It was a crowded night at the ESPN Zone. With various games on television including the big ECU vs. Virginia Tech match-up, the place was filled with enthusiastic fans supporting their football and hockey teams.
But a day after the World Series, the sports world was on break from baseball - except for a few lucky Nationals fans.
Near the front of the room, MASN’s Fantasy Baseball winners gathered at a large table and enjoyed appetizers, dinner, drinks and a long, casual conversation with Nationals interim manager Jim Riggleman.
Chosen for their high scores during MASN’s first ever Fantasy Baseball league, fans came from all around the region to talk baseball with a veteran baseball man.
For Ray Mitten, a season ticket holder since the Nats returned to Washington, the day was extra special. He was celebrating his birthday with the skipper.
“This event was great, and it was all because of Jim Riggleman’s warmth and honesty,” Mitten said. “Jim made me feel right at home and answered my many questions about all aspects of the team. He also was just a really good guy to hang out with -- he’s very funny and gave some really nice insights on what the clubhouse was really like.”
Mitten and three other winners talked with Riggleman about the World Series, available free agents, back-up catchers, football, the coaching staff and life in professional baseball.
“It’s very informative for me to hear what they’re saying -- who they like on the team and the things that they like about the ballclub,” Riggleman said.
Enjoying an ESPN Zone steak salad, Riggleman talked about the delicious food available to the team at the ballpark and the impressive work-out facilities. Riggleman even spent the night sleeping on the couch in his office once following a late Saturday night game.
The Fantasy Baseball pros also explained the game to Riggleman, who had plenty of his own questions about how it works.
“It’s educational and interesting. I think it gives them a better understanding of what general managers and managers are going through,” Riggleman said. “It’s not just as simple as why didn’t you steal - why didn’t you bunt, etc. It’s a lot more in depth than that. Why did you aquire this player? Why didn’t you move this player?”
“There’s a lot to consider anytime there is any kind of acquisition and this gives fans a better feel for that,” Riggleman continued.
As far as Fantasy tips from the winners, they suggest stealing the top guys (i.e. Jimmy Rollins, Hanley Ramirez) quickly but looking for bargain players that won’t hurt your payroll (i.e. Brian Roberts and Ryan Zimmerman).
“I had A-Rod,” said Dick Mills, another winner who drove about 60 miles for the event. Mills, who attends about 10 Nationals games a year and watches most of them on MASN, really liked the salary cap in MASN’s Fantasy league, citing that it made the decisions more difficult.
Riggleman pointed to St. Louis Cardinals executive Jeff Luhnow as a “very well educated, brilliant guy” who really understood how useful Fantasy Baseball analysis would be to the game.
After the discussion, Riggleman took photographs with the fans and signed some autographs.
“The evening only confirmed what I already knew from watching every game as a season ticket holder -- Jim Riggleman is a good person and an excellent baseball man,” Mitten continued.
Congratulations to all of the winners (Ray Mitten, Brian Coyle, Richard Mills, Erik Garcia and Leila Kahn) and a special thanks to both Jim Riggleman and Leigh at the ESPN Zone for helping with the event.