Buds_and_Burgers (99)

Buds and Burgers at Nationals Park

Bud & Burgers at Nationals Park was an epic battle of the decades with live music from White Ford Bronco, Lloyd Dobler Effect, The Reflex, and As If! DJ Chris Styles and DJ Pat Premier also played the best of the 80’s, 90’s, and 2000’s. Sponsored by Budweiser.

Courtesy of Citi Open Tennis Tournament
Courtesy of Citi Open Tennis Tournament

DC’s Citi Open is Back in Action

If you’re a fan of fast-paced, top-tier professional tennis, the Citi Open tennis tournament at Rock Creek Park is probably already on your summer calendar.

But even casual fans – or just those who are simply looking for something new and fun to do – should consider catching a match or two this month. The marquee tennis event, scheduled for July 16-24, marks the 48th consecutive summer that the tournament will be played in Washington.

The Citi Open is the only elite Association of Tennis Professionals World Tour 500-level event held in the United States, and has featured a Women’s Tennis Association international tournament since 2011, making it one of only four tournaments in the country that include both men’s and women’s fields. Champions over the tournament’s history have included some of the most historic names in tennis, including Arthur Ashe, Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl, Stefan Edberg, Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick and many more.

This year’s schedule boasts some of the most exciting talent in years, including Grigor Dimitrov. The 37th ranked player in the world, Dimitrov is looking to boost his ranking back into the Top 10 where he was in 2014, when he advanced to the semi-finals at Wimbledon. The player is making his third appearance at the Citi Open this summer.

“It is a really great event,” Dimitrov tells On Tap. “For me, it is always my first event [of the season] back on the hard courts, and it is always nice to change things up. I have been very fortunate to get a lot of support at the DC event. They have great volunteers and great fans that make the week very special for me.”

The 25-year-old Dimitrov, who counts tennis legends Pete Sampras and Roger Federer among his role models in the sport, says he’s been working hard to improve his serve.

“I keep my specific tennis goals to myself, but obviously [my overall goal] is to compete with the top players in the game on a weekly basis,” he says. “I want to win the big events and help get my ranking back up to where it was two years ago.”

If Dimitrov performs well at the Citi Open, he can take a significant step toward achieving that goal. Citi Open Tournament Manager Keely O’Brien says the quality of the field is impressive. Among the returning players are top pros John Isner and Caroline Wozniacki, as well as Bob and Mike Bryan, the most accomplished doubles team in the history of tennis.

“We have a great field,” O’Brien says. “Having our tournament moved two weeks ahead so we weren’t back-to-back with the Olympics certainly has helped our player field.”

She says the tournament offers something for everyone – from the tennis aficionado to those who are simply curious.

“This year, we’ve come up with different activities and options for families, young professionals, tennis fans [and even]
non-tennis fans. The nice thing about tennis is if you are not enjoying the game in the center court, you have the ability to go [to] five other outer courts and see another match.”

O’Brien also notes that the tournament is a great place to enjoy the summer weather, as well as the hospitality aspect of the sporting event.
“If you want to get up from your seat, you can come into the tailgate and do that for the entire session.”

Head to Rock Creek Park from July 16-24 for the 2016 Citi Open.

Rock Creek Park Tennis Center: 5220 16th St. NW, DC; 202-722-5949; www.citiopentennis.com

Photo: Courtesy of Citi Open Tennis Tournament


Brengle Crushing It With The Kastles

Madison Brengle hopes her second season with the Washington Kastles can live up to her first.

New to the squad last year, Brengle is now an integral part of a potent team that seeks to claim its sixth straight World Team Tennis (WTT) championship.

Kastles Coach Murphy Jensen used Brengle extensively in both singles and doubles matches during the 2015 season. She went 6-4 in singles sets and 5-3 in doubles, where she was paired with Anastasia Rodionova. Brengle also clinched the final point in the 2015 Mylan WTT Finals, helping the Kastles net their fifth straight title.

