May 2012

Down on the Farm: Matt Skole

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The Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft begins next Monday evening, June 4, providing 50 rounds for every club in the game to find fresh talent with which they can stock their farm systems for years to come. The Nationals have had some excellent drafts in recent years (as we detail in this homestand’s Inside Pitch, available at the ballpark beginning Friday!), and their haul from 2011 was especially impressive. Beyond their top four picks – Anthony Rendon, Alex Meyer, Brian Goodwin and Matt Purke – they also snagged talents like outfielder Caleb Ramsey (11th round) and Bryce Harper’s older brother, left-handed pitcher Bryan (30th round). But one of their most intriguing picks was fifth-rounder Matt Skole, a power-hitting third baseman out of Georgia Tech.

Skole belted 47 home runs and posted a slugging percentage above .600 over his three-year collegiate career with the Yellow Jackets. After signing last summer, he hit just five home runs, but rapped 23 doubles in 72 games for Short-Season Auburn. The 22 year-old has been able to carry more balls over the wall this year at Low-A Hagerstown, batting .306/.454/.561 with 11 doubles, 11 home runs, 38 runs scored and 50 RBI in his first 51 games played. Those numbers have him on pace for 30 doubles, 30 home runs, and a mind-blowing 135 RBI as the Minor League schedule passes its one-third mark. There are two numbers, though, that stand above the rest in the eyes of Nationals Director of Player Development Doug Harris.

Matt Skole has impressed so far in his first full season in the Minor Leagues.

The first is that gaudy on-base percentage. Harris, who estimates that he has already seen Skole about 10 times this season amongst his travels throughout the Washington farm system, points out the two components of the powerful lefty’s approach that have led to his success.

“When he did get a pitch to hit, he did a good job centering the baseball,” Harris says. “When they didn’t give him a pitch to hit, he did a good job controlling the strike zone and not chasing.”

That patient eye has paid dividends, as Skole has racked up 49 walks, a full dozen more than the next closest total in the South Atlantic League. That has been especially important, as the Suns have suffered the injury bug almost as bad as the one that has afflicted the Major League club. This has left Skole as one of the lone power threats in the lineup at times, and opponents have often pitched around him.

The second area where the left-handed Skole has made significant strides is in his situational hitting. After batting 120 points higher against righties last year (.323 compared to .203 vs. lefties), he is amazingly hitting better against southpaws, a rarity for those who bat from the left side. Skole’s .291 mark vs. righties is still strong, but his .329 against southpaws is especially impressive.

“He has done some things in his approach, staying in his legs, having more balance,” explains Harris. “He is just in a more consistent position to hit. When left-handers have a mindset of backing up contact, where they are willing to use the entire field rather than just look to pull, that puts them in a better position. He has done that.”

At 6’4”, 230 pounds, Skole came into the system as a big-bodied kid who projected as a power bat, but not necessarily a nimble defender. After assigning him to the hot corner, the Nationals were looking for Skole to take strides to improve his body composition to better allow himself to handle the position.

“A lot of big guys have to do a little extra to control their bodies,” explains Harris.  “He has really done a nice job with his footwork and how he allows the rest of his body to get into position, both fielding a ball and throwing.”

After a rigorous offseason conditioning program, in which Skole worked with his brother Jacob, an outfielder in the Rangers organization, Harris has seen that transformation pay dividends. Both Skole’s willingness to adapt, and the results he has achieved, have left him in a good position moving forward.

“He’s done a lot of things you look for to consider advancement, in particular, controlling the strike zone,” says Harris. “He has certainly put him in a spot that awards consideration down the road.”

Weekly Review (5/28)

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Here at Curly W Live, we will be conducting a weekly review every Tuesday of all the storylines from the week that was. If you’re new to the site or have just been too busy to stay current with all the day-to-day action, this is your way to get caught up on everything going on with the team.

The Nationals entered what many considered the toughest part of their schedule to date, a 10-day, nine-game, three-city swing against a trio of division rivals. The trip began in Philadelphia on Monday, where Gio Gonzalez kept the Phillies scoreless through six innings and the Washington held on late for a 2-1 victory. The Nationals came out strong again Tuesday, as Bryce Harper keyed a four-run third inning off Roy Halladay, helping the Nats beat the Phillies ace for the first time since 2002 by a final of 5-2. With the team again taking the series from their most bitter division rival, we reminded you that this election year in D.C., one set of votes should be easy. On Wednesday, Cole Hamels prevented a Washington sweep for the second time this season, shutting the Nats bats down in a 6-1 Philadelphia victory.

