If ever there was a day to turn a $600-plus million baseball stadium into an indoor carnival, Sunday's FanFest at Nationals Park would have been it.
Sections of the ballpark usually cordoned off to all but the most affluent fans, instead, housed face painting, caricatures, raffles, skee ball and pitching simulations. The concession stands were open, and while I didn't see a guy selling sno cones, it might have been because it's still January, after all.
The purpose of events like these is to create as much buzz and goodwill for the upcoming season as possible, and in that regard, Sunday's proceedings didn't disappoint.
One Nationals player after another talked excitedly about the upcoming season, gushed about the moves Washington's front office had made to improve the team, and approached the 2010 season - during which the Nationals will try to emerge from 205 combined losses in 2008-09 - with an anything-can-happen outlook.
Asked if a .500 season was a good first goal, new acquisition Jason Marquis said, "I don't see why we can't shoot for the stars. Why do you want to limit yourself to 81 wins? Why do I want to limit myself to 15 wins? ... You shouldn't say, 'Oh, let's win 81 games,' because then you're putting a number and you're satisfied with 81 wins. I don't think you should ever be satisfied."
If the afternoon had a surplus of positivity, it lacked the same supply of news. But there were a few things to pass along:
- First, it's clear most Nationals players are hoping the team signs free agent second baseman Orlando Hudson. All the players that spoke to the media--John Lannan, Ryan Zimmerman, Nyjer Morgan, Ivan Rodriguez and Marquis among them--said they hoped the move would get done.
"I think he would be great. Obviously, defensively, (and) you can put him in the lineup anywhere," Zimmerman said. "I think he's a great person, a great team guy. He would kind of help some of the younger guys and all of us come together. He wins. He's been places that win...It's no secret that we want him."
Zimmerman said he hadn't talked with Hudson, who shares an agent with Adam Dunn and is friends with Nyjer Morgan and utilityman Willie Harris. General manager Mike Rizzo said he also hadn't talked to Hudson or agent Greg Genske in several days.
"We're communicating, and we're engaged," Rizzo said. "There's really been no substance to let you know of, nothing different going on."
A report on Sunday suggested Hudson was ready to come down from the $9 million annual salary he's believed to have been wanting, but Rizzo said he hadn't heard anything to indicate Hudson's camp has lowered its asking price.
- Rizzo got a number of questions during fan Q&As about where Stephen Strasburg will start the season. It serves as a window into how high anticipation will be running for Strasburg's first start this spring, and Rizzo is well aware of it.
But what he won't do, he said, is give into it; he said again Strasburg has a chance to make the team if he proves this spring he doesn't need seasoning in the minors, but Rizzo reiterated that the Nationals won't rush the No. 1 overall pick to the majors.
"I can't be affected by the level of excitement," Rizzo said. "I've got to develop this player to the utmost of his ability, and I have to make sure he's developed in the best way to have long-term success."
- Both Nyjer Morgan and Craig Stammen are 100 percent, and John Lannan looked to be in the best shape of his life after staying in town this offseason to work out with Stammen. Lannan said he'd been smarter this offseason about exercise and diet than ever and is seeing 20-15 now after Lasik surgery.