquired pitchers Jake Diekman and Cole Hamels from the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for Matt Harrison and five prospects. That boosted the team. The Rangers soared, eventually overtaking the Astros in early September. They have a good chance to make the playoffs by winning the division or the wild card, so if you need an AL team to root for, this may be a good one (and an underdog) to take an interest in.
In the NL, if the hometown Nationals aren’t in it, then you should join me in throwing your support behind the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs have some of the most supportive fans in baseball, and this year, most of Chicago is on their side. Cubs fans have been waiting even longer than Washington baseball fans to see their team win the World Series. The last time Washington had a champion was in 1924. The Cubs haven’t won a World Series title since 1908, 107 years, and it’s never happened since the Cubs have occupied Wrigley Field. The closest they came in decades was in 2003, but Cubs fan Steve Bartman famously reached over the fence an interfered with ball that could have put the Cubs within four outs of a division championship.
This may be the year of the Cubbies. In the 1989 movie ‘Back to the Future 2’, which was set 30 years in the future, it was predicted that the Cubs would win the World Series in 2015 (but over Miami, which definitely isn’t going to happen this year). If it does happen, it’s going to be because of their amazing young talent. Star third baseman Kris Bryant has been leading the way, with Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber also being big forces in their success this year. These guys remind me a lot of Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon. This is a fun team to watch, and I hope that they can make it into the postseason through the wild card. It’s hard not to root for the Cubs if they make it to the playoffs.
Obviously, I want the Nationals to make it into the postseason. But if they don’t, it’ll be fun to root for some of the underdog teams that have a lot in common with the Nationals.
Here is a copy of the post I wrote for MASN earlier this week about the Nationals’ disappointing 2015 Season. Click HERE to see the original article.
On the 15th of September, the Nationals are 10 games back of the New York Mets and it’s safe to say their postseason chances are just a little more than zero. Before the season started, almost everyone thought Washington was a favorite to win the World Series. I predicted on my blog, MattsBats.com, that they would win 99 games and take the National League East easily. A lot of people are now wondering what went wrong for the Nationals this year. Today, I am looking at three of the biggest reasons the Nats’ season was so disappointing.
First off is the obvious: the bullpen. The bullpen was the team’s biggest weakness going into the 2015 year, and it only got worse during the season. The Nats traded the best lefty in the bullpen, Jerry Blevins, to the Mets for Matt den Dekker, who barely saw any playing time this year (Blevins also sat out almost the whole year with an injury). The Nats also acquired Yunel Escobar from the Athletics in exchange for set-up man Tyler Clippard, who somehow ended up a Met by the middle of the year. The Nats also lost long reliever Craig Stammen to injury, and he was taken out of the season early after pitching badly against (who else) the Mets. To fill in, the Nats had to use makeshift relievers with little or no big league experience. So this year you were likely to see Blake Treinen, Matt Grace, Sammy Solis or Felipe Rivero take the mound, as compared to last year when the seventh, eighth and ninth went to Clippard, Drew Storen and Rafael Soriano. Storen took an amazing first half and flushed it down the toilet in the past couple of weeks by breaking his pitching hand thumb when he slammed a locker in frustration. The good news is that the bullpen was so bad this year that it will have to be fixed for next year. I’ve said it on Twitter, but I would love the Nats to shore up their bullpen with some relievers like Brad Ziegler, Darren O’Day, Will Harris, Tyler Clippard or maybe a trade for Craig Kimbrel.
The second reason the 2015 season went wrong was injuries to key starters. It’s hard to avoid injuries, but this season, injuries really hurt the team. Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon, Denard Span and Stephen Strasburg have all missed a lot of time this year due to injury. Incredibly, the Nats weren’t able to field their opening day lineup until August. Many of their replacements have blended in just fine, like Michael A. Taylor and Clint Robinson, but it wasn’t really the same without some of the best hitters and fielders in the lineup. Danny Espinosa, who played almost every position on the field this year except for pitcher and catcher, also showed a lot of improvement. And, luckily, what surprised me the most is that injury-prone catcher Wilson Ramos didn’t miss time this year due to injury. But not being able to have your starting nine play every day was a huge part of the Nats’ collapse.