From there, the Nationals enjoyed an off day before moving on to Atlanta for the weekend, matching up with the team that stood just a game behind them atop the NL East. Meanwhile, although the team was on the road all week, there were still important baseball games being played at Nationals Park. After having scored just eight first inning runs in their first 44 games combined, Washington plated four in the top of the first on Friday against the Braves and never trailed in a 7-4 victory. Again the team jumped out to a four-run lead Saturday, but relinquished it momentarily before pushing forward for good on the strength of RBI extra-base pinch-hits from Chad Tracy and Rick Ankiel to win 8-4.

In the nationally televised series finale on Sunday, Gonzalez dominated for the second time in the week, outdueling NL ERA leader Brandon Beachy and retaking the Major League lead in strikeouts in a 7-2 victory. In so doing, he also delivered the Nationals their first true sweep in 10 opportunities this season.

Mon @ PHI: W, 2-1

Tue @ PHI: W, 5-2

Wed @ PHI: L, 1-6

Thu: OFF

Fri @ ATL: W, 7-4

Sat @ ATL: W, 8-4

Sun @ ATL: W, 7-2

Weekly Record: 5-1

District 9: Dierks Bentley

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Note: This article has been updated due to the rescheduled FREE Nats Live post-game concert, featuring Dierks Bentley.

We are putting our own spin on the traditional “10 Questions” format this season. To mix it up a little, we are asking players, front office members, coaches, prospects and others nine questions we think you’d like to know the answer to, then taking our favorite submission through Facebook and Twitter from the fans for the final question. This time around, we’re chatting with the last of three NatsLive Post-Game Concert Series performers, Dierks Bentley!

1. You were born in Arizona and went to school in Vermont for a year before transferring to Vanderbilt. When you came down to Nashville, was that more for the school side of it or did you already see your career path knowing that’s a huge music hub?

I moved there for music. I was 17 and I really knew what I wanted to do, which was play country music. It’s hard to take a dream and actually put the rubber to the road and make it happen. I took a leap and tried to figure out how I was going to pull this thing off with no help, no contacts, no family members that sing. I had zero to start with. It took a lot to figure out how to make it happen. The best way was to try to get to Nashville and try to get to school there. I had a friend who helped me get in, which was great because I am not a great listener, nor a great student. The day I got there I went over to the Country Music Association and got an internship there. Then I started grinding away. I moved there in 1994. I got a record deal in 2002; it was about eight years of grinding away and trying to make it happen. 

2. You were the third youngest inductee to the Grand Old Opry. What did that honor mean to you?

The Grand Old Opry is great. Keith Urban just got inducted recently. It means a lot to us, as country singers who really love the music, the history of it, love to be a part of it. It’s one of the biggest career honors you can have. It still means a lot every time I walk out there. It’s great to be a part of that history and that family.

Dierks Bentley will play the first NatsLive free post-game show of 2012, this Saturday, September 22 at Nationals Park.

3. So you’re touring for your seventh album right now. Do you have a favorite one that really sticks out for you at this point?

This one is one of my top favorite seven (laughing). They all are really my favorites in some way. Every song that has gone to radio has been a song I had written. Most of the albums have been mostly comprised of what I have been a part of as a songwriter. Yeah, they are all really special. I can’t believe there have been that many. You always feel like your next one is going to be better the one before. You always want to top it.

4. What have been your big influences and have they changed at all over the years as you have matured as a songwriter?

I definitely always listen to new sounds and ideas and what the current sound is out there. I grew up listening to country. My dad listened to a lot of old school stuff. He loved Hank Williams and John Williams and George Strait and Randy Travis. Then in ’89 when Alan Jackson and Clint Black and Garth Brooks came out that was a big influence on me. As soon as I moved to Nashville, I started digging deeper into bluegrass music and Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, Bill Monroe, Osmond Brothers but even now Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam and U2. There are a lot of rock bands that I think are great, and that influence the live part of our show.

