2011 Dream Gala

I've always found it a little strange to see baseball players out of uniform.

We're so accustomed to watching them take the field on a daily basis, recognizable only by their last name and corresponding number on the back of their jersey.

In fact, if you're fortunate enough to bump into a player on the street or outside of the ballpark, it can sometimes take a minute to realize who you've just seen.

So as players, coaches and members of the Washington Nationals organization dressed up in their Sunday finest, donning tuxedos and slick-backed hair, all as part of the team's 2011 Dream Gala, it was truly a sight to behold.

The glitz and glamour so many fans dream of when they picture a professional athlete's life came to fruition Saturday night inside the Maryland Ballroom at Gaylord National Resort. The beautiful hotel, offering spectacular views of the Potomac river, served as host for the Nationals' annual fundraiser benefiting the Nationals Dream Foundation.

For players, it was a chance to escape the daily grind of the baseball season and despite a then-eight game winning streak, it was obvious the team enjoyed a chance to put on something other than their cleats and sunglasses and have a chance to mingle with fans from around our Nation's Capital.

Fans, on the other hand, experienced a similar treat, earning the rare opportunity to meet and greet their favorite players and participate in a night full of events. Prior to a lavish dinner program, emceed by MASN analysts Bob Carpenter and F.P. Santangelo, the evening began with a cocktail reception and silent auction, where fans could bid on everything from baseball memorabilia to trips to renowned golf courses.

There were easily more than 50 items up for bid, but here's a small sample of the items you could have gone home with:

* 2003 Hall of Fame Induction Bat, signed by Gary Carter and Eddie Murray
* Pair of baseballs autographed by Ryan Zimmerman and Melvin Mora
* The ball President Barack Obama used to throw out the first pitch in the Nationals' 2010 season opener, signed along with a picture commemorating the event
* Chance to visit the NFL Today set
* Opportunity to be the Nationals' team photographer for the day
* Los Angeles Galaxy signed team jersey
* Assorted jewelry
* Golf course passes

Attendees could even bid on an American flag flown by the United States Navy Seals during the operation to kill Osama Bin Laden back in May. The most unique items, though, had to be the personalized baskets, each reflecting the interests of different players on the Nationals.

Each one was surprisingly different than the other. Tom Gorzelanny's, for instance, had a Nintendo Wii, a box of golf balls and a copy of Caddyshack on DVD.

I think we'd get along just fine.

To date, the Dream Gala has raised more than $2 million for the Dream Foundation's three cornerstone programs, each of which focuses on children's health, education and recreation:

The Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy: In partnership with the District of Columbia, the Academy will operate as a year-round youth development program committed to teaching the fundamentals of baseball and softball while providing after-school and summer educational programs for youth. The Academy is expected to open in 2012.

The Washington Nationals Pediatric Diabetes Care Complex at Children's National Medical Center: The facility provides a multi-disciplinary approach to supporting families of children with diabetes.

The Neighborhood Initiative: Grants and in-kind donations are among the resources presented to local non-profit organizations dedicated to improving the DC neighborhoods surrounding Nationals Park.

More information about the Nationals Dream Foundation can be found here.

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