“Being a part of the DC team last year and winning the last championship point was just so exciting, and so much fun to be a part of,” Brengle says.
The athlete, who previously played for the Delaware Smash in 2008 and the Kansas City Explorers in 2011, says she has taken to the District quickly.
“I absolutely love DC,” she tells On Tap. “The crowd is fantastic. They get so into it, and it’s so much fun playing in this atmosphere. And there is always so much to do in DC, but I’m pretty partial to the Smithsonian museums.”

Brengle was born in April 1990 and raised in Dover, Del. in a family with strong tennis roots. Her mother comes from a tennis background and started her playing by the age of two.

“I enjoyed watching so many different players growing up,” she says. “In the 90s, there was this great variety of game styles starting to mix, so it was always fun watching and learning from everyone.”

At 17, Brengle decided to bypass playing tennis in college and went straight for the pros.

“I decided to give it my best shot, and will go to college when I finish playing professionally,” she says.

That decision seems to be working out very well for Brengle. She began 2015 by reaching her first Women’s Tennis Association final in Hobart (the capital of Tasmania, Australia) and followed it up with a fourth-round showing at the Australian Open, her best major result. She recorded her first Top 10 win by ousting world No. 4 Petra Kvitova en route to the semifinals in Stuttgart, Germany in April 2015. Her career high singles ranking to date is No. 35, as of May 2015.

Lately, she’s been preparing for the rigors of the 2016 WTT season, which kicks off for the Kastles on the road against the New York Empire on July 31. The team then comes right back to DC to play their home opener on August 1 against the Springfield Lasers.

A coed professional league that was founded in 1973, the WTT today features six teams, including the Kastles, Empire, Lasers, Orange County Breakers, Philadelphia Freedoms and San Diego Aviators. Matches between the teams consists of five sets, including men’s and women’s singles, men’s and women’s doubles, and mixed doubles.

The 2016 regular season is scheduled to run July 31 to August 13. The top two teams advance to the Mylan WTT Finals on August 27, which will be held at a site (TBD) in the New York City area.

The Kastles’ roster this year includes newcomers Mardy Fish and twin brothers Bob and Mike Bryan. Brengle, Rodionova, Leander Paes, Sam Querrey and Martina Hingis return from last year. Players not returning include Rajeev Ram, Venus Williams and Denis Kudla.

The WTT includes several household names, such as Andy Roddick, Caroline Wozniacki and Hingis, who is returning for her fourth straight season with the Kastles. Hingis has won five Grand Slam singles and 12 doubles titles. She is one of only six players in WTA history to be ranked No. 1 in singles and doubles simultaneously.

“It was awesome getting to be on the team with her,” Brengle says of Hingis. “She has an incredible way of looking at the game, and her advice is so valuable.”

With a full season under her belt, Brengle hopes she can once again get the Kastles a season-clinching point and a sixth straight title.
Catch Brengle and the rest of the Kastles in action at their first home match on August 1.

Kastles Stadium at The Smith Center: 600 22nd St. NW, DC; www.washingtonkastles.com

Photos: Courtesy of The Washington Kastles

Burgundy & Gold Flag Football Game
Photo: Courtesy of the Redskins Cheerleaders

The Ladies Take the Field in the Redskins’ Burgundy & Gold Flag Football Game

June 12 marks the third annual Burgundy & Gold Flag Football Game hosted by the Redskins and played by the women making a name for themselves in DC area football. In 2013, the Redskins Cheerleaders launched the event to raise money for charities ranging from the Redskins Charitable Foundation to the Global Down Syndrome Foundation.

“It’s an opportunity for us to show our involvement in the community and our football skills,” says Jamilla Keene, Assistant Director of Programs & Marketing for the Redskins Cheerleaders.

This year, the Redskins Cheerleaders are joining forces with the Women of Washington Redskins (WOW) and the DC Divas, the DMV’s top-ranked Women’s Football Alliance (WFA) full-contact team. Glendalyn Junio, the Redskins’ Marketing Manager, says the cheerleaders are looking to change up the flag football experience and involve the women’s platform for the team.

“In the past, the cheerleaders made up both teams,” she says. “This year, we’ve partnered up to really empower more of the women that have played a role in the growth of women in the sport of football.”

Junio says the Redskins are excited to have a variety of women involved who have all been exposed to different levels of the game.