5. You have a couple of daughters now. How does that affect your songwriting and your career in general, always being on the road?

It’s a part of my music of course. There is a song on my record called “Thinking of You,” which is about being away from my three year old. It’s tough, they just break your heart, they’re the greatest thing in the world, so it’s tough to be away from them. In a weird way, it makes the show better just because you know you are making a sacrifice by being away from them and they are missing you, so you go out every night and it actually makes the show that much more important. You tell the guys in the band before we walk on stage, “We’ve got people that are missing us, we’ve got to make this day worth it, worth that sacrifice.” You have to go out there and put on a more kick-ass show than any of them have had before, need to make it worthwhile for everybody. It actually makes me feel better in a lot of ways.

6. The song “Home” on your new album has a military connection – obviously we have a lot of military connections here with the Nationals. How big of an influence has the military had on your life and what was the background for writing that song?

My dad was in the army; my grandfather was in the army. We’ve played military bases like Twin Palms and Walter Reed, even on military bases in other countries. It’s something you think about every day. A lot of soldiers and families are backstage for meet and greets every night. I see them out in the crowds holding up their dog tags and military ID cards. We’ve done stuff to continually support the Wounded Warriors Project. It’s something we speak about a lot. The song “Home” kind of started about a lot of things. It starts off in the current moment, in the plane bound west and looking down the country, thinking about the good and bad and the hard times and the great times. But as the song progresses, I think it’s the third verse, it talks about the founding fathers, actually talks about the first immigrants. Thinking about people coming here for religious freedom, for whatever, and they signed their names for something they believed, talking about the founding fathers. Risking their lives to sign the Declaration of Independence. “How the blood ran red and we laid our dead in sacred ground.” Thinking about all the military people that have sacrificed from the very beginning to now, the people who died for this country, I wonder what they would think. That’s definitely the connection there and it’s a part of the video and it’s a big part of the song. I’m glad there are families out there and they can connect to that.

Dierks Bentley tells Curly W Live that he and the band are “fired up” to play Nationals Park this weekend.

7. How excited are you to come to D.C. and play at Nationals Park?

I love the baseball stadiums, they’re a blast. I get a chance to watch a game and sometimes throw out a pitch and hang out. Then when I go out there, everyone is already fired up and usually in a good mood, either way, win or lose and I go play some music in a huge venue. Playing ballparks is a blast.

It’s not just me, it’s everyone in the band. Everyone is really excited to get out there. We are all huge baseball fans in the whole bus. Just being able to go to a game and enjoy a day like that and get a chance to go out there and play, it’s great. We’ve had a lot of people that hit me up in the area about this particular show and performance, a lot of people coming out that are friends of mine. It’s just going to be a great day. Gives me a great feeling. It seems like a real American type of gig. It’s a night at the ballpark playing music. It is fun for all of us. We are fired up.

8. Do you have any superstitions before every gig?

I have these old boots that I have had for a long time that actually require duct tape every night to put on, because they have so many rips and tears in them. I guess that’s a weird ritual. As far as food goes, its whatever you can find. Some days it’s a great meal, some days it’s whatever is lying around. It’ll probably be some hot dogs over there when I’m at Nationals Park.

9. You talk about looking forward to the first pitch. Did you play baseball growing up?

Yeah, I never progressed too far with it. I played a little bit as a kid. I love being out there on the field. It is a great feeling and it’s cool to hang out and talk to some of the players. Turns out a lot of them are country fans. It changes your world a little bit. Checking out the stands, checking out the locker rooms and the clubhouse, seeing how those guys do it. Talking about traveling and being on the road, there are a lot of common things we share. It’s always good to see someone else’s world. And being on the mound, it’s a great feeling.

Fan question, from @AngelMickey1993 on Twitter: “What advice would you give an aspiring country singer?”

That’s a great question. Sing wherever you live. Sing as much for friends, family, or find a local place and sing there too. Just look for any avenue possible to get going. There is no one way of doing it. All I can say is sing and sing to as many people as you possibly can.

A Hero Comes Home

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During every game at Nationals Park, after the hometown nine have finished batting in the third inning, fans are directed to the landing behind the homeplate screen, where a group of military veterans are recognized. The Nationals are the only team to carry this tradition at each game, and fans and players alike – both home and away – respond the same way every time, with a standing ovation. The moment is always touching, as is the show of solidarity as we all take a moment away from the game to remember what really matters.

