Monday, October 6, 2014

Washington Social Diary

The leaves have not begun to show much color in Washington, but still the first Sunday of October felt like fall and was especially photogenic along the Potomac River in Georgetown, including signs of Nationals team spirit.
Washington And Its Quest For Big City Sports Cred
by Carol Joynt

The decisions made in Washington impact lives and prompt actions throughout the world. It’s a city defined by tedious bureaucracy — hard, often monotonous work, high voltage intellect, rare recognition for deserving staff and, except for a small but significant private sector, not as much money as you read about. Distraction is essential and it comes for many in the form of sports.

With major league football, baseball, hockey, basketball, and soccer teams, there is no greater shared gloom that lands on Washington than the morning-after gloom of a big sports loss. Its dimension is proportionate to the giddy level of joy that comes with a big win. This is because our teams serve as the fun bond of our disparate population, and the routines of counting your money, spending it, making laws, spending more of it.
More from the first Sunday of October ...
Our teams make us like the cool sports cities we’re not but aspire to be, and where many of us come from — New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston. Sports offers us the illusion of normalcy. The leader of the free world can be an everyman, the government shift worker from Bladensburg has seats as good as his boss, the tech master of the universe, who usually suffers nerd anonymity, can own the team. We all show up in spirited logo gear, some in goofy hats, we tailgate, we shout our lungs out, and feel legit. The shared passion, the ups and downs, allow an emotional release that isn’t found in the controlled, routine, occasionally dehumanizing bubble of the Washington worker’s life.

Right now, today in fact, is a big sports moment in Washington and it's twofold. We have our old football team appearing tonight on Monday Night Football. The Redskins are one of the great franchises, with three Super Bowl titles and five NFC championships, and a deep fan base, but the franchise is mired in controversy and has a tone-deaf, unpopular owner in Daniel Snyder, not to mention a rookie coach and a high priced, superstar quarterback who is on the inactive list. Its season hangs in the balance, just barely.
The Redskins opener in September 2013, the beginning of a not very good season. Actually, a terrible season.
Also on TV tonight, we have our young baseball team, the Washington Nationals, that just won the NL East division championship – for the second time – and who are easy to love, with relatively popular owners in Ted and Annette Lerner and their family, but it’s a team that is still adapting to the stresses of October competition while also training the fan base in how to be baseball loyal (such as rule #1, don’t depart before the game ends).

Washington’s football history is rich. In the '70s (after we lost our first MLB team, the Senators), through the '80s and into the early '90s, with the ownership of Edward Bennett Williams and Jack Kent Cooke, the football team was the principal bond that brought Washington together, from Anacostia to Georgetown to rural parts of Virginia and Maryland. We proudly called them the “Redskins” without thinking twice about it. I grew up in a household where Redskins football was a ritual.
A fan thrill: a field pass for Monday night football.
For me, at least, passionate fandom for the Redskins is slipping away. It doesn’t have to do with the players, either. I’m keen on quarterback Robert Griffin III, and (as one who has had three ACL surgeries in my youth) cheer emphatically for his recovery and strong good health. But I also don’t think the Redskins deserve him (if they ever did) and if he got traded to a more deserving team I would probably think good thoughts.

In June of 2013, RGIII and CJ in the Redskins practice bubble. That was when he was recovering from knee surgery. Now he's on the injured list with a bad ankle.
On the right, Redskins president Bruce Allen, the son of a former Redskins coach, pre-game.
My cooling on the team has everything to do with becoming aware of the inappropriateness of the team name and being saddened by the hostility that has developed between those in favor of a new name and those who want to keep things as they are, led by Snyder. The two sides fight on local talk radio, in op-eds, social media and also recently The Daily Show. The issue was mocked on “South Park.” A roster of public officials, celebrities and other notables has weighed in on behalf of a name change. It comes up in almost any conversation about Washington football. Simply put, Snyder has it in his power to stop the nonsense and help us get back to the fun stuff.

I’m not privy to the world of an NFL team owner, nor can I imagine the depths of business expertise demanded at that level. But I assume the public controversy will matter only when it matters to the sponsors, such as Gatorade, FedEx, Budweiser, Ticketmaster, and the networks, and then it will matter to the (also currently unpopular) NFL leadership, and then Snyder may have to come to terms.

I want to believe that at Redskins headquarters in Ashburn, VA, a secret committee has been tasked to at least explore the process of a name change – the business of it, the marketing of it, the timing of it. I imagine they meet in a room with soundproofing comparable to the White House situation room, and that all papers and documents are shredded, and vows of silence are taken after each discussion. It would be lead by Bruce Allen, the team president (son of the former coach, brother of the former U.S. senator), who Snyder brought in to successfully calm some of the troubled waters around him.  Maybe the committee keeps Snyder out of it, because they know he has to come round at his own pace. It’s hard to walk back from a vow to “never” change the name, but it can be done.