“The fact that we’re involving a women’s professional full-contact football team [the DC Divas] just adds to that excitement. Don’t worry – they are completely aware that it is flag football.”

Redskins alumni Doug Williams and Gary Clark will join the game as celebrity coaches, and current linebacker Houston Bates will serve as assistant coach. The guys selected names at random for the burgundy and gold teams at the Kickoff to the Draft party this spring from a list of WOW, DC Diva, and Redskins Cheerleader and Ambassador draftees.

“It’s a unique opportunity where we’ve partnered up with three groups who are extremely passionate about football and the Redskins,” Junio says. “Not only will we make it feel like a game with giveaways, cheerleaders and hype people, we know these ladies will play their hearts out!”

The game has sold out for the past two years, so get your tickets soon:www.redskins.com/cheerleaders. Gates open at noon, and kickoff is at 1 p.m.

Burgundy & Gold Flag Football Game at Woodrow Wilson High School: 3950 Chesapeake St. NW, DC

Photo: Courtesy of the Redskins Cheerleaders 

where to watch soccer dc
Bar photos: Courtesy of respective bars and Bill Hamid photos: Tony Quinn, D.C. United

Summer of Soccer

Every four years, planet Earth collectively salivates at the opportunity to guzzle the World Cup game by game, experiencing the worldwide party that is futbol.

Surely you remember two summers ago, when boisterous crowds filled the district with red, white and blue, while jumping to the chants of, “I believe that we will win!” And the pandemonium when we did.

But while casual soccer fans are counting their fingers to Russia 2018, futbol fanatics know we are just days away from kicking off an amazing summer of soccer, as the two best soccer regions in the world compete for continental supremacy.

The UEFA Euro 2016 from June 10 to July 10 will showcase 22 of the world’s top 30 nations, according to the current FIFA world rankings. The qualification for this tournament was so highly contested that international mainstays Denmark and the Netherlands failed to make the 24-team field.

The French hosts will undoubtedly be fueled by tributes to the lives taken in last year’s Paris attacks, and will be led by two emerging young superstars in Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann.

The reigning World Cup champions, Germany, are looking to continue their international dominance, while England will hope to finally find the right combination of experience and athleticism to reemerge on the international scene.

Perennial powerhouses Spain, Portugal and Italy have landed in difficult groups full of potential spoilers, and Belgium, Sweden and Croatia, although lacking the same team depth and historical success, will look to ride their big name superstars through the knockout rounds.

Where to Catch Euro Games

With the Republic of Ireland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland all in action, there are many great opportunities to enjoy pub football at its finest. Head to Fado Irish Pub in Chinatown and order the most traditionally Irish items on the menu to go along with your favorite pint. Enjoy the feel of a day in Dublin while watching the United Kingdom’s best teams duke it out on the European stage.
Virginians can enjoy a similar atmosphere at Ireland’s Four Courts in Arlington, just across the street from historic soccer pub Summers Restaurant. Fans can jump from one to the other for a great day of soccer. Ideal pub matches are England vs. Wales on June 16, and the Republic of Ireland vs. Italy on June 22.
German fans should check out Biergarten Haus on H Street and enjoy the patio televisions, traditional Bavarian fare and boot-shaped pints. Bring or make friends, and celebrate a German goal with a four-person shot ski.

The Copa America Centenario

The Copa America Centenario is the world’s oldest international soccer competition, and will be celebrating its 100th anniversary this summer by doing something it has never done before: playing the games in the U.S.

From June 3-26, classic South American futbol will take 10 American cities by storm, playing in historic stadiums like Soldier Field, Gillette (previously Foxboro) and the Rose Bowl. In addition to the 10 South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) teams, the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) will add six teams to create the largest field in the tournament’s history.

Whereas the Euro Cup features rigid team structure and intense tactical battles, the Copa brings a free-flowing, fast-paced brand of the game that fans can’t help but love, along with the divine creativity of players like Lionel Messi, Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior, Luis Suarez and Alexis Sanchez. These four players are fully expected to lead their respective teams (Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and defending champions Chile) to the semi-finals, but there is certainly no guarantee they will, as eight of the 10 South American nations have previously won the tournament.