The final reason for the 2015 bust is the Mets’ resurgence. Almost no one outside Queens expected the Mets would finish at the top of the division. For years, the team has been the one guarding the cellar of the NL East. But suddenly, the Mets have become Amazin’ again due to stellar pitching by Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard. Even Bartolo Colon made history by pitching 31 straight scoreless innings – the most in history by anyone older than 42 years old. The Mets also made good acquisitions like Kelly Johnson, Juan Uribe, Tyler Clippard and, of course, Yoenis Cespedes. Rookie call-up Michael Conforto has hit 7 home runs and is batting just below .300. Even without David Wright for most of the season, the Mets have been playing pretty good baseball all year. They played well enough to keep pace with the Nats all year and then kicked it into high gear at the trade deadline with the Cespedes acquisition.
The Nationals’ season definitely has not played out like expected. Other than Bryce Harper’s amazing season and Max Scherzer’s nearly perfect no-hitter, there have not been many highlights this year. The good news is MLB has released the 2016 schedule, and there are only 202 days until the Nationals’ 2016 opening day.
After splitting the series with the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Nationals are set to take on the Colorado Rockies. As the Nats get ready to #RockTheRockies, I thought it would be the perfect time to tell you about my visit to Coors Field a couple of weeks ago.
I visited the Rockies home ballpark on July 22, when the Rox took on the Texas Rangers in an interleague game. This was the third time I had seen an interleague game on the road.
When we got to Coors Field, we met Julian Valentin, the Assistant Director of Digital Media and Publications for the Rockies. He gave me a Rockies prize bag and I was so excited to get a lot of cool promo items from 2015. My special prize pack had a Rockies mullet hat, a few copies of Rockies Magazine, a trucker hat, a travel blanket, a couple t-shirts, an awesome calendar of the Rockies recreating pictures from their childhood, a drink tumbler, a fedora, and a Troy Tulowitzki bobblehead. It also had sunglasses signed by Jorge De La Rosa, who is starting today for Colorado. (Funny point – I got the Tulo bobblehead days before he was traded to the Blue Jays. The same thing happened last year when the Padres gave me a Chase Headley tote bag, right before he was traded to the Yankees.)
When we got to our seats in the 300 level, it was very sunny, so we switched our seats. We also hoped that switching seats would get better luck for the Rockies, who were down 5-1 in the 2nd inning. We moved into the purple row in section 325. Those seats are purple, rather than the usual green, to mark that they are exactly 5,280 feet above sea level, or one mile high. While we were up in those purple seats, three Rockies scored to make it 5-4. Even though the Rockies eventually lost 10-8, it was really cool to be visiting a new ballpark.
Did you know that Coors Field is the third-oldest ballpark in the National League? Only Wrigley Field in Chicago and Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, both of which I’ve visited, are older. One interesting feature of Coors Field is that the press box is in two locations. The Monfort family, who owns the Rockies, originally downsized the press box when Coors Field was built too fit more luxury seats. The park wound up needing to add additional space in the right field corner for press who couldn’t fit in the main press box. If you have ever been to or watched a game on TV that took place at Coors Field, you would know what the Rockpile is. It is used as the batters eye, and it has a fountain, rocks, and different types of trees found in the Centennial State.
The outside of Coors Field is made out of bricks. 1.4 million of them are used at the Ballpark, and each and every one of them have “Coors Field” engraved in it. When it snows in Denver during the baseball season, there are heated cables under the ballpark that melt the snow. And finally, the thing that interests me the most about Coors Field- while they were building it, the construction crew found a 66 million year old dinosaur. That’s why the Rox’ mascot is Dinger, a purple dinosaur. Dinger looks a little bit like Barney.
