Tomorrow is Game #1; Yesterday was the “Haunted Pep Rally”

Nationals Park was transformed on Wednesday night into a haunted, zombie-filled ballpark, all in the name of getting fans pumped up for the postseason. And you know what? It worked.

People started to gather at Centerfield gates prior to the 6:30 start time, with lines stretching across N St. before we were admitted into the park. Many fans arrived in costume, embracing the haunted theme of the evening. Most of the kids were dressed up, as they undoubtedly came to enjoy some early season Trick or Treating. There were also some games set up for the kids to enjoy, and I’m told the candy was plentiful.

The bulk of the activity was in Centerfield Plaza, where Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier from 106.7 The Fan had a “live” broadcast throughout the event. My new best friends from the Tommy Show on 94.7 were also in attendance, as well as Sunni from the Joe Clair Morning Show on 95.5 WPGC and Patricia and Chepe from 107.9 El Zol. Grant and Danny had different segments where they interviewed MASN color announcer FP Santangelo and MASN sideline reporter Dan Kolko, Nationals game radio broadcasters Charles Slowes and Dave Jagler, all the DJs that were at the event, Valerie Camillo Nationals Chief Revenue and Marketing Officer, and Nationals RHP Joe Ross.

The Nats talk was plentiful, and they discussed the successful season, thoughts about the upcoming playoffs, the matchup with the Cubs in the NLDS, and predictions for how the NLDS would go. Spoiler alert, everyone picked the Nats to win. The only variation was how many games it would take for them to knock out the defending champions. Between segments, prizes were raffled off to fans, with lucky winners getting goody bags with either Nats swag, signed items from players, or coveted postseason tickets. The Tommy Show also did a version of their Can’t Beat Kelly segment, awarding trivia winners with Nats prizes.

Screech and the Racing Presidents were all present and accounted for during the night, and everyone was dressed up in costumes. Tom was a ninja turtle, George was rocking the lederhosen, Abe, who somehow managed to sneak up on me and scare me (how is that even possible?!), looked relaxed in a bright green Hawaiian shirt and oversized sunglasses, and everyone’s favorite cursed Racing President Teddy was Chewbacca, while Screech was wearing his hairband costume from 80s Night last year. Interspersed with our favorite mascots were several zombie baseball players from rival postseason bound teams. The Cubs zombie attempted to take a bite out of my friend’s arm. Yet another reason to crush the Cubs this weekend. DJ Chris Styles kept the party hopping all night between segments with Grant and Danny, and lots of fans enjoyed dancing with each other and the Presidents. Even the zombies got involved, because no one can resist The Wobble.

The standout feature of the evening was the Zombie Zone, where fans had to dodge zombie players from other postseason teams to find and save Nats players from having their braaaaaaaaaaaaiiiiiiiiiiiiins eaten. Sadly, I wasn’t getting to do a search and rescue for the actual Jayson Werth – just an actor wearing his jersey. The concourse along the 3rd base line was transformed for this area. A zombie Mike Ploger, who is usually the in-game host for the Nats when he isn’t busy being the undead, greeted the hopeful rescuers upon arrival, and explained that only a selfie with Nats “player” could save them. Amusingly, one of the zombie actors located near the entrance spent most of the evening sticking his arm out from behind the curtain while Mike was talking to fans, and startled him more times than Mike cared to admit. Mike didn’t seem amused, but the rest of us were. Inside the Zombie Zone, zombies roamed around doing typical zombie things. Several were hiding behind tables or counters and would jump out to try and scare people (they were pretty successful at this). Fun fact – zombies don’t like it when you tell them they’re looking a bit rough. I made the mistake of casually saying this to a Dodgers zombie, and he began following me down the concourse, and even picked up and threw a traffic cone that got in his way. I learned my lesson very quickly, and I told the next zombie that I was brave enough to speak to that she was looking lovely. We found all five of the trapped Nats players, and were rewarded at the end with an extra raffle ticket for our heroic efforts.

All in all, it was a pretty solid night at the ballpark. I spoke with several fans in attendance, and they all agreed that the evening at been a success. Thom Costantino, who attended with his wife and two children, told me, “it was a lot of fun. The kids got to Trick or Treat, and they got to take pictures with all the Presidents that were dressed up in Halloween costumes. It was pretty fun. They also got some candy. They were really doing a good job of pumping us up.” Julie Windsor, who attended with friends, said “it has been so fun. The Nats have put together a Class A event.” Jon Siegel, who was also in attendance with his two sons, said “it was a lot of fun. Great stuff, I had a great time. My son got to emcee, so that was fun, too.”

All three of them felt the pep rally had succeeded in getting them excited about the start of the NLDS on Friday. Jon said “oh yeah, we’re ready to go,” and Julie told me “oh my God, I can’t even stand it. Two more days!” Thom spent part of the day prior to coming to the pep rally reminiscing about past postseason games, which had him really excited after enjoying the fun of the event. “I am so psyched for Friday. I can’t wait. I realized today that three years ago I was here watching Jordan Zimmermann pitch almost 9 innings of shutout ball, and the game lasted for what, 7 hours? It was crazy. I am so psyched. I’ll be here Friday night.”

All three fans felt the Nats would knock out the Cubs in 4 games, but they all had a different opinion on who would be the player for the Nats that really stepped up and propelled them to their first NLCS. Julie believed it would be Anthony Rendon, who ended the regular season as the leader in fWAR, making him a solid choice as the driving force for the Nats. Thom said “postseason is funny, and somebody unusual can often step up. I think it’s going to be Wieters this series. There’s going to be a lot of guys on base, and I think he’s going to clean them up, I really do.” Jon’s 11-year-old son, Charlie, said without hesitation that Victor Robles would be the game changer for the Nats if he made the postseason roster. If he didn’t make the cut, he believed it would be Jayson Werth, who was the hero for the Nats in Game 4 in 2012.

Any night at the ballpark is a good one, but it was made even better by getting to share the evening with other Nats fans as we all got excited about the upcoming series with the Cubs. Enthusiasm and confidence abound with the fanbase, and everyone believes the Nats can take care of business against the defending World Champions. So bring it on, October. We’re ready.

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