Rachel Levitin: A perfect fit for community-minded Nationals

One of the Washington Nationals' greatest strengths is their community outreach. While chasing the Wild Card would be a nice feat for 2011, it's essential that players remember that who you are off the field is just as important as who you are on the field. Why? Because the second a player signs with a club and puts on the uniform, they become a face of an organization.

Due to a large slew of weekend homestands this season, the Nationals haven't been able to participate in as many local outreach efforts as they'd like. In seasons past, players and coaches have engaged the area's youth by hosting live baseball clinics at Nationals Park for the Boys & Girls Clubs, visiting hospitals to offer encouragement and friendship, and they've even stopped by schools to read with the kids in their classrooms.

It means the worlds to those kids to get to spend even five minutes with a major league ballplayer. So here's what I propose: Why not spend some time with the transplant community?

The District is lucky in a way. Since it is surrounded by neighboring states that are Metro accessible, D.C. has Maryland and Virginia within its reach. The Washington Regional Transplant Community hosts events for organ and tissue donors, recipients and their families while also registering people as organ donors on a regular basis.

There is also a tradition in the transplant community that could use the Nationals' attention. Due to financial woes at the National Kidney Foundation over the past few years, the 20-year-old U.S. Transplant Olympic Games have been suspended indefinitely starting in 2012. According to the Kidney Foundation, the organization has had to cut expenses where appropriate and implement a plan to increase revenue. While the financial burden of the Transplant Games is obvious, the worst part isn't the suspension of the event. The worst part is losing an outlet for organ and tissue recipients to compete and engage within their own community.

There are no plans for a local District-based Transplant Games after 2011 but Virginia is hosting its first Transplant Games in October in wake of the U.S. Games' suspension. Maybe the Nationals can get involved in that somehow?

As of June 1, 2011, 1,841 people in the D.C. metro area are waiting for a transplant. This includes patients ranging in age from infants to the elderly. Some of them are even waiting for multiple transplants. If the Nationals could somehow find a way to engage this part of the community, I can imagine how grateful they'd be.

As the daughter of a heart transplant recipient, I followed my dad to his first transplant games in 2002. My dad found a new passion for life after the transplant in 1999, but he found a new circle of friends who understood this rediscovered passion thanks to the U.S. Transplant Games.

Never in my life had I seen so many transplant recipients, donors and donor families in one place. It brought us all together and helped us realize that there were people out there who understood what our family was going through - and all of these occurred as a result of a sporting event.

If the District can find a way to sponsor its own incarnation of the Transplant Games, getting the Nationals involved could do nothing but aid the effort of raising organ and tissue donor awareness.

Rachel Levitin blogs about the Nationals for We Love DC, and will be sharing her observations about baseball in the nation's capital as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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