Despite the gloomy weather and the weekday mid-afternoon timing, hundreds of fans gathered at Nationals Park on a rainy Wednesday afternoon to meet and greet their team and start a new season of Nationals baseball. Along with players, coaches and broadcasters, Nationals fans seemed optimistic about the season as they gathered to celebrate the team's third annual NatsFest.
The weather interfered with many of the planned outdoor activities, as well as participation from local Little League teams and military members, but the fans that did make it out to the ballpark had a great time.
"If we had good weather today, I think this would have been a big crowd," said principal owner Mark Lerner addressing the media.
In the past, the team hosted NatsFest on a January weekend day, but moving forward, the Nationals believe it's better to bring fans and players together closer to the start of the season.
"I think it would have been a great scene out there at batting practice if we could have pulled it off, so my guess would be they'll try to do the same thing next year and see if we can get better weather next time around," Lerner continued.
Reliever Brian Broderick and starting pitcher Tom Gorzelanny, newcomers in NatsTown, were thrilled to have an opportunity to interact with fans before the season starts. Gorzelanny hopes that this team can create the same kind of fan excitement and energy that Stephen Strasburg brought to town last summer.
"Watching those games when Stephen (Strasburg) pitched, I think that we can do that collectively as a team," he said. "This team can win some games and maybe have that same kind of atmosphere here."
Catcher Wilson Ramos also looked forward to meeting and interacting with Nationals fans, an opportunity he missed by joining the team late last season. Along with Derek Norris, he hosted "Catcher's Corner," a photo station for children under 12.
"Every fan comes to the stadium to see us play, so I want to be available for them," Ramos said.
A dozen players lined up on the concourse to shake hands and take photographs with fans, and season ticket holders had a special, exclusive opportunity to meet their favorite Nationals.
There were also a number of panels featuring MASN's own Bob Carpenter, F.P. Santangelo, Phil Wood and Byron Kerr. One particularly engaging panel discussion featured legendary slugger Frank Howard telling Bryce Harper stories about his playing days with the Senators.
Harper later faced off at Guitar Hero against a lucky fan who ultimately beat him at the game. Other fans won an opportunity to compete against the Racing Presidents.
Most of all, players just wanted Nationals fans to know how much they want to win and how hard they plan to work this season. In a year where the franchise slogan is "Expect it" they are expecting a lot from themselves.
"Expect us to win," said Broderick. "We have a really good team, good defense, good pitching and the power to back it up.
"Expect that we're going to challenge people and hopefully surprise some people," reliever Drew Storen added.
"Expect us to go out there and give it everything we can," Gorzelanny said. "Everybody just wants to win."