Batter Up — Top of the Seventh
Running for President
I love those ice-breaker questions you get sometimes in a meeting when they want people to get to know each other a little better. “Tell us something about yourself that most people don’t know, or would never guess about you?”
I have a lot of things that work well as answers to that question, but my favorites are probably, 1. I am in baseball’s Hall of Fame, and 2. I have run for president.
What?!?!? Run for president? Are you kidding?
I am not — it is true. But it’s not what you’re thinking. No, in 2006, the Nationals’ second season in town, they began to have this little race on their scoreboard where likenesses of the Mount Rushmore crew — George, Tom, Abe and Teddy — would race around this track, and fans would pick which one they thought would win. Then one game, towards the end of the season, while we watched the presidents’ race on the scoreboard, suddenly these 12 foot tall presidents burst onto the field from the right field corner, and they raced from there to home plate. It was really cool! They were called the “Racing Presidents”, and for the rest of the season, they did their race in the middle of the 4th inning. The fans loved it!
That winter, I received an e-mail inviting me to try out for the Racing Presidents. At first, I just laughed and said, “Yeah, right!” But then I thought about it, and said, “Sure, why not?” After all, I had been playing competitive softball for the past couple of years, and was getting myself into pretty good shape doing that. This would be incentive to start my regimen getting ready for the next season earlier than normal.
The try-outs were scheduled to occur on President’s Day, at old RFK Stadium, where the Nationals were still playing. They played there for their first three seasons in town, until construction of Nationals Park was completed. Since it was taking place on Presidents’ Day, I already had the day off work, so didn’t have to take extra time off.
The deal was, they were looking to hire 12 people to race as the 4 presidents, so you’d only have to commit to going to a third of the home games if you got selected. In their first season in town, I had attended half of their home games, 41 games in all. The second year, I’d made it out to over a third of the games, about 30 in all, so this wouldn’t require more of a time commitment than I already had invested in this team as a fan.
On the day of the try-outs, I arrived early and got myself ready for battle. I’d already had a couple of mugs of strong coffee, and I was ready to go. As the other contestants began to arrive, I realized that I was far and a way the oldest one there — most of them were 20- and 30-somethings, only one other guy was even over 40, while I was 52 at the time.
That didn’t bother me a bit. I was the first to don the 12 foot tall costume — the head was huge, and was balanced with a brace that went on your shoulders then got strapped around your chest. I went out onto the outfield track, and quickly realized that this race wasn’t about speed so much as it was about balance. With a 60 pound presidential head balanced on your shoulders and towering 6 feet above your own head, you needed to start out slow and steady, then gradually build up momentum as you ran. I stuck with that plan, and watched with glee as many of these 20- and 30- somethings, eager to get out of the blocks with a strong start, wound up wobbling all over the place, some falling flat on their presidential faces, while I just plugged along and won all of my heats (all two of them.)
I was certain that I had nailed my tryout. Now, it is possible that when they had us do things like a “presidential macarena’ in that get-up, that I didn’t overly impress with my moves. It is also possible that I didn’t pass muster in my interview. Yes, they actually interviewed us. I remember not taking that part all too seriously, and may have given a few what I thought were humorous answers to their questions. I really wasn’t taking any of it all that seriously, just digging the opportunity to try out. I can now say, with all seriousness and authenticity, that I once “ran for president”.
At the end of the day, I did not get called back for a followup interview or a final heat. They just said thanks for coming out, and picked 12 20- and 30-somethings. I am pretty sure it may have had to do with age-ism, but after consulting with my lawyer (not really) became convinced that it would not be worth pursuing that angle.
However, I did get interviewed by Comcast, so I at least got to do that.
Years later, when I began singing the national anthem on the field at Nationals’ games, I tried to convince Tom Davis, the guy who ran the racing presidents, that he and I could make major league baseball history together. “Let me just race with the presidents tonight, Tom. I could be the first person who ever sang the national anthem AND raced with the racing presidents in the same game. Tom would always laugh, shake his head, and say, “You have to be a Nationals employee to race with the presidents, Pete.” Then, sign me up! It never happened — but there was no harm in trying, am I right?
I did try out again the following year, with the same result. After that, they stopped sending me the e-mail about the tryouts, and I would always learn when I’d see them on the news that night, and mumble to myself, “I coulda bin a contendah!”