What was the best part of the Washington Nationals’ Winterfest? Was it when Ryan Zimmerman totally blanked on how many walk-off homers he had hit and a kid immediately answered correctly? Was it when the voice of the Nats, Charlie Slowes, forgot how to count? Was it when Nats bench coach Chris Speier was replaced in a trivia game by an 11-year-old who seemed to know all the answers? There were so many amusing moments at this year’s Winterfest, held at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center on December 10 and 11.
This entertaining two-day celebration for fans featured Nats players, coaches, and TV and radio announcers. Attractions included baseball clinics taught by Nats players and coaches on a mini baseball field.
Kids could take batting practice and test out their pitching on a simulator. (You threw the ball into the screen, and the virtual ball landed in the strike zone.) You could test your speed on the base paths, led by a Nats player.
For younger fans, there was a giant slide you skidded down on a tube pushed by a Nats player. There was also a story time during which players read winter-themed books. The favorite activity seemed to be the kids’ press conferences, where two players would take questions from young people in the audience.
One of the biggest reasons fans attend Winterfest is the access to players. “I like that the players are walking around so you can see and talk to them at different points in the day,” said Erin, a Virginia mom.
Added Caleb, a nine year-old from D.C., “It’s incredible to just be walking around and to suddenly see Max Scherzer walking from event to event. It’s a life-changing experience to rub shoulders with all your role models.”
Everyone said they loved meeting the players. This year, almost all the players were there, including Nats heroes like Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez, Ryan Zimmerman, and Stephen Strasburg, as well as some new faces such as Adam Eaton and Derek Norris, and young players such as Trea Turner and Joe Ross.
While all this was happening, the main stage was packed with activities. Players and coaches played fun games like tic-tac-toe, Pictionary, name that tune, a trivia game called Old School Vs. New School, and many other interesting games for fans to watch and compete in with players. They also decorated gingerbread houses.
Old School vs. New School pitted Trea Turner and Joe Ross against Chris Speier and Mike Rizzo. But all four occasionally glanced at a certain spot in the audience when it was their turn to go.
Near the end of the game, after Speier got a question wrong, he pretty much gave up. He called up 11-year-old Sarah of Virginia. Apparently it was she the Nats were looking at while they were answering each question. Sarah had known all the answers to all the questions during the game the previous day. She even knew the final jeopardy question but was overruled by Rizzo. “I went up two times yesterday, so he knew that I was good at trivia,” she said.
“One of the best parts of Winterfest is that it’s in the winter, not during the baseball season,” said Caleb. “It’s a refreshing return to many kids’ favorite sport.”
Other fans had similar thoughts. Explained 10-year-old Spencer of D.C., “It’s so great to come out and support the Nats in a different time than you usually would.”
Photographs by (from top) Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post/Getty Images; Courtesy of Paul Kim for the Washington Nationals