Competing at Nationals Park requires raw talent. But for a select group of athletes, it requires something more: a sense of balance and an even better sense of humor.
On a cloudless Saturday morning over Presidents Day weekend, 57 men and women vied to join the elite ranks of the Racing Presidents, the Washington Nationals’ famous mascot squad.
Dressed head-to-toe in athletic gear — running tights, baggy shorts, college sweatshirts — the competitors stretched their quads and hamstrings as they waited for their turn to show the Nationals entertainment staff what they’re made of.
“It’s all psychological, right?” said one guy, waiting anxiously for his turn to get in costume.
The mild February morning was, as one staff member described, “mascot weather.” The sun glared from white tarps covering the field’s new grass.
The group gathered below the center-field scoreboard. Facing an empty announcer’s box, surrounded by tiers of unfilled seats, many got the sense that, at least for baseball fans, they were standing on sacred ground.
“I don’t want to say this is a dream come true or anything, but, you know ...” said Danny, a Georgetown University student.
Let Teddy Win
The Racing Presidents, as any Nats fan will tell you, aren’t your typical mascots. In the middle of the fourth inning of each home game, the four oversized Mount Rushmore bobbleheads — George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt — run about 200 yards in a race that fans across the country have come to adore.
It’s a comedy skit based around Teddy’s inability to win. He’s tried zip-lining to the finish line. He’s used a Segway. But, after six seasons on the field, he just hasn’t caught a break.
The star mascot didn’t even show up for tryouts. According to Tom Davis, the team’s entertainment manager, Teddy was “taking his annual Presidents Day vacation.”
The focus, instead, was on the contestants. Davis said he was looking for athletes who clearly “like to have fun” and can “exaggerate and make big moves.”
Sounds simple enough. But competing for a piece of the presidential glory is no easy task.
The finalists on the field were selected from a pool of about 300 applicants. All had to submit résumés, cover letters, pictures and answers to “six mascot-related questions.”
The Saturday morning tryouts included a 40-yard dash, two races from center field to the home dugout, a freestyle dance and a victory pose — all while wearing a 12-foot-tall, 45-pound costume. On top of that, the contestants each faced a panel interview with members of the Nationals game operation staff.
Despite the high stakes, the contestants appeared calm and confident as they waited for their turn to suit up. They cheered on their fellow competitors.