EXCLUSIVE: Nats Reveal New Name of Ballpark

faa58-natsparkAs you all know, the Lerner family has been looking to sell the naming rights to Nationals Park, and the team has given me the exclusive opportunity to reveal the ballpark’s new name today!  I am so excited to bring you this exciting EXCLUSIVE news story today before any other reporter.

As part of the Nationals’ plan to make the game experience more fan-friendly, the Washington Nationals have unveiled the new ballpark name, announced new stadium amenities, and revealed new promotions for the 2016 season.  The team will now call their home “MattsBats Park” after the popular hometown blogger, the youngest Pro Blogger on the MLB.com network.  The team was expecting to receive $250 million for 20 year name rights from large local companies like GEICO, Lockheed Martin, or even Amazon.com (owner of the Washington Post).  Instead, the Nationals thought the prestige of calling their ballpark MattsBats Park was worth doing it for free.  The deal is for only one year and will expire after the Nationals win the World Series at MattsBats Park in 2017.  Then it’ll probably just be called Capital One Field or something.

Nationals Chief Revenue Officer Valerie Camillo also announced new giveaways and promotions to encourage fans to come out to MattsBats Park during the 2016 season:

Giveaways- On June 12, when the Nationals take on the Phillies, all fans will receive a life-like Jayson Werth’s Beard mask! More exciting, the beard is made out of actual hair collected from Jayson’s dog, Magnus.  You will look exactly like Jayson when you put the dog hair beard on your face!  Plus, anyone who tweets a picture of themselves wearing their dog hair Jayson Werth Beard mask to the Twitter account of @JWerthsBeard will be re-tweeted with lots of emojis and gifs.

Also, on August 28, the first 20,000 fans will be treated to a free lunch at Chipotle with reigning NL MVP Bryce Harper courtesy of Harper (on his lifetime free burrito card).

 

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Fan Experience- This season, when the Nats play the Orioles in the Battle of the Beltways matchup, every fan in a Nats jersey will get free noise-canceling headphones. These headphones provide strong defense against the irritating sound of the Orioles fans chanting “O!” during the Star-Spangled Banner.

Food- Although he’s no longer playing shortstop for the Nationals, Ian Desmond will be back at Nats Park this season in the form of a new restaurant he has opened on the club level called “Steak, Taters, America.” The restaurant will solely serve steak and tater tots, and will also have a patriotic theme. All employees will wear the Nationals Archive-designed T-shirt bearing the same name, which you can see being worn by Nats first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, basically anytime he is not wearing a baseball uniform.

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Finally, before this fun filled season begins at MattsBats Park, I’d like to say-

APRIL FOOLS!

My Opinion on the News of Adam LaRoche’s Retirement

1 if you cant we can laroche and sonThe big news out of the baseball world this week is that Chicago White Sox (and former Nationals) 1B Adam LaRoche is retiring. Reports have said that LaRoche retired because White Sox Executive Vice President Kenny Williams told LaRoche that his son, Drake, was no longer allowed inside the White Sox clubhouse everyday. For years, Drake had been accompanying his father on his baseball adventures. During LaRoche’s time as a Washington National, Drake was able to be in the clubhouse, and he even chugged sparkling grape juice with Bryce Harper during the 2012 NL East champion celebration (Harper wasn’t 21 so he couldn’t drink alcohol).  When the White Sox said Drake was no longer permitted in the clubhouse everyday, LaRoche walked away from his $13 million contract.

Everyone has an opinion about this, some supporting LaRoche, and some thinking the White Sox were right to ask him not to bring Drake with him every day.  No reporter knows all the facts.  But my opinion is that I support LaRoche’s decision to walk away.

First, when LaRoche signed his contract with the White Sox, the team had to have known that Drake being “the 26th man” was part of the deal.  Last year, Drake had a uniform and his own locker in the Sox clubhouse.  If having Drake around was in LaRoche’s contract, he or the MLBPA could challenge the White Sox.

Second, other White Sox players, especially Chris Sale, are standing behind LaRoche.  Everyone seems to think having Drake around doesn’t impact the clubhouse atmosphere.  The LaRoche family thinks that Drake is destined for the Majors–Drake’s grandpa and uncle also spent time in the MLB.  It’s obvious he wants to continue the family business.  For him, spending everyday with the team is a learning experience, seeing up close what goes on behind the scenes of a baseball season.

Third, Drake LaRoche works on a special school schedule–he goes to public school when he’s home in Kansas and gets lessons while he’s away.  Now, LaRoche told the Washington Post a couple of years ago, “We’re not big on school. I told my wife, ‘He’s going to learn a lot more useful information in the clubhouse than he will in the classroom, as far as life lessons.'”  That is a controversial thing to say.  You probably can learn things about life in a clubhouse, but you also need to get a normal education and make friendships.  If Adam LaRoche is retiring, does that mean that Drake has to go to school full time? I bet he isn’t a big fan of that.

Finally, one thing that I haven’t seen anyone else pick up on is that LaRoche also has a daughter named Montana.  There’s reasons why a young girl shouldn’t be in a locker room with grown baseball players.  But female reporters work out of MLB clubhouses, and I think it isn’t fair to only focus on LaRoche’s relationship with his son.  Hopefully by retiring from baseball, LaRoche will spend more time with his daughter, who missed out on all the experiences Drake had with his dad at the ballpark.

Matt’s Bats Chat with Max Domi of NHL’s Arizona Coyotes

MaxDomiAs I wrote about here, I was recently diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. Ever since I got my diagnosis, I’ve been looking around to find inspiring people who share the same burden I do. I learned that rookie winger for the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes, Max Domi, is also a diabetic.

