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Running for president is harder than it looks; Nats hold tryouts for racing mascots

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When preparing to run for president, it’s important to keep a few things in mind.

Stretching is key. A cramp midway through a race could slow you down, giving another presidential hopeful a shot at the lead.

Be prepared for victory. A good pose will not just make for attractive photos, but it also will reveal whether you’ll be graceful or arrogant as president.

The weight of the world will be on your shoulders — or at least, 45 pounds of foam and fabric. So boosting mental and physical stamina will increase your chances of making it to the finish.

It’s not exactly the race to the White House, but it’s the closest that some baseball fans in the Washington region will ever get to being commander in chief. The Washington Nationals held tryouts Saturday for the team’s new group of Racing Presidents, the giant-headed mascots that sprint around the field during the fourth inning of home games.

Jon, 25, was one of the 58 men and women who hurtled around Nationals Park on Saturday morning costumed as an oversized George Washington, Thomas Jefferson or Abraham Lincoln.

A District resident for four years, Jon works in politics and said being a Racing President seems easy “when you’re up in the nosebleed seats.” But, he learned, it’s actually hard work.

“There’s no way you can understand the weight of the presidency until you’re there,” Jon said.

Politicians in Washington often call for more openness and transparency, but like some things in government, the full identities of Jon and his fellow aspirants will remain known only to a small circle of insiders. As a condition of covering the tryouts, reporters were required by Nationals officials to keep secret the last names of presidential hopefuls. The mystique of the office, Nats officials said, must be preserved.

Bundled into the costumes, Jon and others had to run a 40-yard dash and then run two Presidents Races from center field to the home dugout. After getting a few seconds to catch their breath, they also had to bust their best moves to perform a freestyle dance.

A few Abes did the cabbage patch. One T.J. moonwalked. And some of the Georges were just winging it, looking like old dads dancing at a wedding. They just happened to be wearing a powdered wig that would fit a Smart Car.

Teddy Roosevelt was not at the tryouts. Neither was the newest Racing President, William Howard Taft.

“Teddy, he usually takes his vacation at this time,” the Nationals’ entertainment manager, Tom Davis, said. “Bill is taking a rest” before making his debut this season.

(If Teddy vacationed less and trained more, perhaps it wouldn’t have taken him more than 500 competitions before winning his first Presidents’ Race in October.)

Jen, 32, from Alexandria, was one of four women who made the cut Saturday from a pool of roughly 300 applicants.

A self-described “baseball nut,” Jen tried out as Abe. She didn’t fall, but she was the slowest in her heat. Onlookers waiting their turn cheered her to the finish, yelling, “Come on, Abe!” from the sidelines.

Jen said coping with the top-heavy costume was the biggest challenge. She said she hopes the Nationals consider a first ladies’ race in the future.

“There’s a lot of important first ladies that stood behind the guys,” Jen said.

Not just anyone can be president. Applicants had to be between 5 feet 7 inches and 6 feet 6 inches tall, to be able to run 200 yards in 40 seconds and meet several other criteria.

Running the fastest doesn’t always cinch a position, Davis said. After the physical test on the field, presidential wannabes had to interview before a panel to show off their attitude, work ethic and creativity with props.

“This is a tough gig to get,” Davis said. “Bring your A game. Bring your personality.”

And, Davis said, there’s one more thing to remember when running for president. If you fall, not all is lost: “It’s about picking yourself up and getting back out there.”

© The Washington Post Company