For the Americans, the challenge will certainly be difficult, but the same was said of the “group of death” they met head on in Brazil two years ago. They kick off the entire tournament on June 3 with a massive match against Colombia, the third-ranked team in the world, according to FIFA.

The winner of this match has an excellent chance of advancing, but a loss could be crushing, as the Costa Ricans and Paraguayans both present problems for an American side that has underachieved as of late.

While no CONCACAF team has ever won the tournament, perhaps the unprecedented home field advantage could help the Americans break through and make world soccer history.

Where to Catch Copa America Games

The tournament will not feature any games in DC, but fans hoping to catch the action live can see Uruguay vs. Venezuela on June 9 and U.S. vs. Paraguay on June 11 in Philadelphia, or the quarterfinals and finals at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. For those staying local, check out Lucky Bar in Dupont, Johnny Pistolas on 18th Street or Blaguard in Adams Morgan.

Bar photos: Courtesy of respective bars
Bill Hamid photos: Tony Quinn, D.C. United

Bill Hamid
Photo: Tony Quinn, D.C. United

D.C. United’s Bill Hamid

The popularity of Major League Soccer has risen rapidly in recent years with the addition of international superstars like Andrea Pirlo and David Villa. In the nation’s capital, however, it is the return of local legend Bill Hamid that has D.C. United fans excited for the 2016 season.

The talented 25-year-old shot-stopper has missed the last four months, and D.C.’s first 13 games, due to a follow-up procedure on the knee he injured last July.

“It’s been all about patience, and getting my body as strong as possible,” Hamid explained during an interview with On Tap. “I’ve been working hard [in] rehab, and I’m ready.”

Beloved by fans for his roots in nearby Annandale, Va., Hamid grew up playing travel soccer for his father, a native of Sierra Leone, who is still the first person to hyperanalyze his game films and tell him where he can improve. He credits his family, and his hometown, for his success.

 “It impacted me tremendously,” Hamid explained. “When you look at the different cultures and ethnicities coming out of Annandale, you get to see the way different styles of soccer are played, and learn about different cultures. That helped me a lot in my growth process.”

During his rehabilitation, Hamid has occupied his mind by taking French classes at the Alliance Francaise.

“I’ve been enjoying it,” Hamid said of his latest intellectual endeavor. “It keeps me busy, and my mind working. I’ll have to back off now that I am back on the field.”

Hamid’s return will come at a great time for the Black-and-Red. With 23 games remaining, the team sits just three points from the top, but also only two points from missing the playoffs, in a wide-open Eastern Conference race.

“It’s still early in the season, teams are building and no one in the Eastern Conference has found their groove yet,” he observed. “If we can develop chemistry and consistency in our performance level, we will put ourselves in a great position by the end of the year.”

Hamid was the model of consistency in 2014, saving 75 percent of his shots, accumulating 10 clean sheets, winning goalkeeper of the year, and helping D.C. United claim the Eastern Conference regular season title.

“No fear,” Hamid declared. “I got here by putting my body on the line to make the saves my team needs, and no injury is going to change the way I play the game.”

Although the time off will force Hamid to miss this year’s Copa America, the USMNT’s number three keeper has every intention of getting back to the squad as soon as he can.

“Like anyone who has been around the national team, I know the training sessions and what they expect. It will be important for me to watch those games very closely, and work hard with my trainer to come back and prove myself to my team and country.”

Hamid will also have his eye on the UEFA Euro 2016, where he has a rooting interest in England, due to time he spent with coach Roy Hodgson on a visit to West Bromwich Albion in 2011.

“Roy’s a great coach” Hamid applauded. “I saw the way he manages his team and has them play out of the back, and if they can implement that properly, they’re overdue for a big tournament win.”

While he occasionally gathers with friends to catch a game at a local pub, Hamid prefers staying in to study the games with the same analytical approach he learned from his father, and uses now to continually improve his game.

“I’ve got to get the DVR ready,” he said with a smile. “There’s going to be a lot of great soccer on this summer.”