When the Coyotes came to play the Capitals last week, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to grab this interview with Max.  The Coyotes invited me to their closed workout at the Verizon Center, and afterwards I got to ask him a couple questions about how he deals with diabetes.

There’s nothing you can’t do when you have diabetes, but being a professional athlete is one of the hardest things you can do.  As you’ll see below, Max describes the complicated routine he goes through during a game to make sure he stays healthy.

Before we get to this Matt’s Bats Chat, let me tell you about the day.  One of the best parts of the interview was the part before it!  The practice began at 11:30 a.m. on Monday, February 22, which meant that I got to leave school early to go to Verizon Center. Because the practice was closed to fans, the only other people in the entire arena were beat writers for the Coyotes.  We took some great seats right behind the visitors bench behind the glass and right next to the player tunnel. Being that close to the ice meant you could see every detail on Louis Domingue‘s helmet and almost get sprayed with ice as Shane Doan skated by. Some players gave me high fives or said hi as they walked onto or off the ice. We had a great view watching Oliver Ekman-Larsson take a heavy slap shot or watching Anthony Duclair and Max Domi having some fun stick handling. By the time practice was over, the Coyotes’ Director of Media Relations took us down to the locker room to interview Max.  I knew I was going to get to meet the rookie phenom, but I didn’t know I was going to be interviewing him in the locker room!  That was a great surprise because even though I’ve seen the insides of many stadiums, I have never done an interview in a locker room.  I was able to see everything that goes on behind the scenes at a hockey game.

For those of you who don’t know Max Domi, he is a 20-year old right winger for the Arizona Coyotes.  He made his NHL debut this season after being drafted 12th overall in the 2013 NHL draft.  He has already scored his first NHL hat trick.  Domi is the son of former Toronto Maple Leafs player Tie Domi.

Max was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes when he was 12 years old.  He has a tattoo on his arm that says “diabetic.”

He wears #16 on his jersey as a tribute to hockey legend Bobby Clarke, who made 8 consecutive All-Star Games, and is a 2-time Stanley Cup Champion.  Clarke also also has type 1 diabetes.

Matt’s Bats – How did your diabetes diagnosis effect your road to the NHL?

Max Domi – The first question I asked after I was diagnosed was whether I could still play hockey and the doctor said, yes, of course.  After he said that, I didn’t let the diagnosis phase me.  Now I’m lucky enough to be here playing 4 years in the OHL [Ontario Hockey League], which is a junior league in Canada.  I learned a lot and had a great time.  I’ve learned a lot about how to live playing hockey with the disease.  Now I’m here and doing OK.

MB – I’ve learned that you have a diabetic alert dog named Orion.  How does he help you deal with the disease?

Max with his service dog Orion. Photo from Max's Instagram. https://www.instagram.com/p/6vUPFFoVoP/?taken-by=max_domi

Max with his service dog Orion. Photo from Instagram.
https://www.instagram.com/p/6vUPFFoVoP/?taken-by=max_domi

Domi – He can alert me when I go high or low [meaning when he becomes hyper- or hypoglycemic].  So when my blood sugar goes out of range, Orion comes up to me and nudges my waist and grab this thing that I wear on my belt buckle and he’ll just sit there and look at me.  When he does that, I know that I’m either low or high.  In the middle of the night, as well.  He’ll be a normal dog, but he’ll wake me up if my blood sugar goes out of range.  He’ll lick my face until I wake up.  The good thing is he can catch stuff before it gets to be a problem and dangerous, and he’s good at it.

To read more about Orion, including a video of how he helps alert Max to dangerous blood sugar drops, I recommend this article.

MB – That’s amazing that he can do that.  Was he trained?

Domi – Yep.  So, I got him when he was 2 years old, but it takes a minimum of 2 years to train a dog. Obviously, with the obedience thing, you can bring him in public. He’s a service dog, so you just throw on his vest and he can go anywhere with you. The scent work takes a while. And all the standard stuff to train a dog.

Listen to Max explain how he manages his diabetes during a game:

MB – What’s your routine in terms of managing diabetes before, during and after a game?

Domi – There’s a couple things I have to do. I’m making sure I’m eating at the same time or almost the same time on game days as practice days and workout days. And then testing my blood pretty frequently. So, I’ll test my blood 2 hours before the game, an hour before the game, right before I warm up on the ice before the game, half-way through the first, after the first, half-way through the second, after the second, half-way through the third, after the third, and then two hours after the game.

MB – That’s a lot!

Domi – It is a lot, but, I mean, it makes me feel better and a little more confident with how I feel, so I do that and it works out pretty good.

MB – Do you wear a pump? [Ed. note: Diabetics need to take insulin in order to process the food they eat.  You can’t take insulin in a pill, so you either need to inject it using a syringe or use an insulin pump that you wear on your hip].

Domi – Yes, I do.

MB – Does it affect your game in any way? Can you not body check, or…

Domi – Nope. I broke a couple, though. I’ve actually blocked a shot and it shattered the whole screen. There’s a 1-800 number I can call on the back, and within 2 ½, 3 hours they’ll send a brand new one. If anything were to ever happen and I couldn’t get one right away, I have these protocols where I’d go back to injections and manually do that stuff. There are a couple different settings that the pump can do that injecting can’t do. I have a lot of stuff so in an emergency I can manage it without any issues.

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MB – Is wearing a pump better than using a syringe, being a professional athlete?

Domi – No. It’s definitely not better. But everyone’s different, obviously. It’s just a matter of finding what makes your life easier and more manageable. For me, the pump’s been great. I’ve had some issues with it, but you find a way to manage those and keep living your life. For me, it’s been going pretty smoothly with the pump, so I’ll keep it up for now.