I’m a traditional guy, so when I went to Coors Field, I had a basic hot dog. There are also different specialty hotdogs at both ballparks. At Nationals park, you can get a classic DC half-smoke with chili at Ben’s Chili Bowl. But, you can get a crazy concoction called a taco dog at Coors Field, which is a chorizo sausage with cheese, salsa, and lettuce in a hot dog bun. Also at Coors is the Albacore Tuna Salad Grilled Cheese which is exactly what the name says in between two slices of Texas Toast. My dad and brother tried food from the Coors Field outpost of the chain Famous Dave’s. Coors also has the nation’s first in-ballpark vegetable and herb garden, which you can taste at Mountain Ranch Club Restaurant. At Nats Park, they have crab cakes from the Chesapeake Crab Cake Company, sushi from South Capitol Sushi, Shake Shack, and biscuits from Virginia Country Kitchen. Comparing the hot dogs I’ve had at Nats Park and Coors Field, is tough, because both were delicious. Overall, though, the food at Nats Park is more diverse, so I give Nats Park the win (but very reluctantly, because now I want a Taco Dog).
WINNER: NATS PARK
This is a no-brainer. From the upper deck at Coors Field, you can see the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, the same mountain range that includes Pikes Peak. From Nationals Park, you can see the Capitol Building when you strain your neck from the upper deck. From the lower deck, you can see the Booz Allen Hamilton building, parking garages and a Public Storage. Like I said, this is a no-brainer. Coors Field by a mile. (Ha! Ha!)
WINNER: COORS FIELD
While Nationals Park has a playground and a food stand called Rookie’s, the Rockies take family activities to the next level. They also have a playground and a kid’s food stand, but they have a whole interactive zone. In that interactive zone, there are batting cages, radar guns, T-Ball, and a fantasy radio booth where you can announce a half inning. The Interactive Zone At Coors Field is like the Outfield Experience at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. Even though I wasn’t able to do the activities, I’m giving Coors the obvious vote here.
WINNER: COORS FIELD
I think that Coors Field in Colorado and Nats Park in the District of Columbia are great, but I give the edge to Coors Field for the total fan experience in the Battle of the Ballparks. At Coors Field, you get a great experience, with the family interactives and the great view. The stadium is built north of the downtown area of Denver but easily accessible from the city. That way, people sitting in the upper deck have a breathtaking view of the Rocky Mountains. The Monfort Family, who own the Rockies, made a smart decision to build their stadium in an area where there aren’t many buildings to block the view.
The Newseum released the promotional video we shot when I visited the “Nationals At 10” exhibit earlier this week. I was the first person to see the exhibit. Watch the video below.
They also put a link to my post on the front page of the exhibit webpage.
Today, the exhibit called “Nationals at 10” opens at the Newseum in downtown Washington, DC. The exhibit contains artifacts from the biggest moments in the first 10 years of Washington Nationals history. The Newseum is also hosting a Family Day on Saturday (Aug. 1) as part of its Opening Weekend where you and the rest of the family can be some of the first to see the exhibit. Plus, there will be batting cages, arts & crafts, and other fun activities for the whole family to do. Admission is $10 for adults, but the best part is kids are free all summer long. Click for all the information on the event. And please keep reading to the end because I have some prizes to give away.
If you are active on social media, you probably noticed people in your timeline posting pictures from the Newseum Nights event last night. These people got to see the “Nationals at 10” exhibit before it officially opens this morning.
Earlier this week, the Newseum gave me a special sneak peek tour of the exhibit and we recorded a video podcast that will be out soon. It was so special that I wasn’t allowed to post pictures or talk about what I saw in the exhibit because it was “embargoed” until the exhibit opened to the public. But now that it’s open, I can tell you all the great things I saw in “Nationals at 10,” and why I think it’s a great exhibit for Nationals and all baseball fans.
