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Minor League, Major Fun

Pfitzner Stadium Celebrates Its 30th Anniversary

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By Peter Lineberry

Tucked behind and a little downhill from the county government administration building in Woodbridge, off of Prince William Parkway on County Complex Court, sits the hidden gem of G. Richard Pfitzner Stadium, home of the Potomac Nationals.

Perhaps the stadium’s not really hidden, as the Minor League Baseball team welcomed a club-record 236,000 fans to its 70 home games last season. Yet it is barely visible from the parkway and miles from either of Prince William County’s highways—a fact that may lead to big changes soon.

In the meantime, whether you diligently track earned run averages and on-base percentages, or are just searching for a family-oriented summertime activity, a visit to “the Pfitz,” which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, offers a healthy dose of Americana and more fun things to experience than you can shake a Louisville Slugger at.

Overlooking the field from the press box

Meet the Team

The Potomac Nationals are the Class-A minor league affiliate of the Washington Nationals. Most players are in their early 20s, not long out of college and hoping their talents will advance them to the AA or AAA leagues and eventually the majors. It does happen: All-time home run king Barry Bonds, Los Angeles Angels slugger Albert Pujols and former New York Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte are but a few over the years who have played home games at Pfitzner.

Because of its proximity to D.C., Pfitzner often hosts players from the Washington Nationals on their way back from injury rehab.

Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth, among others, have recently made appearances. When they do, attendance noticeably spikes.

Potomac competes in the eight-team Carolina League, including teams from Wilmington, Del., to Myrtle Beach, S.C. In 2013, the team won more than 60 percent of its games, finished first in its division and advanced to the league championship series. “We couldn’t have asked for a better season,” said Bryan Holland, the team’s media relations director. “Perfect synergy, both in the field and in the front office.” Holland also handles play by play for the team for Internet radio and the Nationals’ mobile app.

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View from the Stands

Among the average 3,500 attending a P-Nats game, you’ll find all ages, many wearing Washington Nationals or Potomac Nationals attire. Hoping to be tossed a souvenir baseball, kids bring their gloves and often congregate above the home team’s dugout.

“We’ve done this a hundred times at least,” said 11-year-old Little Leaguer Kinzie Workman, of Woodbridge, from the top row of the bleachers. He and his mom, Julie, (who amended it to “a couple times a year”) and Kinzie’s brother Peyton, along with Julie Workman’s friend Virginia Leurs, also from Woodbridge, were enjoying the home opener in April. “It beats doing homework!” Kinzie proclaimed.

The Potomac Nationals invite the community to share the spotlight at Pfitzner Stadium.  Here, the singing scribes of Penn Elementary School in Dale City, led by music teacher Talia Roder, perform the National Anthem before a recent game.
The Potomac Nationals invite the community to share the spotlight at Pfitzner Stadium. Here, the singing scribes of Penn Elementary School in Dale City, led by music teacher Talia Roder, perform the National Anthem before a recent game.

Down in the box seats nearer to the field, Fairfax resident Bill Kovatch was attending with his son and daughter, proof that the Nationals draw fans from throughout Northern Virginia. A Cub Scout leader, he said he’s also brought his pack for a game and, afterwards, a movie night and campout on the field, which the Nationals offer four times per season. “It’s a wonderful family atmosphere,” Kovatch said. “The players are very friendly and gracious.”

Then there’s Uncle Slam, the patriotically dressed, jovial whatchamacallit who often roams the grandstands, wordlessly greeting kids and posing for pictures. Beneath the top hat and blue fur, in his first full season with the Nationals, is Vinnie Allin, a sports management major at George Mason University in Manassas. Allin also performs as his school’s Patriot mascot. “I like doing this because I get to be this funny, goofy, silly character,” Allin said from inside his normally silent costume. “I’m here to make everyone’s experience memorable.”

Bobbleheads and Fireworks

Minor league baseball games are known for their sometimes offbeat promotions. Potomac Nationals Vice President and General Manager Josh Olerud, last season’s Carolina League Executive of the Year, shared some of this summer’s offerings. Bryce Harper Bobbleheads and, not to be outdone, Jayson Werth BobbleBeards (“with real hair!” Olerud said) are both scheduled in June. Jimmy Buffett night comes during the heat of July, and there’ll be a “Cowboy Monkey Rodeo” (featuring capuchin monkeys riding sheepdogs) on the field in August.

But fireworks really bring out the crowds. This season, postgame fireworks shows are scheduled for every Saturday and Sunday evening home game and July 4, 18 in all. Traditionally, the July 4 home game is the most popular. Last season, nearly 8,000 fans packed into the 6,000-seat stadium on Independence Day to watch the Nationals win and the night sky light up afterwards.

Add traditional ballpark food, such as hot dogs, burgers and pizza (plus peanuts and Cracker Jack, of course), giant inflatables for the kids to play on and occasional live music, and an evening at Pfitzner becomes a carnival-like adventure. “The value is unfathomable compared to what you would go and look at entertainment-wise anywhere else,” Olerud said.

Peter Lineberry, an avid P-Nats fan, thinks it’s always a beautiful day for a ball game. He lives in Dale City and can be reached at [email protected] 

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