Photo: Tony Quinn, D.C. United03

horse racing fun facts

Race Day Fun Facts

1. As of 2015, only 12 horses had won the Triple Crown: Sir Barton in 1919, Gallant Fox in 1930, Omaha in 1935, War Admiral in 1937, Whirlaway in 1941, Count Fleet in 1943, Assault in 1946, Citation in 1948, Secretariat in 1973, Seattle Slew in 1977, Affirmed in 1978 and American Pharoah in 2015.

2. While 13 horses tried and failed to sweep the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont since Affirmed in 1978, American Pharoah ended the 37-year drought in 2015 to become thoroughbred racing’s 12th Triple Crown winner.

3. On Kentucky Derby race day, visitors at Churchill Downs consume over 120,000 mint juleps, 40,000 Oaks Lilies and upwards of 425,000 cans of beer.

4. At the Kentucky Derby, over 400 roses are used for the winner’s garland, 60 long-stemmed red roses comprise the winning jockey’s bouquet, 2,100 roses dress the Kentucky Derby winner’s circle and there are 250 rose bushes around the facility.

5. The Preakness-inspired black-eyed Susan cocktail dates back to 1973, when the special drink was concocted to fill commemorative Preakness glasses. The original recipe involved orange juice, vodka, rum and triple sec, served over ice and garnished with a wedge of lime.

6. The Woodlawn Vase (currently valued at over a million dollars) used to be awarded to the winning Preakness owner. Due to the immense responsibility of safeguarding such a valuable trophy, the winning owner now receives a $30,000 sterling replica on a permanent basis while the original is on display at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

7. Considered the “Test of the Champion” and “Run for the Carnations,” the Belmont Stakes has a reputation for being the toughest test in the Triple Crown because it is the longest and last race of the series.

8. White carnations are the traditional flower of the Belmont Stakes. The blanket of carnations awarded to the winner consists of about 400 carnations and takes about 10 hours to put together.

9. The Virginia Gold Cup emerged when eight sportsmen met at the Fauquier Club in Warrenton and organized a four-mile race alongside the natural walls and fences of the nearby countryside on April 3, 1922. Thirty-four days later, the Virginia Gold Cup race was born.

10. Today, over 45,000 spectators attend the Virginia Gold Cup. This famed steeplechase race is one of the largest and most popular sporting events in the greater Washington area.

Fun facts courtesy of the following articles: 
#1, 2: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triple_Crown_of_Thoroughbred_Racing_(United_States)
#3, 4:www.kentuckyderby.com/sites/kentuckyderby.com/files/u64720/Fun%20Facts%20(2013).pdf
#5: www.horsenation.com/2015/05/15/official-drink-of-the-preakness-the-black-eyed-susan-3/
#6: www.preakness.com/preakness-tradition
#7: www.americasbestracing.net/en/the-latest/abrv/2014/5/29/ten-fun-facts-about-the-belmont-stakes/
#8: www.belmont-stakes.info/carnations
#9, 10: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virginia_Gold_Cup

Biking Washington DC
Photo: Courtesy of Svetlana Legetic

Biking in the City

It’s springtime in the city, and bike enthusiasts and newbies alike can reap the benefits of DC’s warmer months. Rated one of the best cities for biking, the District is chock-full of trails. Two local favorites include the Metropolitan Branch Trail, an 8-mile trail from Union Station to Silver Spring, and the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, which runs along both sides of the Anacostia River. Both are wide, paved and go in both directions – perfect for beginners.

Need an event to kick off the season? Check out DC’s Tour de Fat on May 21 in Yards Park, an annual event hosted by New Belgium Brewing Company. It’s nothing short of a crazy bike party, and it’s all free. New Belgium will also have their highly-rated beers available for purchase. Learn more here: www.newbelgium.com/Events/tour-de-fat/Washington.

If crazy parties aren’t your thing, consider the DC Bike Ride (DCBR) on May 22, a 17-mile bike ride offering a car-free tour of DC. You’ll pass many DC icons on the ride, and participants are invited to stay after for a festival with yoga and music performances. Tickets can be purchased at www.dcbikeride.com.

Another option is the 16th annual Bike to Work Day on May 20, a free event offering raffle prizes to those who register. There will be pit stops throughout DC with refreshments and entertainment. Register at www.biketoworkmetrodc.org.

