Over the years, bobbleheads have become huge draws for sports teams and a unique, valuable commodity to fans. This past Saturday, a local minor league baseball team experienced the drawing power of a great giveaway combined with rehabilitation stints by two of the organization’s biggest stars. Just like the Great American Eclipse the week before, everything aligned to create a spectacular event.
In January, the Carolina League’s Potomac Nationals, the High-A affiliate of the Nats, held a fan vote to determine what their fan-voted bobblehead of the summer should be. Fans voted in droves for a bobblehead featuring the Nationals’ sideline reporter and the team’s hairy and majestically bearded outfielder, Jayson Werth.
It highlighted one of the most iconic moments of the 2016 season. Fans had to have it.
Last year in June, the Nationals and the eventual World Series champions, the Chicago Cubs, were tied 3-3 entering the 12th inning. The Cubs took the lead in the top of the inning, but then Jayson Werth happened.
After Michael A. Taylor drove in Danny Espinosa to tie the game, Werth nailed a walkoff single off the centerfield fence. The burly power hitter, afraid of his hard-charging, celebrating teammates, ran into the outfield as if he was fleeing an angry mob.
Eventually, Werth’s teammates caught up with him and tackled him to the ground. They also attempted to undress him. Werth’s jersey was ripped open.
A moment later, a disheveled Werth made his way back into the infield and spoke to clean-cut MASN sideline reporter Dan Kolko.
“Jayson, we meet again,” Kolko began. “How would you describe what you saw these last three days here at Nationals Park?”
“Yeah, let’s hear it! YEAH!!” Werth responded, not answering the question. “Holy shit! Hey, Kolko, we should do this more often.”
“Okay, maybe without the cursing next time.”
Werth would go on to curse twice more and say nothing remotely intelligible. He described the team’s “long-ass flight” for their west-coast road trip. When asked about his critics, Werth responded as if he were Stone Cold Steve Austin. “Yeah, those people can kiss my ASS!”
Fast forward to Saturday, the first 1,250 ticket holders who entered G. Richard Pfitzner Stadium would receive a bobblehead celebrating that iconic interview. Ceramic Werth’s jersey is open. He points to the sky in victory. A bashful Kolko looks away as if he’s considering the upcoming FCC fines MASN will incur.
Some fans showed up at 11 AM with lounge chairs and coolers full of snacks. Thousands of others arrived two hours before the gates opened at 5 PM.
Before club employees began giving away the freebie, two lines, which had formed at the two entry gates, had met after wrapping around a public baseball field in front of the stadium. When lines started moving, excitement and fear gripped its inhabitants. Did they get to the stadium early enough?
“I am a big Nationals fan,” one girl in line said. “I really like Dan Kolko so I was like, oh, this is a perfect combination of all the things I enjoy.”
Another attendee told me they chose this game randomly, planning only to meet up with friends.
“I wasn’t planning on being obsessive about getting it, but now that we’re here I really want the bobblehead,” she said.
People pushed towards the gates as the lines moved towards the front. With only two ticket collectors and one bobblehead booth at each entry gate, the rush of people became a collection of arms reaching over one another trying to grab a box.
It took approximately 13 minutes for the 1,250 bobbles to be given away. Audible gasps could be heard when it was announced all the bobbleheads were gone.
I asked one of the Potomac Nationals workers handing out lineup cards what she thought of the experience. “It’s the busiest day we’ve ever had,” she responded.
“Attendance was 9,128, one of the three biggest crowds of the season,” Mike Weisman, the PNats Director of Broadcasting & Media Relations said. “According to everyone on staff, it was the longest line for a bobblehead night in at least six years.”
The excitement did not just revolve around the bobbleheads. Werth was actually there.
The Nationals outfielder was making a rehab appearance as he prepared to come back from a broken toe that has held him out since June 4. Joining Werth was Nationals shortstop Trea Turner, who was rehabbing a broken wrist suffered on a hit-by-pitch on June 30th.
The two had been rehabbing at Triple-A International League’s Syracuse Chiefs, but with their reinstation dates soon approaching and the Chiefs heading out on a road series to northern Pennsylvania, they shifted the players to Woodbridge.
The PNats were taking on the Frederick Keys, the Baltimore Orioles affiliate, in a double header. These two games were a classic double header; where one ticket gets you access to both games, separated by only a 30 minute break.
The PNats took the first game behind a strong, 7-inning complete game performance by pitcher Joan Baez. (No, not that Joan Baez.) The Keys won the second game, with no Werth or Turner in the line-up.
Turner, who had been held hitless throughout his rehab stint, finally found his groove, collecting two doubles and a run scored. Werth played in right field, where the Nationals plan to play him until Bryce Harper returns from his gnarly bone bruise injury. Werth caught a few fly balls and was walked twice at the plate.
Since Saturday, both Werth and Turner have returned to the Washington Nationals. On Monday, Werth homered in his first game back while Turner doubled on Tuesday.
IS THIS NOT WHY YOU ARE HERE?!?! pic.twitter.com/qT8cYaR11i
— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) August 29, 2017
The second half of the Potomac Nationals’ regular season ends Monday in Frederick.
Photos: Cara Bahniuk
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