Jewish community hits a ‘Grand Slam’

Young Washington Nationals fans strike a pose with team mascot Screech during Grand Slam Sunday.
Photo by Audrey Rothstein Photography/ Jewish Federation of Greater Washington

Abramowitz straddles the rubber. He looks in to get the sign from his catcher. The pitcher goes into his stretch. An eerie silence descends on the heretofore boisterous sellout crowd. Here comes the pitch. The batter swings and misses. The Nats win, another victory for the hometown ace, the crowd goes berserk.

Well, not exactly. No, Daniel H. Abramowitz didn’t completely fulfill his childhood baseball fantasy of saving the game for the home team. But he came close, as the Potomac resident, one of the trustees of the United Jewish Endowment Fund, threw out the first pitch in Sunday’s Jewish Federation of Greater Washington’s fourth annual Grand Slam Sunday: Jewish Community Day at Nationals Park. Washington Jewish Week was a media sponsor.

Before he threw the pitch, Abramowitz admitted that he was nervous. “This doesn’t happen every day,” he said. He even had practiced pitching with his son in preparation for his big moment.

He needn’t have worried. Abramowitz threw his pitch like a pro, right down to home plate on the fly, hitting the catcher’s mitt squarely for what the umpire — had there been one — surely would have called a strike.

Throwing out the first pitch will “be right up there” with his most memorable experiences, he said.

Before that pitch was thrown, many of the estimated 1,500 participants in Grand Slam Sunday had congregated at the family picnic area in Nationals Park. There were funny sunglasses and hats, baseball caps with “Nationals” emblazoned across the front in Hebrew letters, a baseball trivia quiz and other games, long picnic tables for schmoozing with old acquaintances and new friends.

And, of course, it is a Jewish celebration, so there were ample quantities of food. To help celebrate the “bar mitzvah year” of Screech, the Nats’ mascot — the team had arrived in the District 13 years ago — she and her team had prepared a special sampling of gourmet foods, explained Debra Abramowitz of Signature Caterers.

There was a cucumber dill bisque shooter; a smoked eggplant caviar tart, “a fabulous vegan item”; a mini hoisin-glazed meatball with grilled pineapple; a Southern staple of chicken and waffles, with maple aioli and for those whose appetites mysteriously still lingered, two mini pastries — “death by chocolate cake” and an apple cupcake with a parve cream cheese frosting.

But not all the celebrating took place in the picnic area. Upstairs, in The Network Lunch suite, was Arthur Lerner, watching the game. At first, a reporter thought he had stumbled onto a relative of Nats’ owner Ted Lerner.

But it was not to be.

“We’re not the real Lerners, but the poor ones,” joked the 64-year-old resident of Burke.
A diehard Nats fan — he also roots for the Yankees, Lerner confessed — he doesn’t believe that the team will make to it to the postseason this year.

“Too many key players were hurt for too long this season,” he said.

Lerner’s pessimism extended to his favorite player — Bryce Harper, whose jersey he was wearing. Although a partner of a season ticket holder, Lerner said he has bought additional tickets for the game next month that he fears will be Harper’s last home game with the Nats.

Federation CEO Gil Preuss noted the turnout. “It’s a pleasure to see so many of us come together today to root for the home team,” he said.

Another big Nationals fan in the suite was 11-year-old Daniel Polott. His favorite player is Nats rookie outfielder Juan Soto. A student in Tilden Middle School, Daniel plays catcher and is thus also a fan of the Nationals’ Matt Wieters, who also spends many of his summer days and evenings camped out behind home plate.

For Daniel, the game itself is the highlight of Jewish Community Day.

While Daniel is not a novice at Grand Slam Sundays, Sarah Rosenthal was experiencing the event for the first time. Like Lerner, the 32-year-old District resident is not optimistic that the home team will make the playoffs this year. “It’s not our year,” she said.

But she was very pleased to be at Nationals Park on Sunday.

“It’s fun to have a delicious kosher spread,” she said of the buffet in the suite. “But I’m also excited to be here with the Jewish community.”

And what about the Nationals? They seemed to confirm the doom-and-gloom prophecy of some fans by getting walloped on Sunday by the last-place Miami Marlins, 12-1.

Aaron Leibel is a Washington-area writer.

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