MB – What do you do to raise awareness about the disease?

Domi – To be honest, I’m more involved with the Canadian side. There’s this one company, Bayer, which makes the Contour Link meter that I use to test my blood. They’re a pretty wealthy organization, so I’ve been able to partner with them and make some videos, and tweet some stuff out, and post on Instagram. They’re all on board. The JDRF is huge as well; they’re great at raising awareness and raising money and trying to find a cure. We’re going in the right direction, and hopefully we’ll find a cure.

MB – I remember seeing a post you put on Instagram a couple of months ago that said you would donate $1 for every like you got. I think that was very good for the diabetes community.

At this point, goalie Mike Smith came into the locker room and took a seat on the bench at his locker across from us. He took some ice from his skate and threw it at Max as a joke to distract him. “Don’t mind him. He’s trying to get me wet,” Domi said.

Domi – Yeah, that got a lot more than I was anticipating, but, hey, that’s great. We’re raising awareness and did a good job.

MB – The more the better!

Now just some general questions. What is your favorite moment ever playing hockey?

Domi – My first NHL game was pretty cool. World Juniors last year was pretty cool. I was lucky enough to play for Team Canada and we won the gold medal in Toronto, which is where I grew up. So that was pretty sweet. Those two are pretty much tied, I think.

MB – And, finally, what’s been your favorite arena to play at in the NHL?

Domi – I haven’t played in all of them yet. The rink in Toronto is pretty sweet. The ACC [Air Canada Centre in Toronto] is awesome, but I’ve only played their once. That’s probably my favorite, just because I grew up around there. I haven’t played in many Eastern rinks yet, but the one in Phoenix is pretty cool. They’re all really good nowadays. It’s fun. I’m looking forward to playing in the Verizon Center tonight.

MB – Max, thank you so much.

Domi – Alright, buddy. Thank you so much. That was great. A pleasure.

 It was great meeting Max to talk about how he is a role model for others who have diabetes.  I also got to take home a souvenir: a stick from center Viktor Tikhonov, and a puck they used during practice.

I returned to the Verizon Center later that night for the game. Even though I was rooting for Max, the Caps won 3-2.

Hockey

What the 2016 Nationals Should Learn from the 2015-16 Capitals

ovi499goalDuring the baseball off-season, I have been paying attention to the Washington Capitals.  If you don’t follow hockey, the Caps are the team to beat in the NHL. They are currently a whopping 15 points ahead of the second-place New York Rangers in the Metropolitan Division.  Every sports fan dreams of their team having a season like the one the Caps are having right now, especially in Washington, where it’s been one Bryce Harper-lifetime since the city has won a major sports championship (Washington Redskins 1992 Super Bowl). Just like in baseball, there is a DC-New York rivalry in hockey the past couple of seasons.  As the Capitals contend for this year’s Stanley Cup, I have been wondering how can our beloved Nationals be more like the Capitals in the 2016 MLB season.

Well, one thing the Caps are doing well this year is scoring, obviously. The Caps have the highest goals scored per game rate (3.32) in the NHL.  Similarly, the Nats did fine scoring last year.  They were third in the National League in total runs scored (703), and averaged 4.41 runs per game (compared to the Mets’ 4.23).  Where they need to play more like the Capitals is in defense.  The Capitals have given up the fewest goals in the NHL, and are about 30% below the league average in goals against.  Compare the 2015 Nationals, who gave up many late innings runs.  Over the season, they gave up more runs than they scored.  The bullpen blew 23 saves, which resulted in a below-league-average 64% save percentage. That’s why the Nats totally remade their bullpen this off-season, taking four guys off the roster and bringing in four new players.  On the field, the team committed a huge number of errors (90), and to the eye didn’t really command the field like they did in prior years.  You need to score runs to win games, but your defense has to be good enough to not let your opponent score more than you.

I am a fan of the additions the Nationals made to the team: Shawn Kelley, Trevor Gott, Oliver Perez, and Yusmeiro Petit to replace Drew Storen and Craig Stammen (both of whom I hated to see go), Casey Janssen, and Matt Thornton in the bullpen.  I’m especially optimistic about Petit.  In 2013, as a Giant, Petit came one out away from a no-hitter. He also got the win in the crazy Giants-Nats 18 inning postseason game in 2014, with a 6 inning performance, shutting down the Nats.

In terms of other off-season moves, I expect that when Danny Espinosa moves over to shortstop we’ll see errors decrease.  I like the addition of Daniel Murphy (not my first choice due to his defensive weakness) and Stephen Drew as left handed bats in the lineup. Ben Revere gives the Nats a solid outfielder who can play everywhere.  In the starting rotation, the Nats lost Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister, but they added Bronson Arroyo and his crazy leg-kick, who I think has a good chance of making the team.  Tanner Roark will probably get a nod in the starting rotation.

So how’s this for a lineup:

Revere/Taylor

Rendon

Harper

Zimmerman

Werth

Murphy

Espinosa

Ramos/Lobaton

Pitcher

I think that the Nationals are a playoff contender again this year.

Last year, the baseball team from New York took the NL East and eventually made it to the World Series.  And in the hockey world last year, the New York Rangers won the Metropolitan Division and made it to the third round Eastern Conference Finals.  Look how 2016 is already shaping up: the Caps are ahead of New York Rangers in the Metropolitan, and I expect the same from the Nationals over the Mets this season.  Pitchers and catchers is only 16 days away!

