By Debbi Wilgoren
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 18, 2005
His name is Screech, but he doesn't utter a sound, at least not yet. He was hatched yesterday at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, emerging from a giant egg a few yards behind second base shortly before the Washington Nationals took the field against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
For the next three hours, as the Nationals clawed their way to a 7-3 victory, Screech, a 6-foot-2 eagle, strutted his stuff through the concourses and up and down the rows of seats, turning his white feathered head, bobbing his stuffed yellow beak, dancing on his oversized talons and wrapping children and adults with his brown feathered wings for enormous hugs.
A few children shrank away, a little uncertain near the towering bird. And some adults said the mascot looked more like a chicken, or maybe an owl. But most people at the game seemed delighted to see him.
"Hi, Screech! Hey, Screech -- over here!" they shouted, clamoring as if they had known the Nationals' mascot forever.
Sophia Calandra, 3, of Great Falls spotted Screech from several rows away and got her dad to carry her directly to the mascot so she could throw her small arms around him.
He's not scary," Sophia said, slightly exasperated, to a hesitant older sibling. "He's nice!"
Screech was introduced on a sunny spring afternoon that the Nationals dubbed "Kids Opening Day," the first daytime regular-season home game for the new team. The D.C. Boys Choir performed the national anthem, children 12 and younger were invited to run the bases after the game, and youngsters received a free poster of the mascot when they left the stadium.
The crowd included lots of children in Nationals hats and shirts, chaperoned by parents who said they were delighted to be able to bring their families to a major league game in the nation's capital.
"It's a D.C. team now, so we gotta support them," said Duane Washington, 29, of Gaithersburg, who brought his son Davon, 8, and daughters Alexus, 6, and Danielle, 2, to the game. Washington said that Davon is a huge basketball fan and that he had shown little interest in baseball in the past. "Who knows -- after this game, he may be interested in playing," the father said.
Team officials said 35,463 people turned out for the game, bringing attendance for the three-day series to more than 115,000. There were significantly fewer logistical problems than at the home opener Thursday night, when many concession stands ran out of food and the presence of President Bush resulted in long waits at security checkpoints.
Although some souvenir stands ran out of hats yesterday, and the wait for peanuts or hot dogs sometimes stretched to 15 minutes, fans seemed able to buy what they wanted without missing more than a few batters. Crowds at the Metro stations were generally manageable and there were no major train delays, said Metro spokeswoman Candace Smith, who added that weekend ridership figures would not be available until today.
Parking lots outside RFK took on a carnival atmosphere before the game, as thousands of ticket-holders tailgated in the sunshine. Although many bleacher seats were empty at game time, the stands were mostly full by the fifth inning.
Just before the national anthem, Screech -- still in his eggshell, legs poking out -- toddled onto the field. An announcer told the crowd that the egg had been discovered over the past few months while the stadium was being renovated and had been taken to the National Zoo for observation, only to escape and return "home."
Team officials would not provide information about the person inside the Screech costume, or let that person be interviewed, saying they did not want to distract from Screech's personality and character. Although that person never will speak in his or her own voice from inside the costume, it is possible that the mascot will at some point learn to make some kind of screeching noise to cheer the team on, the officials said.
The Nationals are the third Washington team to use an eagle as their mascot. Screech joins Slapshot, who hatched on the ice at a Washington Capitals game in 1995, and Talon of the D.C. United soccer team, who emerged from a giant egg at RFK on April 20, 1996.
Compared with the other two eagles, Screech's head appears wider and his beak is smaller and less menacing. He spent his first few moments on the field greeting Glenda Gutierrez, 9, of the District, whose drawing of what she expected the mascot to look like was chosen by the Nationals as the one most similar to Screech.
The team had solicited contest entries from D.C. public schools, offering as a hint the information that the mascot would hatch from an egg and fly over the city.
Glenda, a fourth-grader at Powell Elementary School, said she drew an eagle because "it's strong, and it eats almost everything."
Staff writer Clarence Williams contributed to this report.