For a delicious ride, look no further than the Tree House Tour de Cookie in Rockville, Md. on May 7, where you can bounce between cookie stands. Choose from 12-, 26- and 42-mile options. Stick around post-ride for entertainment and activities. Tickets can be purchased at www.treehousetourdecookie.com.

If you want to join a local bike organization, check out the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA), an association focused on creating a healthy, more livable region. Visit their website at www.waba.org. In Virginia, there’s the NOVA-CBG (CBG stands for Casual Bike Group), a great option for beginners and intermediate bikers. Check out their events at www.novacbg.org.

If you’re looking to purchase an electric bike, check out Riide (1933 9th St. NW, DC), offering free three-day demos. For a reliable bike and repair shop in the city, visit District Hardware (1108 24th St. NW, DC). It’s the oldest family-owned bike shop in DC, open since the late ‘60s.

For options in Virginia, visit Papillon Cycles in Arlington (2805 Columbia Pike), offering “the latest biking equipment, expert servicing and a gathering place for local bikers.” Or, try Arlington’s The Old Bike Shop (2647 N Pershing Dr.), which specializes in recycling old bikes. All used bikes include a 30-day warranty, and they even have some antiques.

If you don’t own a bike, or aren’t interested in purchasing one, consider the Capital Bikeshare program, which has stations all over the DC Metro area. Multiple membership options are available, ranging from 24 hours to annual. Visitwww.capitalbikeshare.com for more specifics on the program. Happy cycling!
Photo: Courtesy of Svetlana Legetic
baseball fun facts

Fun Facts All About Baseball

1. Approximately 21 million hotdogs are purchased annually at baseball games. If placed end-to-end, they’d round the bases 29,691 times.

2. Have no fear, the chances are only 300,000 to one that you’ll get hit by a baseball and injured at an MLB game.

3. If a curveball was thrown on Mars, it’d become a screwball, giving hitters the advantage since balls would travel almost three times as far on the Red Planet.

4. There are up to nine ways that a batter can reach first base safely in MLB.

5. The average lifespan of a baseball is five to seven pitches, with up to 72 baseballs used during a regular nine-inning game.

6. In the event of an enemy bombing, whichever team is leading after five innings is declared the winner. The MLB established this rule during WWII.

7. During a typical MLB season, up to 160,000 baseballs are used.

8. Straw hats were part of the very first baseball uniform, worn by the Knickerbockers in 1849.

9. If popped straight up, the longest home run ever hit (in Rogers Centre, formerly Skydome, in Toronto) would not have hit the ceiling.

10.  MLB baseballs are rubbed in a very fine, one-of-a-kind mud (Lena Blackburne Baseball Rubbing Mud) found in a secret location near Palmyra, N.J.

Fun facts courtesy of the following articles:
#1: https://inthenation.nationwide.com/baseball-facts-infographic/
#s 2, 6: www.kickassfacts.com/30-kickass-interesting-facts-about-baseball/
#3: www.baseballbats-11.com/10-fun-facts-about-baseball-fans-not-know/
#s 4, 7, 9, 10: www.buzzfeed.com/summeranne/35-odd-baseball-facts-that-are-too-strange-to-be-made-up
#s 5, 8: www.lastwordonsports.com/2013/03/31/30-completely-random-yet-amazing-baseball-facts/

Washington Nationals
Photo: Courtesy of the Washington Nationals Baseball Club

Nationals Aim High in 2016: New Players, Savvy Vets Raise Expectations

When the Washington Nationals take the field for their home opener against the Miami Marlins on April 7, the team and its loyal fans will be eager to erase memories of a disappointing 2015 season.

They’ll have plenty of reasons for optimism. With an experienced new manager in Dusty Baker, a strong bullpen led by ace Max Scherzer and the healthy return of the National League’s reigning MVP, Bryce Harper, Washington is again expected to reach the playoffs and possibly even earn their first World Series berth.

Nationals fans not only have reason to be excited about what’s happening on the field, but also the overall ballpark experience. The franchise has upped its concession game considerably for the 2016 season, doubling the size of the wildly popular Shake Shack counter and expanding Top Chef Mike Isabella’s gourmet presence.

