Adjacent to the Anacostia River in Washington, DC, a quick 10-minute drive from Nationals Park, sits Anacostia High School. The young men on the school’s baseball team follow the Washington Nationals’ every game and consider players like pitcher Steven Strasburg their role models.
For Anacostia’s senior pitcher and team captain, Alonzo Tabron, a unique opportunity to practice on the field at Nationals Park in May was an honor and a privilege.
Tabron and his teammates were able to run the ballpark’s bases thanks to the Nationals’ DC High School Initiative. Through this unprecedented program, the team invites high school baseball teams in the District to hold one 90-minute practice at Nationals Park, utilizing both the field and the indoor batting cages. This year, nine schools in the District put this special practice on their calendars including Anacostia, Woodrow Wilson High School, Bell Multicultural High School, and Francis L. Cardozo High School.
“It’s really important for us to have the local high schools here because our goal is to foster greater connections between the Nationals and the DC community,” said Shawn Bertani, Senior Director of Community Relations for the Nationals. “Specifically, we want to reach kids who are interested in baseball to continue to show them how great the game is, and encourage them to keep playing.”
Head coaches from participating teams realize the impact this program has on the student-athletes and are proud to bring their teams to the ballpark for an unforgettable experience.
“To have the Nationals open their park like they do to DC public schools is a wonderful thing,” said Woodrow Wilson’s head baseball coach James Silk. “To have our kids here on a beautiful day like today – take some cuts, take ground balls, run the bases, take BP in their cages, put their gloves in [Bryce] Harper’s and [Ryan] Zimmerman’s helmet box – it’s just special.”
When Woodrow Wilson sophomore outfielder Devin Rivera first stepped foot on the field, he was simply “dumbfounded.” He truly recognized the “beauty of this [opportunity].”
“It’s very special because I think about all the other kids,” said Rivera, who channeled his inner Bryce Harper as he threw right and batted left. “I come from the Caribbean so there’s a lot of kids that have the same dream as me – coming to America to play baseball and it’s just like, ‘I’m one of the few living the dream!’”
As local high school student-athletes live out their dreams at Nationals Park, they also focus on improving their game like they would during any practice.
“You kind of have that feeling coming out of the tunnel that baseball players do this,” said Reiss Allen, Bell’s head coach. “This is what baseball players do. So, I think they all felt like a real baseball player at that point.”
After experiencing the Major League mentality for a day, Bell’s baseball team is even “hungrier” to succeed this season.
“With Bell Multicultural baseball, we’re starting to make a name for ourselves,” said senior catcher and captain Rayonte Campbell, who is inspired by Harper’s work ethic and personal drive. “Maybe this opportunity will motivate us to make it to the [DC High School Baseball Classic] championship again, and this time, win the championship.”
With this initiative providing a sound platform for encouraging success among local student-athletes, Woodrow Wilson senior outfielder Joe Greenberg recognizes the life lessons he can learn from the sport.
“I play right field and I was thinking about Bryce Harper a lot when I was out there,” said Greenberg. “I was trying to get every play just as he would and act like a professional out here because that really enhances your game and helps you reach your potential.”
Professionalism on the field translates to the players setting career goals off the field.
“It means a lot to me to be able to come to a major league field and practice,” said Nicholas Hinton, a sophomore catcher for Cardozo. “This is a good experience for kids to have something to look forward to – for some goal to set.”
Though this experience at Nationals Park may be just another practice, it is an opportunity of a lifetime that players will carry with them into the future.
As their time at the ballpark drew to a close, the players couldn’t hold back their excitement to try one last time to hit a homer over the Nationals scoreboard.
As Campbell said, “Magical things happen here. We’re just proud to be here.”
By Megan Schneider