At the same time, each of those veterans has his or her own individual story. Following the preseason exhibition game against the Boston Red Sox, both players and fans were introduced to the group that comprises the Washington Nationals Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team. Nationals players had a chance to meet a few of them and get to know some of our more recently wounded warriors better in a recent trip to Walter Reed. But there was another story, one that flew under the radar for most, that played out at Nationals Park earlier this year.

Petty Officer Christopher Karnbach, an intelligence specialist in the Navy Reserves, was set to take off on deployment to Cuba last July when he began looking at special services to help his two children, Abby and Christopher Jr., while he was away. Unfortunately, with his deployment running into May, he would have to miss Opening Day at Nationals Park, something he had attended with his son the year prior and intended to become a father-son tradition.

The Karnbach family reunited in April.

“I managed to sneak in Abby’s birthday before I left and Christopher’s birthday was in February so I bought him tickets for Opening Day,” said Karnbach. “We had played hooky from school last year and we came in and saw the game. With me being gone, I had called my wife up and asked, ‘if I get him tickets for Opening Day, will you take him?’ She called in sick and they had a blast.”

Even though he couldn’t be there in person this year, Karnbach was following the game from Cuba. He was able to pick it up on television just in time to see the game go into extra innings.

“I ran home as fast as I could just to see Ryan Zimmerman score that last run,” he recalled. “Then I started texting (my family) like crazy.”

Without baseball to bring them together, Karnbach looked into other programs available for his children through the military’s family services. Both Abby and Christopher Jr. enrolled in martial arts, and Karnbach’s wife Ann-Marie would keep dad updated on their progress. Little did he know that the Navy would find out about his family’s involvement in the programs and decide to award them Military Family of the Year.

Karnbach was not set to return to the states until May, but it was arranged for him to come home a few weeks early to attend a special ceremony in which he would receive the honor. The only catch, was that he could not tell his family in advance, as the ceremony – and family reunion – would be a surprise.

There was just one problem – Karnbach arrived home a day early, and found himself stuck, unable to go home for fear of ruining the festivities planned for the next day. So, he hid out the one place where he knew he could relax, calm his nerves, and blend into the crowd.

“I had a full day in Maryland, and I’m this close to home,” Karnbach explained. “I was like, ‘I am going to see the Nats play.’”

The baseball side of Karnbach’s story could have ended there. After all, little did Karnbach know that Nationals television broadcaster F.P. Santangelo would be present at his family’s reunion the next day.

The Karnbach family takes part in the Military Salute at Nationals Park on April 19.

“It was probably one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen,” said Santangelo. “There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. I’ve never seen behind the scenes what it puts a family through. To see kids without their fathers, without their mothers who have been deployed, then to watch him come home, it was really touching and moving.”

Santangelo was so touched by the whole experience, he offered to bring the whole family out to the ballpark as his personal guests that night.

“(After I) watched the game Wednesday night I thought ‘alright, I got my Nats fix in,’” said Karnbach. “And then when we met, (Santangelo) said ‘here’s my number, call me and I can get you some tickets.’ My wife was like ‘we’re going.’ I said ‘I haven’t even been home yet.’ She said ‘we’re going.’ So I was like ‘OK, we’re going.'”

As a result, Karnbach got his proper welcome home with his fellow vets at the end of the third inning. Right on cue, before the military salute, Zimmerman blasted his first home run of the season, a three-run shot into the visitor’s bullpen that sent Karnbach cheering. It was obvious he was still a bit overwhelmed and just amazingly grateful for everything that had happened to bring him and his family back together that night.

“To me, this is just the coolest thing ever,” he said. “Everything the Nationals have done for my family, and me, this is great.”

For the Nationals, it is stories like Karnbach’s that make everything else worthwhile.

For more on Karnbach’s story, watch the video of his family’s reunion here.