Is a name change inevitable? Yes, and it should be and here’s why:

• It’s right
• The fans will adapt
• Change is good
• It will lift the bad karma that is on the team like a thick fog
But back to baseball, because baseball makes me happy even when it breaks my heart. As I write this, it is the morning after a grueling, record-setting, 18 inning, six–and-a-half hour postseason game against the San Francisco Giants, who won 2-1.  I was there with my friend Luke Mullins – both of us tricked out in Nats gear, shouting and clapping, roaring and cringing. It was fun. It was cold, but it was fun except when it was crushing. It was a scene. A lot of the players showed up, and I’m not talking about on the field. We spotted Mayor Vincent Gray, City Council chairman Phil Mendelson, Marine Commandant Gen. James Amos, Steve Case, Jim Kimsey, Chuck Todd, Mark Ein, Rusty Lindner, Juan Williams, Alan and Nancy Taylor Bubes (but where was your BFF Tony Kornheiser, Alan?), among the more than 44,000 in the stands.
The bunting hangs from the owners' boxes at Nationals Park.
The cheerleaders hang out in the moments before the first pitch.
Pre-game chow down at the Diamond Club, where tickets cost upwards of $225 but included endless food, beer and wine.
Team spirit in shirts and hats.
Getting the field ready before game 2 of the Nationals-Giants meetup.
The national anthem sung by D.C. Washington, declared the best national anthem singer by the Washington City Paper.
Getting the fans to cheer louder, louder, LOUDER.
Pitcher Jordan Zimmerman at Saturday's game in which he was on the mound into the 8th inning. Only the week before he pitched the team's first no-hitter. MASN announcer F.P. Santangelo having the night off to enjoy the game as a spectator.
All the way over to the right, in the blue blazer, is Mark Ein.
Greeting veterans in the President's Club, overlooking home plate, are Marine Commandant Gen. James Amos and his wife, Bonnie.
Rituals of a Nats game: there's always a tribute to military veterans and their families, who sit in the President's Club.
And there's always a goofy foot race of the "Racing Presidents" - Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, Roosevelt (Teddy) and Taft.
DC Mayor Vincent Gray greets Gen. Amos, along with DC City Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and Nats VP Gregory McCarthy.
Little did we know that as the sun set we would be in for a long game -- 6 1/2 hours and 18 innings before it was won by the SF Giants.
Team spirit in the 10th inning. CJ with Luke Mullins -- freezing but optimistic.
Warming up between innings, Washington writer and journalist Luke Mullins with childhood buddies Brian Fitzgerald and John "Mac" McCarthy, who runs a popular baseball camp used by many Washington families.
Late in the game, fans were in and out of the Diamond Club to keep warm. By the later innings (oh, 11th, 12th, 13th and beyond) the outdoor temp dropped toward 50 degrees.
As you read this, the Nats, down 0-2 in the NLDS, are set to meet the Giants for game 3 in San Francisco. It is, as they say, a must win for Washington. At practically the same time this evening, the Washington Redskins will be at FedEx Field outside the city, confronting the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, who have been playing like they are the real-life “Guardians of the Galaxy.” The Redskins, so far this season, have one win, three losses. I don’t even want to put into words what the dim expectation is for us, though this is also the kind of scenario where Washington can be a crazy surprise and win. (It happened with the NY Giants a few years ago, and Eli & Company went on to win the Super Bowl). The spotlight will be on backup quarterback Kirk Cousins.
Kirk Cousins will hopefully walk off Monday night's game in high spirits.
If the baseball and football teams lose, the Tuesday morning gloom will be tangible. On the other hand, with wins, it will be a day of ecstatic high fives. Or, both, which would be so suited to Washington. It’s a mystery.

Regardless, hockey’s regular season begins on Wednesday. The NBA season opener is a few weeks away. At this point, we’re always full of hope for the Caps and the Wizards. It’s an ironic Washington trait: cockeyed optimism.
Clockwise from top left: Slugger Bryce Harper celebrates the night the Nats clinched the NLEast Division championship; Fan favorites (and CJ faves, too) Jayson Werth and Anthony Rendon. Both are exceptionally fun to watch; The Nationals manager, Matt Williams, and bench coach, Randy Knorr.
The National Symphony Ball

Whenever I go to a symphony at the Kennedy Center I feel like I’m out with the parents. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because, even at this stage in my life, I still associate listening to the symphony as something enjoyed by the grown ups, while I might prefer to be at Lollapalooza. Still, the National Symphony puts on a great show, and especially on the night of their annual ball. This year it was the 84th, with 700 guests paying upwards of $1,000 a seat (and a plate), on a Sunday night, with everyone as dressed up as they ever get short of white tie and tails.
Cocktails by the fountains on the Kennedy Center terrace before the National Symphony concert and ball.
The evening was almost too beautiful to go indoors, but the show was great.
Inside the Kennedy Center Concert Hall as the National Symphony performed the national anthem.
Spotted in the crowd at pre-concert cocktails, or in the Concert Hall, were Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, orchestra board chair Jeanne Ruesch, Kennedy Center chairman David Rubenstein, board members Tina and Albert “Sonny” Small, Sydney and Jay Johnson, Bitsey Folger and Sidney Werkman,  Catherine and Wayne Reynolds, Ann and Vernon Jordan, Mary and Mandy Ourisman, Rep. Jim Moran of Virginia, and the Center’s new president, Deborah Rutter.

It was a beautiful evening. Almost a shame to go indoors, but then there was the music, conducted by maestro Christoph Eschenbach with special guest stars Joshua Bell on violin and soprano Kelli O’Hara. Later, all removed themselves to a beautifully adorned tent for dinner and dancing. The evening raised $1.4 million. We include here some of my photos and some photos submitted by the National Symphony.
Deborah Rutter with Wayne and Catherine Reynolds (and Jim Johnson in the background).
Jay and Sydney "Nini"  Johnson. Sunlen and Alexis Serfaty.
Jeanne Ruesch with Albert "Sonny" Small and Tina Small.
Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg, Cristoph Eschenbach, and Joshua Bell.
NOS Principal Pops Conductor Steven Reineke and NSO board chairman Jeanne Reusch.
Ann Jordan and Deborah Rutter. Wayne and Catherine Reynolds.
Joshua Bell and Catherine Reynolds.
Joshua Bell and Deborah Rutter.
Roses and a dance band at the Symphony Ball dinner and dance.
Photographs by Carol Joynt and Margot Schulman & Yassine El Mansouri (National Symphony).

Follow Carol on twitter @caroljoynt