Dr. Anthony Fauci, a DC resident, the nation’s leading COVID-19 expert and a member of the White House’s coronavirus taskforce, is among the masses wishing it were safe for sports to resume. On national television, he said he wanted to see his team, the Nationals – the reigning World Series champions – back in action as soon as safely possible as conversations around when sports will return continue.
“People say, ‘Well, you can’t play without spectators,’” Fauci said during an interview with “Good Luck America” on April 15. “Well, I think you’d probably get enough buy-in from people who are dying to see a baseball game. Particularly me. I’m living in Washington. We have the world champion Washington Nationals. You know, I want to see them play again.”
During a time when engaging with fans and keeping your audience interested are even more critical, little moments like that are what teams live for.
“It means a lot,” a Nationals spokesperson said. “We miss seeing Nationals Park filled with fans dressed in red, cheering on our players. We can’t wait to raise the 2019 World Series banner, give out championship rings to players, coaches and staff, and celebrate last year’s magical playoff run once we are able to have fans back in the ballpark.”
In the interim, when Dr. Fauci’s attention is focused elsewhere, the team has turned back to those same moments to continue the momentum they gained in 2019. Reruns of the team’s successful postseason run, live player watch parties, and fan and community-focused content have become Washington’s way to weather the coronavirus storm while the nation’s capital focuses on getting the country running again.
“One of our objectives during this time is to help provide joy to our fans through positive content, fun and educational resources for our younger fans, and give our community an outlet where they can reminisce and enjoy lighter moments,” the spokesperson said. “We’ve been fortunate to air our 2019 postseason run, which has allowed us to live-tweet each game and relive the historic run. We have had great engagement from fans watching along with us.”
First baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who has been with the franchise since its inaugural season in 2005, hosted a Zoom call on April 14 with several of his teammates – current and former – to rewatch Game 7 of the 2019 World Series. The team streamed the call on its social channels and raised more than $200,000 that night alone for the ‘Pros for Heroes’ fund Zimmerman founded with his wife, Heather.
Zimmerman’s fund has raised almost $330,000 of its $500,000 goal to help local DC-area healthcare workers. Nationals Philanthropies also created its own fund, seeded with $100,000, to provide grants to local third-party entities who are combating food insecurity during the current crisis. The team fund has raised additional money through corporate and foundation donations, as well as from Nationals personnel and fans – totaling more than $306,000 to date.
Nationals Park has even been put to use. The team partnered with Chef José Andrés’s World Central Kitchen, a non-profit non-governmental organization devoted to providing meals in the wake of natural disasters, to utilize the ballpark as a cooking and distribution site to provide thousands of free meals to the Washington, D.C. community during the pandemic.
As of April 17, more than 50,000 meals had been produced and distributed. Once fully ramped up, the team said the operation at Nationals Park would be capable of producing tens of thousands of meals each day.
The team hopes that all of these things – from reliving the World Series run to fundraising and continuing to engage through new content – not only provides relief for fans and funds for the COVID-19 fight, but a sense of community as well.
“With the re-airing of our epic 2019 postseason run, we want to continue to relive that special time with our fans and show that just like that 2019 World Series team, we will all finish this fight together and they are not alone in this,” the spokesperson said.
The team has transferred its “Finish the Fight” slogan from the World Series to the global pandemic, uniquely repurposing audio and footage from last season and combining it with new player messages to encourage fans during the crisis.
The team has worked to provide families with a variety of resources through its ‘Home and Away’ community page for children, which includes Jr. Nationals Kids Club Fun Pages, Summer Slugger math and literacy resources, STEM education lessons with Nationals Park PA announcer Jerome Hruska, instructional baseball videos, and exercise videos in the “Coaches Corner.”
Everyone from the team’s hitting coach to their strength coordinator is filming at-home tutorials, the National’s executive chef is creating how-to recipe videos, and players are reading books to their children as part of a “Storytime” series. Everyone is contributing to the team’s content – and that’s the key, the Nationals said.
“We’ve been extremely fortunate that our players, coaches, and various front office staff have stepped up and been extremely involved in creating content during this time,” the team spokesperson said. “Our players have done a wonderful job of staying engaged and helping their communities during the Covid-19 crisis.”
Their overarching goal is to nurture the existing Nationals community and continue the sense of camaraderie and connection to their city through additional initiatives.
“We hope that our philanthropic efforts in the community and the activities we’re providing online will help D.C. get through these tough times,” the team said. “In the meantime, we are continuing to explore new and different avenues to engage with the community and create new content for our fans.”