The exhibit is small, but it contains some very important and newsworthy items in Nationals history. For example, I saw the lineup card from the first game in Nationals history, the bat and ball used by Ryan Zimmerman on March 30, 2008 when he opened Nationals Park with a walk-off home run, and the home plate used in the last game of the season last year when Jordan Zimmermann tossed his no-hitter– the first in Nationals history. You can also see something from possibly the most exciting moment in Nationals history– the “walk-off, game-winning, season-saving home run by Jayson Werth” (to quote Nats radio broadcaster Charlie Slowes) from the Game 4 of the National League Division Series in 2012.
With all of the Nats artifacts, the exhibit feels like home to me. Everything I could have imagined would be there was there. But they even had things I didn’t expect to see, like Teddy the Racing President’s shoes from the first time he won the 4th inning President’s Race in 2012. They also had the pitching rubber and rosin bag from Stephen Strasburg’s major league debut, where he K’d 14 Pirates batters.
I also was not expecting to see a lineup card from the last game at RFK Stadium, but that was an important “media moment” in Nationals history because it meant the Nats would be moving to a new ballpark built in DC.
I also wasn’t expecting to see a jersey autographed by President Barack Obama. They have the jersey and jacket he wore when he threw out the first pitch at Nats Park on Opening Day 2010, a presidential tradition. They did not have the hat the President was wearing that day, because, if you remember, it was a Chicago White Sox hat.
I have to say, though, that my favorite display is all the things they collected from Bryce Harper’s first major league game back in 2012. They had a helmet, a hat, a base (with the Los Angeles Dodgers logo on it), and other things from Harp’s debut at Dodger Stadium in early 2012. Harper was an important part of the historic 2012 Nationals team. He was the most talked about player in the game and National League Rookie of the Year, and he helped lead the Nationals to their first postseason appearance.
There is definitely a lot of Nationals memorabilia to see at the Newseum. It’s a very well done exhibit that has something for everyone. I hope to see you on Saturday when I visit “Nationals at 10” for Family Day. Even if you do make it on Opening Weekend, be sure to tweet to me @MattsBats with your favorite part of the exhibit.
The exhibit closes on November 29, so there is plenty of time to see it. I just gave away 2 tickets to see the exhibit, and I have some more free Newseum passes and other prizes to give away, thanks to the Newseum. So, here’s another PRIZE GIVEAWAY! To keep your drinks cold this summer, I have some “Nationals at 10” bottle koozies to give away. Retweet the tweet below and I’ll pick a couple of winners to give prizes to.
— Matt’s Bats (@MattsBats) July 30, 2015
UPDATE: Watch the Newseum promo video below.
The Washington Nationals have nominated RHP Craig Stammen for the Bob Feller Act of Valor Award. The Act of Valor Award is given out to three people who share the characteristics of Bob Feller: an active MLB player, a member of the Navy, and a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Award winners are selected because they are dedicated to serving our country and share the values and integrity of Bob Feller. Previous winners of the award, which was established in 2013, are Justin Verlander and Nick Swisher, and Hall of Famers Yogi Berra and Tommy Lasorda. From the Navy, the winners were Garth Sinclair and Carl Thompson.
Stammen was nominated by the Nationals because he regularly visits with wounded veterans both at Nationals Park and at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. In 2012, Stammen joined the Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey on a USO tour that visited four countries. He also helped start “Defending the Baseline” to give military children all over the world the chance to play baseball. Stammen hosts a group from Defending the Base Line at Nationals games once a month, providing them with tickets, NatsBucks for food and merchandise, access to watch batting practice from the field and a private meet and greet. In 2013, he donated $35 per strikeout to the organization.
In addition to his military support, Stammen has a long history of community service. He hosts an annual Diamond Dinner at his former high school in Versailles, Ohio to raise money for the Versailles baseball, softball and track programs, school facilities and a new scholarship fund.