Don’t Say the “S” Word

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As anyone who has been following the Nationals this year already knows, the team has done a great job early in series so far. Washington is 11-5 in series openers in 2012, and 12-3 in the middle contest of three-game sets. But, for whatever reason, the Nationals have had trouble closing the deal. They are just 5-10 in series finales, and in possible sweep situations, they have failed in each of their first nine attempts (not including the rainout vs. Miami on April 22, which prevented the final game of the series from being played). The 10th attempt at a sweep comes tonight, on national television, as part of a marquee pitching matchup against the division-rival Braves.

The Nationals will have their work cut out for them tonight, facing Brandon Beachy and his league-leading 1.77 ERA. But Washington’s 13-10 (.565) road record is the best in the National League, and with Gio Gonzalez (1.98 ERA, 3rd in NL) on the hill, you have to expect an intense, well-fought, low-scoring game for both sides. So, what do you think, Nats fans: is tonight the night?

Kyle’s Kamp

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The Nationals may be on the road for Memorial Day Weekend, but baseball is still being played at Nationals Park this weekend. While the big league club battles it out for National League East supremacy in Atlanta, the players here in D.C. are fighting for a much larger cause.

On Friday, the club hosts the opening ceremony for the Washington Nationals Memorial Day Wood Bat Tournament in partnership with Kyle’s Kamp and Children’s National Medical Center. The man behind putting this all together is Rob Hahne, the father of Kyle Hahne, an avid baseball fan who, at the age of six in late 2010, was diagnosed with Leukemia.

The first games of the tournament got underway Friday afternoon.

Rob did what we can all only hope to do when confronted with a life-altering situation, and decided to try to make the best of it by using the game of baseball to raise awareness and money for other children suffering through the same types of afflictions as his son. His crusade began with a tournament last year around Memorial Day, for which the players were able to raise a total of about $12,000.

While some might consider that quite an accomplishment, Hahne knew he could do better. He looked at the big picture, and saw no bigger opportunity when it came to baseball in Washington D.C. than working with the Nationals.

“We had a lot of doubters at our first meeting when I said, ‘we want to approach the Nationals and we want to raise $250,000,’” explained Hahne. “We had a lot of blank stares.”

Not to be deterred, Hahne reached out and made contact with the club. The Nationals jumped at the opportunity to support Hahne in his cause, donating use of the Major League field and ballpark for the tournament.

“This was an easy decision for us because of our great relationship with both Children’s National Medical Center and the youth baseball community,” said Israel Negron, Nationals Senior Director of Community Relations. “This is exactly the type of community event we envisioned hosting when we built Nationals Park. We are thrilled that the ballpark could help boost their fundraising efforts.”

Rob Hahne named his foundation after his son, Kyle (right).

Boost they did. The end result is a tournament with ceremonies that will include over 3,000 players, ages eight through adult, from nearly 200 Mid-Atlantic region teams. Remember that outlandish goal of $250,000 that Hahne proposed last October?

“We are up to over $400,000,” he said, proudly. “That doesn’t even include what we will raise this weekend. We’re hoping to double our (original) goal, and hit $500,000.”

As a reward for their hard work and amazing charitable efforts, the six teams that raised the most funds will play against one another at Nationals Park leading up to the ceremony. The rest of the tournament will take place around the Washington metropolitan area throughout the holiday weekend.

The numbers are great, but what’s really important is where the money goes. The funds raised will benefit the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children’s National Medical Center, helping other children like Kyle. For Hahne and his wife, that’s the best way they can help fight for their son.

“It offers us peace and support seeing all the people coming together, the community coming together on the behalf of families like ours,” he said. “We see a lot of families who can’t afford the type of things we can afford, and we want to make sure they get the same treatment.”

Click here for more information about this weekend’s tournament and how you can be a part of Kyle’s Kamp.

Rock The Vote

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It’s an election year in Washington, which means we’ll all be subjected to months of campaigns, contentious debate and awkward dinner-table conversation about politics. But there’s another set of voting which we can all get behind: 2012 All-Star voting! Using the hashtag #VoteNats on Twitter, we will be encouraging you to vote as many times as possible between now and 11:59 p.m. on June 28. Join us and let’s get as many of your favorite Nationals as possible into this year’s All-Star Game!


First Base – Adam LaRoche | #LaRocheIn12

If any Nationals position player has been deserving of an All-Star nod, it’s been LaRoche. The team leader in RBI through mid-May, Washington’s cleanup hitter has been the stabilizing force in an often shifting lineup. LaRoche has also been quietly spectacular at first base, making his case as arguably the MVP of the team so far.