My Top 5 Favorites From Nationals Winterfest

2015-12-11 Natsfest

The Washington Nationals introduced something new this season- a two-day holiday-themed fan fest called WinterFest. That means that there was double the activities and double the fun! The Nats also introduced some new games, like the “Slider” which is basically a tubing slide, and the “Snowball Run” which is where you run in a large inflatable ball. I have some personal favorites from this year’s WinterFest, and I want to tell you about them. I think that the Nationals did a great job with Winterfest this year, and I especially like the new 2-day setup.  I attended the first day with my family and the second day with a friend’s family.

So without further adieu, here are my to 5 faves from Nats Winterfest!

5. Baseball Exhibit

The Nationals brought some items originally shown at the Nats at 10 exhibit at the Newseum. For people who did not get the chance to visit the Newseum when the exhibit was open, the Nationals let the people have an opportunity to see the historical baseball artifacts. Also, the exhibit had New Era hats from each minor league team in the US and Canada. I liked the Everett AquaSox hat.  Minor league teams have such great names and logos.  I also liked the Vermont Lake Monsters and Las Vegas 51s.

4. 2-Day Format

The new 2-day format of Winterfest made it so much less crowded and nice to visit. In past years, when there was only 1 day of NatsFest, there were much more people on that day, therefore making it a hour investment to get an autograph. It was much nicer with an emptier Convention Center, and made it more enjoyable for the fans.

3. Season Ticket Holder Autograph Session

Before Nats Winterfest started, the team allowed 2015 Season Ticket Holders to get autographs from their favorite Nats stars. We were lucky enough to get Stephen Strasburg, Matt Grace, Oliver Perez, Shawn Kelley, Mike Rizzo, Dan Kolko, and new pitching coach Mike Maddux’s autographs. While there was a long line to get the autographs, it was really cool that the Nats did the autographs for STHs this year.

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2. Snowball Run The Nationals designated an area for the “Snowball Run” this year. The Snowball Run is where you get into a giant inflatable ball that looks like a snowball. You could walk or run in the snowball, making it really fun for everyone. The main target for this event was children, and if you saw the line, you could tell that it was doing its job. Conveniently, it was located close to the kids area, batting cage, video pitch tracker, carnival game, and Stage, so it was easy to get to.

Before we get to my number 1, I wanted to remind you that there is still time left to enter the final round of FREE GIVEAWAYS from my 2015 Holiday Gift Guide.  You win get cool things like toys, books and a personalized Louisville Slugger bat.

1. Lip Sync Battle I mean, who attended Nats Winterfest and DIDN’T watch this! It was hilarious seeing the players lip sync to different songs, and it was nice that the players got to pick fans to lip sync with them. For instance, on Saturday, Anthony Rendon put on a great performance of “Bad To The Bone,” and on Sunday, Bryce Harper serenaded a young fan while singing “My Girl.” But the funniest performance was also by Harper and the rest of his team. He sang “Wannabe” by The Spice Girls, which made it amusing to watch. I think that this takes the cake, without a doubt.

Now, this was REALLY the best part of Nationals WinterFest:

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Listen to what it sounds like:

 

Check out some selfies below I took with some of the players after the event.

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MORE Giveaways From the 2015 Holiday Gift Guide!

With just a few shopping days left before Christmas, you may still be wondering what to get for the baseball fan in your life.  That’s where my 2015 Gift Guide comes in. There are lots of great ideas for kids and adults.

A couple of weeks ago, I ran some giveaways for some of the items on my gift guide.  Now, I have a few more things to give away, including a personalized Louisville Slugger bat! So if you missed out on the giveaways the first time or didn’t win anything last time around, you have a second chance to win these awesome prizes and gifts. So here is the 2nd round of the giveaways!

SECOND CHANCE- MAP YOUR TRAVELS POSTER

mapyourtravelsThe Map Your Travels poster was the most popular giveaway item the first round, getting almost 100 entries! I have a couple more more to give away. The Map Your Travels MLB Ballparks Map is a map where you can mark every stadium in the MLB you’ve been to. If you have a traveler who is also a big baseball fan, this is absolutely the most perfect gift to get them! Enter the giveaway today by using the giveaway code BALLPARKCLICK HERE TO ENTER THE RAFFLE.

 

SECOND CHANCE- SMARTY MARTY BOOK and SCOREBOOK

For any young basesmartymartyball fan wanting to know how to score the game, the Smarty Marty book and scorebook is the perfect gift. Written by the San Francisco Giants reporter Amy Gutierrez (“Amy G”), it gives kids a real-life example of a kid learning how to score a baseball game. The book was also a very popular giveaway last time and one of my favorite things on the Gift Guide, and you can take home an autographed book today by using the giveaway code SCORINGCLICK HERE TO ENTER THE RAFFLE.

 

SECOND CHANCE- OYO MINIFIGURE

OyoThe ultimate stocking stuffer, you can take home a minifigure of the hottest stars from MLB and other college and professional sports. You can build football fields, hockey rinks, baseball diamonds, and much, much more. I think that Oyo minifigures are a great gift for the aspiring architect. Sets are affordable, and they fit in the stocking. But you can enter to get one of the MLB’s best FOR FREE! Just use the giveaway code MINIFIGURE and enter to win one– your choice of Mike Trout or Buster PoseyCLICK HERE TO ENTER THE RAFFLE.

SECOND CHANCE- SPORTS ILLUSTRATED COOKBOOK

SIThe Sports Illustrated “Food, Football, and Fun” cookbook is a great resource to use when you are stumped on what to make for dinner one night. It uses sports themed recipes, like football shaped whoopie pies. If you know anyone who loves to support their team and loves to cook, enter the raffle for this cookbook. I guarantee that the results will be scrumptious! Use the code RECIPE to enter.  CLICK HERE TO ENTER THE RAFFLE.

