Nationals hold Racing Presidents auditions

December 16th, 2019

WASHINGTON -- Your name is called, and you mosey your way into the prep area. All of a sudden, a 50-pound contraption of metal, plastic and felt is draped on you like a backpack, with your only vision coming through a mesh screen inches from your nose. You enter this cone of silence, told you may not speak. You're in character.

Even if you went for a four-mile jog yesterday -- or if you are a member of the U.S. Navy -- you're huffing and puffing by the time you've been set free.

If you're one of the lucky ones, sooner or later this could be your part-time job -- in front of tens of thousands of people, in the middle of July heat.

You are an aspiring Racing President, and these are your tryouts.

Forty-four hopeful residents from around the mid-Atlantic descended upon the Nationals' Youth Baseball Academy complex in Southeast D.C. on early Sunday morning, looking to become a member of the rotating cast that dons the Racing Presidents' costumes over the course of the 2020 season.

The Racing Presidents' responsibilities include charity visits to hospitals around the Greater Washington area, hyping up Fan Fests and offseason events and, of course, the antics on the warning track in the middle of the fourth inning during every home game.

"Full disclosure," said Jennifer of Falls Church, Va., one of Sunday's applicants, "that's probably my favorite part of the games."

For some, this is their chance to take a step closer toward working with an organization that brought a championship to the nation's capital this past November. For others, it is an opportunity to continue their mascot days from college or even grade school. For a few, it's simply a once-in-a-lifetime shot to try on the 50-pound costume and see how little they can fail at it.

"When's the next chance to be a Racing President?" said Brian, a competitor from Washington, who is soon to transition out of the U.S. Navy.

Preparations for the trials vary. Some, like Brian, didn't change much in their regimen. Others took unusual methods -- like running around with reams of paper in a backpack -- to try and simulate what it would be like to try and maneuver with a president's head.

But nothing can prepare you for the actual competition, which consists of a timed 40-yard dash, racing two other competitors around the warning track, choreographing a dance and hitting a final send-off pose.

All while making sure to simply stay upright.

"It's hard," said Brian, who raced as Thomas Jefferson. "But it's a different kind of hard."

A handful of the 44 selected on Sunday will go on to serve as a Racing President until next year's tryouts, where they can run the gauntlet again. Their last names are kept mum as to not take away from the presidential persona. The group selected will be responsible for the main source of non-baseball entertainment at Nationals Park over the upcoming Spring.

"When I go to a Nats game, there's no question I'm going to be there early enough to see the race," said John, a participant from Arlington, Va.

Now they have the chance to see the race from a perspective that can't get any more up close and personal.

"And here I am on a cold December morning," Brian said.