Other nominees for the 2015 Bob Feller Act of Valor Award include:
Arizona Diamondbacks: Brad Ziegler
Baltimore Orioles: Darren O’Day
Boston Red Sox: Dustin Pedroia
Chicago White Sox: Adam LaRoche
Cincinnati Reds: Jay Bruce
Cleveland Indians: Trevor Bauer
Kansas City Royals: Wade Davis
Miami Marlins: Steve Cishek (traded to St. Louis Cardinals 7/24/15)
Milwaukee Brewers: Jonathan Lucroy
Minnesota Twins: Brian Dozier
New York Mets: Curtis Granderson
Oakland Athletics: Sean Doolittle
Pittsburgh Pirates: Charlie Morton
San Diego Padres: Ian Kennedy
Washington Nationals: Craig Stammen
The 2015 Hall of Fame nominees are:
Cleveland Indians: Bob Lemon
Cincinnati Reds: Johnny Bench
Kansas City Royals: George Brett
Miami Marlins: Andre Dawson
Minnesota Twins: Rod Carew
The award will be given out near Veterans’ Day at a ceremony at the U.S. Navy Memorial in downtown DC. I have been lucky enough to attend the past two years, and you can read about my experiences here:
Keep reading MattsBats.com for more information about the finalists and winners as they are chosen and coverage of the award ceremony in November.
Have you ever wondered how a red carpet event works for an awards show? I had an insider’s view last week when I had the most amazing experience. I was granted media credentials and tickets for the 2015 Kids’ Choice Sports Awards at the Pauley Pavilion at UCLA in Los Angeles. I covered the event from the Orange Carpet and then had great seats for the awards show. Here’s the behind the scenes view from Nickelodeon’s Kids’ Choice Sports 2015.
Kids’ Choice Sports is an annual show on Nickelodeon where kids are able to vote for who they think are the best athletes in the world. The categories are really fun, like Best Cannon, Biggest Powerhouse, and Most Enthusiastic Player. Attendees included Golden State Warriors star player Stephen Curry, last year’s host Michael Strahan, Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan, and Abby Wambach representing the United States Women’s National Soccer Team, and Legend Award winner Derek Jeter. The host was Super Bowl XLVIII-winning quarterback Russell Wilson, who plays for the Seattle Seahawks. Also attending the event was Malcolm Butler, who famously intercepted Wilson’s goal line pass to give the New England Patriots the Super Bowl victory.
The event was broadcast live at 8:00 ET / 5:00 PT, but press check-in began at 1:15 PM. The Orange Carpet arrivals didn’t start until 3:00 but it took time for all of the press to get settled in time for the “talent” to to the show. (I learned that Public Relations people call celebrities “talent”).
When we checked in, all media were given a big packet containing pictures and names of the athletes and other “talent” that were expected to attend. I was amazed at the HUGE list! I’m a really big sports fan, but I don’t know too many football and basketball players, so I was really glad to have pictures and descriptions of all the people expected to walk down the carpet. Even still, I was kind of worried that I wouldn’t have enough time to learn everyone’s name, face, and team to recognize them as they walked by.
All of the media were sent to a waiting area near the alumni center at UCLA. I grabbed some of the complimentary snacks and drinks.
When it was time to go, they let photographers go first, then reporters for big magazines and TV shows, like People and Access Hollywood, and finally the bloggers, other print reporters and YouTubers were sent in. There was a number on our Press Pass, and that was the order in which we lined up. The whole line of media walked a few blocks to the actual arrivals area. We walked through throngs of kids who were waiting to get into the arena to watch the show. I bet they were wondering why I got to get into the Orange Carpet and they had to wait outside!
I walked onto the carpet, through bright signs and lights advertising the show. The carpet wasn’t actually a carpet- it was AstroTurf painted orange. I took in the scene. The Orange Carpet was shaped like a racetrack oval.
When talent walked down the carpet, they first were photographed in front of the big blue “step and repeat” screen. The photographer’s area was very well lit with huge lights, but was tented to prevent too much sunlight from affecting the pictures.
Then the talent walked out of the tent and encountered bleachers full of fans and bigger outlets, like Access Hollywood, Extra, and People Magazine.
At the far end of the racetrack were a basketball hoop and football target for the athletes to play.