 

NEW!- LOUISVILLE SLUGGER PERSONALIZED BAT

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Maybe I saved the best for last.  If you win this raffle, you get a CUSTOM Louisville Slugger wood bat, personalized the way you’d like!  Kids and baseball fans everywhere dream of being like Major Leaguers and having their names or signatures on Louisville Slugger bats. That’s why giving a personalized Louisville Slugger bat this holiday season is the perfect gift.  They make great focal points in offices, dens, bedrooms and man-caves.  Enter to win using the giveaway code SLUGGER, and you can win a one-of-a-kind bat to have.  You may not want to take your personalized bat to the cages, and that’s where you may want to invest in the Louisville Slugger Youth 2016 Prime 916 Baseball Bat.  It’s a powerful bat designed for the best amateur players.  CLICK HERE TO ENTER THE RAFFLE.

I hope you enjoyed these giveaways, and good luck! Thank you to all the companies that sponsored giveaways on my gift guide, like Louisville Slugger, New Era Caps, Franklin Sports, OYO Sports, Map Your Travels, SI Kids, and author Amy Gutierrez.

Check out all my recommended gifts for the 2015 Holiday season.   And there are more great items on my 2014 Gift Guide and 2013 Gift GuideClicking on the links not only helps show the companies that you like my recommendations, but it helps me too!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Raffles for all giveaways listed on this page start on 12/17/15 at 12:00am and last 1 week.  They’re all free to enter.  Operators of MattsBats.com have full discretion to select winners based on successfully completed entries, 1 prize winner per raffle.  Winners must be willing to pay S&H costs if alternative delivery cannot be arranged.  Delivery before Christmas 2015 is not guaranteed and unlikely.  There is no affiliation with MLBAM or MLB.com.  If you have any questions, contact us. Other giveaways via Twitter.

My Coverage of the Presidential Medal Of Freedom Ceremony

IMG_5413Last week, I had one of the most amazing experiences since I started MattsBats.com.  I had the chance to visit the White House to attend the Presidential Medal of Freedom award ceremony as part of the press pool.  On November 24, 2015, President Barack Obama awarded the medal to 17 Americans who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.  I was invited to cover the event because the President awarded the Medal of Freedom to baseball Hall of Famers Willie Mays and Yogi Berra, who died in September.

Willie Howard Mays, Jr. was born in segregated Alabama in 1931.  He made his major league debut in 1951, and became one of the best baseball players in history.  President Obama said, “we never saw an all-around five tool player like Willie before and haven’t seen one since.” He stepped into the history books as a 2-time MVP, with 660 career home runs, a .302 lifetime batting average, 12 Gold Glove awards, and 24 All Star appearances.  In awarding the medal to Mays, President Obama said: “It’s because of giants like Willie that I even thought about running for president.”

Mays

Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra was one of our country’s most beloved and memorable sports heroes. “What could be said about Yogi Berra that he couldn’t say better himself?” President Obama remarked.  He was one of the greatest catchers in the history of baseball and had “the winningest career in the history of American sports.”  He was a 15-time All Star, winner of 10 World Series championships, and a three-time league MVP.  He is also a veteran of the U.S. Navy during WWII.  He fought on D-Day at Omaha Beach and came home with a Purple Heart.  President Obama presented Yogi’s award to his son Larry.

Berra

In addition to Mays and Berra, this year’s awardees included: Bonnie Carroll (founder of Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, or TAPS), Shirley Chisholm (posthumous) (first African-American woman elected to Congress), Emilio Estefan (music producer), Gloria Estefan (Latin music singer), Billy Frank, Jr (posthumous) (advocate for Native American treaty rights), Lee Hamilton (former Indiana representative), Katherine G. Johnson (NASA mathematician), Barbara Mikulski (longest serving female senator) (Maryland), Itzhak Pearlman (violinist), William Ruckelshaus (environmentalist), Stephen Sondheim (composer), Steven Spielberg (movie director), Barbra Streisand (singer and actress), James Taylor (singer), and Minori Yasui (posthumous) (human rights leader).

ceremony

 

Now, let me let you in on what it’s like to go to the White House as credentialed media for an event like this.

The event did not start until 5:00p.m., but you obviously need to be there early.  I left school very early: at 11:50 a.m. After running home and getting dressed in a suit, my mom and I hopped on the Metro to head downtown to the White House.

IMG_5380We arrived at the Northwest gate of the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue a little before 2:00 p.m., which was the time press could start pre-set.  The Secret Service checked our IDs and made sure we were on the list, and then we had our bags screened and walked through a metal detector like at an airport.

Once we were through security, we walked on the driveway to a courtyard between the West Wing and the Residence. While on that walk, we saw the stations where the cameras and news reporters are stationed to report from the North Lawn.

While waiting there, we saw the most famous dogs in America, Bo and Sunny! They were coming in after their walk.

 

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When all the press members arrived, we went up into the White House, through the front door.  We made a left into the East Room so all the reporters could claim a spot and set up equipment.

After that, we went to the Press Briefing Room to wait while the White House staff got the room ready for the event.  To get there, we walked back outside the White House.  It’s along the corridor connecting the Residence to the West Wing.  The Briefing Room is the room you see when President Obama or White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest is giving a press conference on television.

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We were waiting in the Press Briefing Room for a while and decided to explore.  Located behind the room are puny offices for the White House Press Corps.  There are also some vending machines there. It was very cool to see behind the scenes of how news is made. Everyone was really nice to me and showed me around the space.