One of the biggest changes to the lineup for 2016 is the Nats new beer partner, Budweiser.  You will still find local crafts on tap, but now fans will have access to a Goose Island bar, Stella Artois and the full family of beers in the Anheuser-Busch portfolio. Look for new names for some familiar spots, and an opening day celebration featuring the world famous Clydesdales. The Nats have also planned some fun giveaways including free Nationals sunglasses for the first 25,000 fans at the home opener, and a Bryce Harper bobblehead doll and Chia Pet later in the season.

“The Nationals are always looking to enhance the fan experience at Nationals Park,” said Valerie Camillo, the Nationals’ Chief Marketing Officer.

The team opens its season on the road with Scherzer throwing against National League rival Atlanta on April 4. Three days later, the team welcomes its fans to the home debut for a matchup against the Marlins at 4:05 p.m. Stephen Strasburg, who finished last season in blazing form, will be on the mound. The Nats will battle the Marlins twice more over opening weekend on Saturday, April 9 at 4:05 p.m. and Sunday, April 10 at 1:35 p.m. Tickets are still available for both of those games.

The team’s powerful batting lineup returns mostly intact with Harper and slugger Anthony Rendon taking top billing, but also with Wilson Ramos, Danny Espinosa and new addition Daniel Murphy expected to produce lots of runs. Murphy, an infielder with a big bat, was acquired from the New York Mets in the off-season and has drawn rave reviews for his positive clubhouse influence and work ethic.

Veteran slugger and fan favorite Ryan Zimmerman, hobbled by a foot injury last season, looked strong in spring training in Florida and will be ready to go for the home opener. Outfielder Ben Revere, whom the Nationals acquired in an off-season trade by sending pitcher Drew Storen to the Toronto Blue Jays, should provide some at-the-plate consistency that the Nats lacked with oft-injured Denard Span.

But of course the biggest story at the plate is Harper. The 23-year-old phenom hit .330 last season while blasting 42 home runs, a tie for the most in the National League. In the process, he became just the seventh – and youngest – unanimous MVP in baseball history. Some analysts are wondering if Harper can capture the NL’s first Triple Crown since Joe Medwick accomplished the feat with the Cardinals in 1937.

In an interview with MLB.com earlier this year, Baker seemed practically giddy at the prospect of coaching Harper, the most heralded baseball player in a generation: “Hey man, this kid can play. He can really play. I love watching him play. Hopefully he can learn from me, and there might be something he can teach me.”

While their bats look hot, the Nats’ pitching rotation also appears strong, if not quite as powerful as in recent years. In his first season with the Nats last year, Scherzer set a team record for strikeouts and became the fifth player in major league history to notch two no-hitters in one season.

Meanwhile, Strasburg – among the most hyped players in league history when the Nats signed him in 2010 – seems to have put a slew of injuries behind him. Strasburg was one of the best pitchers in baseball over the second half last season, going 8-2, with a 1.76 earned run average. The team will also field some young but promising relievers in Felipe Rivero and Trevor Gott, and competent journeymen in Shawn Kelley, Oliver Perez and Yusmeiro Petit.

“We’ve got some live young arms and some good veteran experience,” Bob Boone, the Nats’ assistant GM, told the Washington Post in late March.

Of course, one of the biggest storylines of the Nats’ off-season was signing 66-year-old former player Baker to a two-year contract as the team’s new manager. An eclectic presence known for his rapport with players, Baker replaces Matt Williams, who rubbed many in the clubhouse the wrong way. Baker won a World Series as a player and has spent 20 years as a manager.

“He’s great with young players, he’s good with veterans,” retired outfielder Doug Glanville, the ESPN analyst who played for Baker with the Chicago Cubs, told the Associated Press last month. “Seeing him come back is great. I thought it was really important that he pass that torch in a way that he can end on the note he wants to end on.”

For schedules, tickets, bios and more, visit www.nationals.com.
Nationals Park: 1500 S. Capitol St. Washington, DC

Photo: Courtesy of the Washington Nationals Baseball Club