Finally, at the curve of the oval, bloggers and YouTubers, were lined up. I saw my placard (that had an incorrect spelling of Matt’s Bats) showing me where to stand in the line. I took my spot and waited for the talent to arrive!
It took a long time for talent to come around to my end of the oval. There were so many photographers and reporters along the first side, plus all the games, that it took a while for the athletes to walk through. Also, I noticed that there was a secret exit that people could take before they made the turn to my side of the carpet, so some of the attendees didn’t even walk past me. For example, Russell Wilson and Ciara, Rico Rodriguez from Modern Family, Erin Andrews, Abby Wambach, Lindsey Vonn, and Nick Cannon didn’t walk down my side of the carpet.
Other attendees, like Michael Strahan, Stephen Curry, and Derek Jeter walked really quickly by but didn’t do interviews. When I did try to get Derek Jeter’s attention, he did stop, wave and yell back to me.
Then I got lucky because other people saw I was a kid and stopped to do interviews or take pictures with me, even though they didn’t stop to talk to any other reporters. I took selfies and pictures with Klay Thompson of NBA Champions Golden State Warriors, Carli Lloyd (US Womens Soccer Team), Ashley Wagner (US Olympic Figure Skater and National Champion), Tito Ortiz (MMA Fighter), Malcolm Butler (New England Patriots), Jennie Finch (US Softball), and others.
It turns out I didn’t have to worry about learning everyone’s name and face – all of the talent was led down the carpet by a “handler” holding a white sign with the celebrity’s name. This was VERY helpful!
In addition to the athletes, there were also a lot of Nickelodeon TV stars on the carpet. I took a selfie and a posed pic with Owen Joyner, Jaheem Toombs, and Jack De Sena from the show “100 Things To Do Before High School.”
Most of the reporters had to go home after the Orange Carpet. Not me! I was lucky enough to have tickets for the show too.
There were three stages at the event- two on the sides, and one in the center. On the floor, there were no seats, but many kids were able to stand around the stage and watch. When an award winner’s name was called, the person would walk through the crowd and give high-fives to the kids on the floor.
Also, everyone in the audience had light-up wristbands that changed colors during the show. It was really cool and gave a great effect.
The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team came out to start the show, holding American flags. Everyone was chanting “U-S-A! U-S-A!” as they came. Then the host Russell Wilson came out on the stage.
The first award they announced was the Clutch Player of the Year award, featuring the only Washington sports nominee, Alexander Ovechkin of the Capitals. Ovi didn’t win, despite my cheering. Instead, California local guy Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors won.
After that, a 12-year old named D.J. tried to throw a football 30 yards into a net to win $50,000. He did not make it, but two other kids attempted similar challenges with a basketball and soccer ball, and both made it. Nick gave $100,000 awards to the kids.
Sports trick YouTubers Dude Perfect came out to do a stunt with Russell Wilson. Wilson was strapped to a target and the Dude Perfect guys and other athletes got themselves dizzy and threw water balloons filled with green slime at him. There were only three times that someone got slimed, and if you are wondering, one was not me. And I am happy about that.
People all over the country could watch the show live on on Nickelodeon, but there were a few things that TV viewers weren’t able to see. When Alex Morgan won her award, for instance, she wasn’t actually out on the stage to accept it. Her acceptance speech was previously recorded, but people at home had no idea that the video they were seeing wasn’t live. Instead, the crew was actually changing the set during those few minutes.
The highlight of the show was Derek Jeter getting honored by receiving the Legend Award. His nephew, Jalen Jeter-Martin, came out on stage with him and tipped his cap to Derek when he came out on stage after being introduced by Mo’ne Davis. They played a video to honor Jeter. While the video was playing, before the show returned, Russell Wilson had to teach everyone the “Der-ek Jet-er <clap, clap, clap-clap-clap>” chant. I guess a lot of people on the West Coast never saw or heard the fans at Yankee Stadium do that when The Captain came up to bat. But he didn’t have to teach me; I already knew the chant.
As a finale, in Nickelodeon tradition, Jeter got covered in gold slime.