After waiting for a while, they called for us to return to the East Room.  We entered the White House again, this time to music played by the White House Marine Band. Guests trickled in, including some famous guests like will.i.am, James Brolin, former attorney general Eric Holder, Rep. Steny Hoyer, DC delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, and former Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, who has a cane made out of a baseball bat.  At around 5:10, the honorees were introduced, followed by a sudden crescendo in the music. Hail to the Chief started playing.  Everyone stood up, and President Obama and Michelle Obama entered the room.  He welcomed the crowd and spoke.

I knew about some of the honorees, like Berra, Mays, and Spielberg, before, but I had never heard about people like Shirley Chisholm, Katherine Johnson and Minori Yasui. When President Obama introduced them and spoke about their lives and accomplishments, it was so interesting. Each person who received the award did something really great to help our country.

After the ceremony, some of the honorees came over to the press for interviews. I was hoping to be able to see Willie Mays, but unfortunately, he went home early so I didn’t get the chance to interview him. But I was able to take a picture with Steven Spielberg, and get close to some of the other award recipients, including Barbara Streisand, James Taylor and Itzhak Pearlman.

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The whole ceremony lasted about a hour.  When it was over, the invited guests stayed for a reception, and the Marine band played music relevant to the honorees, like the theme song from E.T. and Don’t Rain on My Parade.  They took the members of the press out of the building through a back way out the East Wing.  We saw a portrait of Hillary Clinton and a bust of Henry Clay, yes, made out of clay.

It was really amazing being able to take in this ceremony firsthand from the historic East Room of the White House and to be in the same room as some of the most famous and celebrated Americans in politics, music, sports and science.

LansdowneBONUS COOL FACT: In the East Room, there is a famous portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart called the Lansdowne Portrait. When I saw it, I recognized it and asked my mom if that was the original. She said yes because it’s hanging in the White House!  Well, later that week, we went to the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. While walking through the Presidents exhibit, we saw the exact same portrait of Washington! I was confused. How could it be in two places? Here’s the explanation: The National Portrait Gallery has the real, original one, not the White House!  My mom was wrong.  The one at the White House is a replica, but painted by the same artist. There are, in fact, more replicas by Stuart in the Old State House in Hartford, Connecticut and the Pennsylvania Academy of The Fine Arts Museum in Philadelphia. Also, copies not painted by Stuart are located at the US House Chamber and the Rayburn room of the Capitol. How can you tell the copies from the original?  “In the copies, the book at the lower left hand of the picture has “UNITED STATES” intentionally misspelled as “UNITED SATES.” I wish I had known that when I was in the White House so I could check it out for myself!

2015 Holiday Gift Guide (with Free Giveaways to Win!)

UPDATED (12/17/15): CLICK HERE for the Second Round of Raffles

I am excited to reveal my Holiday Gift Guide for 2015-2016!

mattsbatslogo-hiresEvery year, so many people ask me what presents they should get for their baseball-loving kids, grandkids, nieces, and nephews for Christmas, Hanukkah or birthdays.  So I started making a list a couple of years ago.  The Gift Guide post is now an annual Thanksgiving and Black Friday tradition and one of my favorite and most popular posts of the year. I like to feature new things on my gift guide every year, but everything on my 2014 Gift Guide and 2013 Gift Guide would still be really good choices to buy for the people in your life this year!  So start on this post, but be sure to click through previous years posts too for other great gift ideas.

The books, games, baseball equipment, and other fun things on my Holiday Gift Guide have been updated for 2015-16.  These are all things that I have, use, or really want myself, so I know whoever you buy these presents for, he or she will love them.  I made sure to include something for everyone’s budget, from about $10 – $300, and there are links in here where you can buy them right through Amazon.com or other websites. There are things on my list for kids and adults!  Some of the companies who made these products have given me some to give away for free to Matt’s Bats readers.  Look for links in this post to raffles and I’ll also tweet out information on how you can win (Follow me on Twitter @MattsBats)!

So here we go…!

TOYS AND GAMES

OyoWhat kid doesn’t want to build his or her own ballpark, and play imaginary games with toy figures who look just like their favorite major league baseball players?  That’s the whole idea behind OYO Sports.  The OYO minifigure is the first building-block toy based off real baseball players and are officially licensed by Major League Baseball. Each OYO has bendable knees, rotating forearms, and the ability to hold a ball, bat, or glove.  You can get minifigures that look like all of your favorite players from every team.  If the person you are getting the gift for is a serious builder, you can try their ballpark sets. I was able to build a replica of the Giants’ AT&T Park and Blue Jays’ Rogers Centre! One of the coolest OYO sets I’ve seen is this set of Derek Jeter giving his final curtain call at Fenway Park.  In addition to MLB, you can get figures and sets for NFL, NHL, MLS, and college sports.  OYO minifigures make great stocking stuffers, and I even have some to give away, including NL ROY Kris Bryant and both the AL and NL MVPs, Bryce Harper and Josh Donaldson.  Enter here to win a raffle for your choice of one of these figurines (other raffles by Twitter).  I think that OYO figurines are really cool, and I know the gift-getter will love this one.  Trust me.  Start your OYO Sports shopping here!

bobblehouseHere’s a one-of-a-kind gift: a small start up company called BobbleHouse Industries in Ashburn, VA, run by a Washington Nationals super-fan, has created a memorabilia display stand designed to hold and display your bobbleheads, baseballs, tickets, or other sports giveaways. All products are hand made, painted, numbered, and signed. Custom colors and personalized options are available, so you can get a custom made bullpen or dugout in the colors of your favorite team, even if it’s the Mets. There are 16″ and 24″ wide models to fit most bookshelves or desktops and they’re offering free shipping for Matt’s Bats readers through the end of the year!  (Just tell them you heard about it from me!)  BobbleDugouts and BobblePens are available now with other products being offered in the near future. It’s always neat seeing local companies (and Nationals fans) make cool things. Check out BobbleHouse.com and help control the homeless bobblehead population.