Second Base – Danny Espinosa | #EspiIn12 | @DannyEspinosa18

Espinosa got off to a slow start on offense to begin the year, but as of May 23, he has collected three home runs in his last dozen games and continues to play stellar defense up the middle. Four of his eight multi-hit games have come since May 12, a period over which he is batting .297. He also continues to torch lefties, to the tune of a .300/.400/.467 slash line.


Third Base – Ryan Zimmerman | #ZimmIn12

Since bouncing back from an early season injury, Zimmerman has batted .273 and has shown signs of heating up lately, going 7-for-15 with a double and a home run in the three-game Battle of the Beltways Series against Baltimore. He also provides his trademark Gold Glove defense at third base, where he has already compiled a reel of highlights this season.


Shortstop – Ian Desmond | #DesiIn12 | @IanDesmond20

Nationals fans have been waiting to see what might happen when everything clicked for their shortstop. Desmond has been a true two-way talent in 2012, showing tremendous range with a cannon arm on defense and lighting up opposing pitchers with his power. He leads the team with 24 extra-base hits (13 doubles, one triple, eight home runs), including one of the biggest hits all year, a walk-off blast to beat the Diamondbacks in early May.


Outfield – Rick Ankiel | #AnkielIn12

Ankiel can still punish a mistake, as evidenced by his blast off Roy Halladay in Philadelphia on Tuesday night, one of his three longballs to date this year. But the converted pitcher will always be known for his lockdown defense, especially his arm, which may be unrivaled by any center fielder in the National League. Simply put, don’t run on Rick.


Write-In Outfielder – Bryce Harper | #BryceIn12

What else can you say about a 19 year-old rookie who has been asked to step in and play all three outfield positions, hit anywhere between second and seventh in the lineup, come up from the minors to inject an offensive spark into the team, and who has responded to the challenge? It will take a write-in campaign to get him to Kansas City for the mid-summer classic, but we get the feeling he might just find his way there. Harper has heated up with four multi-hit performances in his last five games, including a huge night against Roy Halladay Tuesday.


Write-In Second Baseman – Steve Lombardozzi | #LomboIn12

There’s that other rookie on the club putting up some pretty impressive numbers as well. He has filled in as the super utility man, playing at second base, third base, and recently in left field. He does a little bit of everything on offense, and his versatility was never more visible than when he single-handedly beat the Astros with a career night on April 16.


Feel free to write in any other Nationals position player you think is deserving to represent the National League at this year’s festivities. Remember that the pitching staff is arranged by the manager and coaches, but rest assured that the Nationals should be well-represented, as the only staff in the Major Leagues with a sub-3.00 ERA (2.87) and an MLB-best 375 strikeouts.

The Ignite Your NATITUDE Tweet-Up

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For those involved in the Twitter community, tweet-ups have become a fun way for those who interact in the space and share interests to meet in person. To us, there is no better place to meet than the ballpark, and so, the Ignite Your NATITUDE Tweet-up (#IYNT) was born.

#IYNT will take place before and during the Nationals July 3 contest vs. the San Francisco Giants. To attend the event, we encourage fans to RSVP via Twitter using the hashtag #IYNT. Seat location for the event will not be released until the tickets actually go on sale on June 22, but the more people that RSVP, the better everyone’s seats will be! We’ll have great giveaways leading up to and during the event, as well as a bunch of others perks that we’ll tell you about as the date approaches. Read on for more details, and we hope you’ll join us for this exciting social media event!

WHO: All @Nationals followers

WHAT: First-ever Ignite Your NATITUDE Tweet-up (#IYNT)

WHERE: Nationals Park; Fans encouraged to RT and share with followers to improve seats – more RSVPs = better seats!

WHEN: Tuesday, July 3, 2012 at 6:35pm vs. San Francisco Giants; Gates open at 4:00pm; Tickets available June 22

DETAILS: The Nationals are excited to hold the inaugural Ignite Your NATITUDE Tweet-up (#IYNT) at the ballpark on Tuesday, July 3, 2012 when the Nationals host the San Francisco Giants at 6:35pm. In addition to providing a space for those who follow us in the Twittersphere to congregate and meet one another, we will be offering a special ticket discount and a commemorative poster exclusive to the event. The seating location for Tweet-up seats will improve the more RSVPs we receive before the on-sale date on June 22. Fans are encouraged to follow @Nationals for incentives to help improve the seating location as the June 22 on-sale date approaches.

