Before they started playing under the lights of Nationals Park, almost every Major Leaguer was once a young boy playing in a local league, practicing catching with two hands and shagging balls. On Saturday, May 23, Nationals manager Matt Williams and 10 players returned to those roots, visiting eight Little Leagues throughout the District to encourage the next generation of baseball players.
Curly Ws were in abundance as the youth players donned the jerseys issued to them through the Nationals Youth Baseball Uniform Program. The team has provided more than 4,500 uniforms for D.C. Little League and D.C. Parks and Recreation Rookie League participants.
Kids weren't afraid to ask the tough questions of their Major League heroes. During Q and A Capitol Hill Little Leaguers put Tanner Roark and Blake Treinen on the spot when they asked them about their favorite movie. Looking around at the audience, Roark answered "Frozen," due to his young daughter. Amid the chorus of booing that resulted, one young boy piped up that he should've chosen "The Sandlot" -- which Roark and Treinen both agreed would probably have been a more appropriate answer.
After trivia and Q and A, the players spent time with the groups of Little Leaguers as they practiced their skills. While both pitchers naturally provided their insight on ball grips and throwing styles, Roark also found himself participating in a relay race when one team found itself a man short. As the pitcher rounded the bases, his young teammates chanted "Tan-ner, Tan-ner!" and greeted him at home with a celebration usually reserved for walk-offs.
Participating in the visits were manager Matt Williams, Aaron Barrett (Mamie Johnson Little League, Southern District Little League and Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling Little League), Gio Gonzalez (Northwest Washington Little League), Jose Lobaton (Banneker City Little League), Wilson Ramos (Banneker City Little League), Roark(Capitol Hill Little League), Clint Robinson (Northwest Washington Little League), Denard Span (Senators/Satchel Paige Little League), Craig Stammen (Capitol City Little League), Michael Taylor (Mamie Johnson Little League, Southern District Little League and Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling Little League) and Treinen (Capitol Hill Little League).
One parent commented that while all of the kids may not understand yet how special the opportunity was, the memories of the day would stay with them as they grew up. Not every Little Leaguer will make it to the big leagues, but they will remember the day when a Major League baseball player showed them how to field a grounder, shared a laugh, or told them about their least favorite vegetable.