Other toys and games you should check out:

  • One of my best friends got me an Easton Pro Stix bat for my birthday and we play with it all the time outside in my front yard. It’s a plastic bat that you can use for training or whiffle ball games.  It’s one of the most classic kids baseball toys, but the thick plastic bat allows you to hit the ball pretty far and is much better than those thin plastic bats you may see at the toy store.  It even looks like the real thing with a wood grain texture.
  • I’ve gotten into hockey this year too.  Now my brother, sister and neighborhood kids all come over to play hockey in the driveway using my Mylec Jr. Hockey Goal set.  It comes with a net, 2 sticks and a street hockey ball.  Lots of fun!
  • Like Strat-o-Matic, but geared more for kids, I enjoyed playing MLB Full Count.  You’re the manager playing against your division rivals, selecting pitches, organizing batting lineups, and  planning strategy.   Each at bat begins with a 3-2 count, and what you decide to do next can affect the outcome of the game.

SPORTING EQUIPMENT AND APPAREL

DesmondtweetAsk a professional baseball player what’s the best thing about being a major leaguer and you may hear him say a “crispy New Era cap right out of the box,”  like what Ian Desmond tweeted just last week.  New Era makes the official on-field cap for every major league baseball team.  They also make hats for teams from the Akron RubberDucks to the Zephyrs of New Orleans (both minor league baseball teams).  There is a New Era cap for absolutely any team you are a fan of! Start your shopping for New Era caps right here.  They come in both fitted and adjustable and in almost every color combination you can imagine.  And great news for Matt’s Bats readers–I have a whole bunch of New Era Nationals caps to pass out as giveaways: the official Nationals red and blue Away cap, and the Nationals Black and Gray Heather Action 59FIFTY CapHere’s a raffle to win one of the 2-tone fitted caps using the giveaway code CAPS.

FranklinFor baseball players, the best way they can show their creativity and individuality is with the equipment they use.  In the majors, there are all sorts of rules about the kinds and colors of bats and gloves players can use.  So many players show their colors using their batting gloves.  Superstars Robinson Cano, David Ortiz, and Miguel Cabrera are a few of the many hitters who choose Franklin batting gloves. Franklin batting gloves have Shok-Sorb technology. When I don’t wear batting gloves, my hands sting after getting a hit. That’s why Shok-Sorb is so cool- it reduces the shock you feel in your hands from hitting the ball.  They’re also so soft and thin.  The gloves comes in all varieties of colors, sizes and prices, but obviously the coolest ones are the authentic ones the players wear on the field.  Franklin recently sent me a pair just like the ones Robinson Cano wears for the Mariners. They also gave me a pair in Nationals red to give away to a Matt’s Bats reader.  Click here to enter the raffle and use giveaway code GLOVE.  For anyone who plays baseball, a nice pair of colorful Franklin batting gloves will make a great gift.

More baseball equipment:

  • Another piece of baseball equipment for the young baseball player in your life is the Louisville Slugger Youth 2016 Prime 916 Baseball Bat.  This is a kids bat, but isn’t for the average rec league player, because it’s pretty expensive.  Designed for the best amateur players, the Prime 916 has Fused Carbon Structure composite handle and barrel, patented TRU3 Explosive Power Transfer technology and three-piece construction, which give it a lighter swing weight to ensure maximum control, and Lizard Skins Grips.

FOR THE HOUSE

mapyourtravelsKnow someone on a mission to visit all 30 MLB ballparks? Or maybe you just like to travel and watch baseball on the road.  If so, then this is for you! The Map Your Travels MLB Ballparks poster is one of my favorite discoveries of this year, and it is a highlight of my room.  I love this poster.  Officially licensed by Major League Baseball, the poster shows the logos of all the major league teams on a map of the USA.  It comes with stickers that you put on acknowledging that you have visited that team’s stadium. It’s a good way to show off how many different ballparks you have been to. I love mine and the people at Map Your Travels have given me a few to give away to Matt’s Bats readers. I think this is a great gift for the avid baseball traveler and costs less than $30.  Click here to enter the raffle, and use giveaway code MAP.

MaxisPlay with your food with this baseball themed mug invented by a young entrepreneur and sports fan named Max. The baseball shaped mug with a glove attached to its handle is perfect for tossing marshmallows into hot chocolate, cereal into milk, crackers into soup or even toppings onto ice cream.  Max came up with this idea during art class at his school. He pitched his idea at a product innovation contest held at Fenway Park and won the community vote! His sports mug collection now includes patent pending mugs for baseball, basketball, football, hockey and soccer and his play with your food sensation is sweeping the globe! Max’s story highlights the upside of dyslexia and he is donating five percent of his profits to charities that support dyslexia and other learning disabilities. Max’s mugs retail for $24 and are available on Amazon. Check out Max’s story at www.maxiscreations.com.