On the day of the event, the Nationals will reward fans who show up early with prizes and offer additional pre-game interactive games and giveaways. Throughout the game, those who follow @Nationals will enjoy an interactive fan experience never before seen at Nationals Park.

Be sure to follow @Nationals on Twitter or visit for additional details as they are announced.

Battle of the Beltways

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The Battle of the Beltways takes on extra significance in 2012.

Major League Baseball introduced Interleague Play in 1997, eliciting a mixed reaction from fans. Some purists were upset with the break from tradition, while others welcomed the chance to see players from the opposite league they would only otherwise be able to see play by traveling, or if, by chance, they happened to be the opponent of the hometown nine in the World Series. Regardless of the initial reactions, Interleague Play has been largely a success, with perhaps its greatest victory lying in the regional rivalries it has created.

The geography of MLB as it exists today leads to natural, metropolitan Interleague rivalries in 10 regions:

–       Subway Series: Yankees vs. Mets

–       Freeway Series: Dodgers vs. Angels

–       Cross-town Classic: Cubs vs. White Sox

–       Bay Bridge Series: A’s vs. Giants

–       I-70 Series: Cardinals vs. Royals

–       Ohio Cup: Reds vs. Indians

–       Lone Star Series: Rangers vs. Astros

–       Citrus Series: Marlins vs. Rays

–       (No official name, but battle of former AL rivals): Twins vs. Brewers

–       And of course, the Battle of the Beltways: Nationals vs. Orioles

While the D.C./Baltimore rivalry has often lacked in relevance to the overall postseason picture, there has nevertheless been a slowly developing importance to this series. As the Nationals only entered the picture in 2005, and the teams didn’t actually face each other until ‘06, there has been less time to build the momentum of a true rivalry, but 2012 should help accelerate that process. Never have these two teams met with as good a combined record as they do beginning Friday night in the Nation’s Capital.

With Stephen Strasburg throwing the series finale, expect high drama on Sunday.

Baltimore is the surprise of the American League East so far this season. Despite often getting out of the gates well over the last 10 seasons, few expected the Orioles to be on top of one of the toughest divisions in the game in mid-May. Their record entering Friday stands at 25-14, one game up on the Tampa Bay Rays and four clear of third-place Toronto. If the season ended today, shockingly, the Yankees would finish fourth and the Red Sox fifth.

The Nationals, meanwhile, have occupied the top spot in the NL East for much of the season, but come into the series trailing the Braves by a half-game at 23-15. Needless to say, the teams’ combined record of 48-29 is by far the best of any geographic rivals matching up this weekend (the Florida teams are second-best at 44-33).

This series promises meaningful games and, if precedence holds, some really compelling drama as well. Of the 36 total games played between the clubs, 23 have been decided by two runs or less, including 15 one-run contests. The Orioles own the slight overall edge, posting a 19-17 record since the inception of the Battle of the Beltways, but the Nationals have fared better as of late. Washington took four-of-six last year, and has won four of the last five games played between the two teams along the shores of the Anacostia.

The Sunday series finale might offer the best storyline of the series, with Stephen Strasburg slated to take on undefeated free agent acquisition Wie-Yin Chen in either a rubber-match or possible sweep scenario. Regardless of the outcome, D.C. and Baltimore baseball fans are set up for the most exciting weekend the Battle of the Beltways has ever seen.

Ryan Mattheus: All About the Fans

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Two more Nationals took the plunge this week, joining the growing ranks of players on Twitter: Ian Desmond and Ryan Mattheus. While Desmond is all set up with his profile, Mattheus hasn’t touched his yet. Why not? Because he’s letting you – the fan – construct his page for him!

Below are three photos of Ryan for you to choose from to use for his profile. Vote in the poll below for your favorite, and that’s the one we’ll use to help him create his page! Feel free to leave other suggestions in the comments, and let us know how else you’d like to see our players participate through Twitter.

Photo Number One

Photo Number Two

Photo Number Three