I was still really exited after the show ended. We went back to our rental car in the media parking lot, which happened to be the same lot that the players parked in. We saw Carmelo Anthony and Derek Jeter. I was hoping to get Jeter’s autograph and talk to him, but his bodyguards and entourage didn’t let anyone get close. Even without a Jeter autograph, it was really cool being at Kids’ Choice Sports.
We also had a great time sightseeing around L.A. We explored Los Angeles and Santa Monica. In Santa Monica, we picked up our passes at Viacom’s headquarters. We spent the morning at the pier and at the beach. In the afternoon, we turned our L.A. tourist on. We first went to Hollywood and Highland to get a view of the famous Hollywood sign. After that, we went to the Walk of Fame and the famous Chinese Theatre, where I put my hands in the same place Steven Spielberg put his.
For dinner, we went to Cali staple In-N-Out Burger, which I think makes the one of the best burgers in America. We went to Diddy Riese in Westwood for dessert. If you ever go to Los Angeles, you should really visit. It’s a place that makes custom ice cream sandwiches. We even drove out to Chavez Ravine to see Dodger Stadium another morning.
I had so much fun in L.A. I had a good time exploring the City of Angels while having one of my greatest experiences ever. I really want to thank Nickelodeon and Viacom for offering me this opportunity. Even more, I want to thank the people who contributed to my Indiegogo campaign to help me make the trip. It really is very generous and thoughtful for people to support me like this!
Last week, I attended the Bethesda Big Train Celebrity Summer Camp. The Bethesda Big Train is a Summer Collegiate baseball team in Bethesda, MD. They are a part of the Cal Ripken Collegiate Summer Baseball League, which is a league for college baseball players to improve their skills during the summer. They play at Shirley Povich Field in Bethesda, near Montgomery Mall. Big Train alumni include 2015 All-Star Brian Dozier of the Minnesota Twins, Hunter Renfroe, the 13th overall in the 2013 draft, and Brennan Middleton, a shortstop drafted by the Nats in the 10th round of the 2013 draft.
The best part about Big Train camp is that you get personalized instruction from college baseball players, and get to play games each day on great quality ballparks with the friends you make. At last week’s Nationals celebrity camp, one Nationals player made an appearance at lunch each day. Big Train runs camps all summer, including a free sports journalism camp, where you learn reporting skills and cover the CRSCBL All-Star game.
The camp’s counselors are the Big Train players. We played baseball during the day, and the Nats players came at lunch. The coaches for my age group were: Luis Collazo, a senior pitcher from of Virginia Tech, Josh Thorne, a senior pitcher from Stetson, Justin Morris, a sophomore catcher from Maryland, Tony DiLeo, a junior catcher from Eastern Michigan, Ryne Willard, a senior shortstop from North Carolina State, Logan Farrar, a junior outfielder from Virginia Commonwealth, and Cody Brown, a junior outfielder from Mississippi State.
Aaron Barrett, Drew Storen, and Tyler Moore came out to Shirley Povich Field to sign autographs for the campers on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. I got a chance to talk to all of them. Aaron Barrett was impressed with the camp, which reminded him of the camps he attended as a kid. “I went to a bunch of pitching clinics, a couple college camps where you work on baserunning,fielding, pitching,” he said. “This is real good for you guys because I did the exact same thing when I was your age.”
I thought one of the best opportunities was to get instruction from great athletes and to meet your baseball heroes.
The Bethesda Big Train has games through the end of July. They square off against teams from around the DC region, including teams in Alexandria, DC, Gaithersburg, Herndon, Rockville, and Vienna. The quality of play is very good, and some of these guys may be the future of major league baseball. You can learn more about the camps at bigtrain.org/summercamp. They run other great events during the year, including a charity auction and a celebrity softball game.
Finally, if you missed it, I have a great opportunity to go the Los Angeles this week for the Nickelodeon Kids Choice Sports 2015 Awards. I have a fundraiser page, which you should please visit.