BOOKS

grindMajor league baseball players play over 160 games over the course of the six month season– the world’s longest sports season.  That takes a toll on everyone from the players, to their families, to the people who make the team run off the field.   If you have ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes of a MLB team, then the Barry Svrluga book “The Grind” is perfect. Svrluga, a Washington Post reporter, writes about how the baseball season affects everyone involved in the Washington Nationals organization. But this book isn’t just for Nats fans; everyone who has ever wanted a look at what goes on off the playing field would like it. You learn about how the game affects the players and their families, equipment managers, scouts, and others.  Have you ever wanted to know how the players travel from city to city every few days?  Svrluga tells you.  I recommend this book to all baseball fans- kids and adults- who would like to know how a baseball team is run.

smartymartyFor the past few years, I have been looking for a book to recommend for kids who want to develop their understanding of baseball.  Finally I found the perfect one!  Amy Gutierrez (“Amy G”), the San Francisco Giants sideline reporter for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, has written a children’s book to teach kids how to watch and understand baseball and how to score a game. “Smarty Marty’s Got Game” is a story about a kid, Mikey, who doesn’t like baseball.  Mikey’s older sister Marty, who is known as “Smarty Marty” to her friends at school because she knows more about baseball than most grown-up baseball fans (kind of reminds me of myself “Matt’s Bats”) teaches Mikey the ins and outs of baseball, the lingo, and strategy using real-life examples.  This book smartymarty2has great illustrations, but the best part is that it also teaches kids how to score the game! Gutierrez also has an interactive scorebook, Smarty Marty’s Official Gameday Scorebook, that goes along with the hardcover book and teaches kids how to score, while giving kids the opportunity to have fun with the game by doing things like drawing in the team’s logo. You really should buy them together.  If you have aspiring baseball fans in the family, these two books are definitely the perfect gifts for them.  Really! This might be my favorite item on the Gift Guide this year!  Plus, I have a couple of autographed copies to give away!  To win one of the books and scorebooks, enter the raffle and use giveaway code MARTY.

Some other books for kids I would recommend include:

cobbThe previous items are great for kids you’re shopping for, but the next item is great for adult baseball fans. One of the best baseball biographies to come out the past year was Charles Leerhsen’s Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty. Cobb’s lifetime batting average is still the highest of all time and he was the first member elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. But after he died, Ty Cobb became one of the most controversial figures in the history of baseball. He became known as a racist who also hated children and women, and was in turn hated by his peers. This book looks back at Cobb’s life to see if the reputation is true. This is a good, serious book for fans of baseball or biographies, and was a New York Times Best Seller.  It’s almost 500 pages long, which means it would be great to download as an ebook.  Which brings me to…

 

MISCELLANEOUS

fireThis one is not specifically baseball-related, but it is a great gift for kids or adults.  This year, Amazon released a Fire tablet for under $50, so there is no reason that each person in your family can’t have his or her own tablet.  The Black Friday price of only $35 makes this probably the best deal on my Gift Guide!  I have a different model Fire tablet, but this one may be even better.  It has a 7 inch screen and 8 GB of storage.  You can get so many free apps in the app store, like Netflix, Twitter, Pandora, Skype and Facebook. Plus, if you have Amazon Prime you can stream Amazon Prime movies, TV shows and get books for free.  It’s so inexpensive that you can even buy multiple for home or work (in fact, if you buy 5, they give you a 6th for free!- Use code FIREPACK6).  For $99 ($85 for Black Friday), there is a Kids Edition for little kids that has a free year of FreeTime Unlimited, a Kid-Proof Case, and a 2-year guarantee that if your kids break it, they’ll send you a new one. I think that it is very important for kids to have electronics in their lives, and the Amazon Fire is a great way to expose kids to technology.  But the truth is, anyone you know would want a Fire tablet.

  • The other cool Amazon product this year is the Echo.  You just talk to it and it gives you news or weather information or plays music.  My grandmother bought one for my great-grandmother to read audio books to her.  If a 90 year old can do it, so can you.  It’s $30 off on Black Friday.

newseumOne of the best gifts you can give anyone– children or adults– is the gift of a museum membership.  For those of you who live in or visit my hometown of Washington, DC, this year I’m recommending a membership to the Newseum.  Located right on Pennsylvania Avenue, the Newseum is an interactive museum that allows visitors to experience the stories of yesterday and today through the eyes of the media while celebrating the freedoms guaranteed to all Americans by the First Amendment.  I like it because I’m interested in journalism, and this summer they hosted an exhibit on the 10 year anniversary of the Washington Nationals.  It closes on November 29, so you still have time to see it if you go this weekend!  I have 2 free passes to give away. Check out the video I made with them in July previewing the Nats At 10 Exhibit.

Buying a Newseum press pass gives you free admission for a year and invitations to special events.  If you don’t live in DC, find a museum close to where your gift recipient lives and buy them a membership.

So these are my top recommendations for baseball and sports-related presents for 2015-2016.

Make sure you check out more great items on my 2014 Gift Guide and 2013 Gift Guide.

All giveaways listed on this page start on 11/27/15 at 12:00am and last 1 week.  They’re all free to enter.  Operators of MattsBats.com have full discretion to select winners based on successfully completed entries, 1 prize winner per raffle.  Winners may need to pay S&H costs if alternative delivery cannot be arranged.  There is no affiliation with MLBAM or MLB.com.  If you have any questions, contact us. Other giveaways via Twitter.

President Obama Awards Medal of Freedom to Willie Mays

Tonight I was present at the White House when President Obama awarded Hall of Fame baseball player Willie Mays the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor.  President Obama said, “It’s because of giants like Willie that someone like me could even think about running for President.”

MaysI will have more about this amazing experience tonight in a later post.

Live blogging from White House

Follow on Twitter at @MattsBats as President Obama awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Willie Mays, Yogi Berra (posthumous) and other legendary Americans. It’s streaming live at www.whitehouse.gov/live