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“Dig deep,” yelled a man from the crowd as the first contestant, dressed as Washington, got in place for the 40-yard dash. “You gotta want it.”
“Hey, T.J., are you going to need mouth-to-mouth?” Davis said as a contestant, dressed as Jefferson, kneeled from exhaustion after crossing the finish line.
Even the most talented runners had trouble staying upright in the top-heavy costumes. To avoid face-planting in the outfield dirt, many of them ran with their arms swinging from side to side, just trying to keep their balance.
Bill, director of a homeless shelter in Southeast D.C., said the best way to avoid falling was to “lean back” while sprinting.
But Patrick, who had just taken off his Abe costume, had a different strategy. “I could only see a couple steps in front of me,” he said. He let the other mascots step in front of him at the beginning to help guide his way to the finish line.
And for the freestyle dance portion of the competition? “I just used what worked out on the dance floor last night,” he said.
‘The Best Job in the World’
But the tryouts didn’t end there. After the finalists removed their costumes, they were led across the field, through a tunnel and into the visiting team’s clubhouse for their personal interviews.
Empty lockers lined the room where A.J., a recent college graduate, sat in front of a panel of Nationals staff members. It’s a setting most sports fans know from watching post-game interviews.
To begin the interview, the panel members asked a few easy questions, such as why the contestant wanted the job.
“There’s just something about being on the ball field,” A.J. said, describing how he loves “seeing the lights” and feeling the energy.
The Racing Presidents, he said, “bring a different level of performance” than other mascots in Major League Baseball.
The panel tested his aptitude for improv comedy by asking him to respond to a hypothetical situation: Imagine you’re at the club, and some guy walks up to you and starts a dance-off. How would you react?
“Oh, I’d start with the grocery cart, and then maybe throw in a dishwasher,” he said, leaping up from his seat and performing each of the dance moves. If prompted, he said, he’d toss in a few “hater blockers.”
The entertainment crew laughed. Then they directed him to pick an object from a junk pile that, among other items, included a shovel, a jump rope and a green feather boa.
He chose an orange traffic cone. The challenge: Use it as a prop.
A.J. began by tipping the cone upright and spinning it as a top. And then, with the room erupting in laughter, he placed the cone on his body in a way not fit to fully report in a family newspaper.
Before the interview ended, the panel gave A.J. an opportunity to ask questions.
“What’s it like?” he asked earnestly.