Other Than That, How Was The Race, Mrs. Lincoln?


New weekend editor Christmas Ape tried out to be one of the guys who run the Presidents Races at Washington Nationals games. Here's how it went.

I've attended a handful of Nationals games each of the three years they've been in D.C. and the composition of the crowd is largely unchanged from the midpoint of their first season on: bored couples, bored families, Hill staffers I want to garrote with piano wire and more than a small smattering of opposing fans. But last year on Opening Day, I glimpsed what, to me, was the first moment of palpable excitement in RFK since baseball returned to D.C. in 2005 and, of course, it had nothing to do with the sport itself.

The team had the 12-foot-tall Teddy Roosevelt mascot president, winless then as now, rappel down from the roof of the stadium in a failed Wile E. Coyote-esque plot to overtake Washington, Lincoln and Jefferson in the presidents race. The crowd ate it up like campaign pandering. It was all people talked about on the way out of the park. New stadium aside, fans still seem more interested in seeing whether Teddy wins than whether the team will finish above .500 (He won't, they won't).

So when DS commenter Becky sent me a link about how the Nats were looking for folks to fill part-time roles as one of the Dead Prez, there was no way my impulsiveness and my recollection of that day wasn't going to win out.

And there I found myself yesterday morning with 30 other people ready to don the wobbly 40 lb. suit of dead white man. Many of them were like myself - nerdy twentysomething dudes who were quietly thinking they were better than the other people there - but there were also quite a number of guys in their 40s and 50s in full Nats regalia (curly W hat, Nats windbreaker, low expectations) and, lo and behold, even two women, one of whom came with a broken arm in a sling.

Broken Arm Girl was quite a hit with the assembled sad sack feature reporters tasked to cover this event, because, well, when you're looking for color for the 12-inch mascot tryouts story you're filing for tomorrow's paper, you'll take anything you can get. Apparently she had broken it earlier in the week in a basketball game hitting the ground after going for a rebound.

"I'm not gonna let one little injury prevent my summer of fun," she told one reporter.

"Well, I don't know. But it's about time we had a female president, right?" she said to another.

It was clear: This girl was out for blood.

There was no Teddy available for us plebeians — he was too busy "training" — so they paired us up by threes for heats as Washington, Lincoln and Jefferson. After watching a few brave souls have a go at it, I was finally ready to suit up as Christmas Abe.

/pause for groans

Whatever preconceptions I had about being able to see while in the costume were immediately quashed. The gauze-like fist-sized hole in the president's neck you're supposed to look through is mostly obscured by the character's jaw, so your field of vision is pretty much limited to your feet. And though you're strapped in, that giant head will lurch wherever it pleases and kill the shit out of your back trying to keep it aloft.

We got up to the starting line and the Nats entertainment coordinator tells us, "Okay, no shtick. I just wanna see your speed out there on the first run." As if my shtick up to that point had been anything other than "please, oh please Lord don't let me fall." Immediately upon starting, the guy in the Jefferson costume next to me falls dead on his face, almost tripping me up in the process, but I quickly recover and bound my way down the right field foul territory from the foul pole to the dugout, finishing a decided second behind that asshole Washington. He'll save children, but not the British children, indeed.

Here's the clip:

Before the return run to the foul pole, one of the staffers tells us he wants full-on speed for the second run but to throw in "a little Chariots of Fire action at the end," which I take to mean running in slow motion and not being an overrated movie from the '80s. After that, we're judged on our victory dances. For some reason, I'm temporarily tempted to try Shawne Merriman's "Lights Out" sack celebration as Lincoln but, afraid again of falling over, opt for some "Choo-Choo" The Hurkey-Jerky Dancer action instead.

Several local TV news teams had arrived at this point, and they wanted to have a word with the guy who fell on his face in the Jefferson costume, because, really, it's not like Broken Arm Girl had broken the arm here. So five minutes ago.

Finally, each contestant was marshaled into a private room to meet with three youngish intern-type people for the interview segment, in which you're asked such probing questions as "What part of the experience did you like best?" and "Which of the presidents do you most identify with?"

Me: "Well, uh, that is, I like Lincoln, because, uh, he's tall and he, um, he ended slavery."

They seemed to buy that.