Over the span of 10 years, the Washington Nationals have gone from being a struggling team with such players as Brad Wilkerson and Livan Hernandez taking the field at the decrepit RFK Stadium to preseason World Series favorites led by Bryce Harper and Max Scherzer. The key moments of the team’s remarkable transformation are explored in “Nationals at 10: Baseball Makes News,” a small exhibit of 10 artifacts and pieces of baseball history opening Friday on the second floor of the Newseum.
The show, arranged chronologically, is a whistle-stop tour of the Nationals’ greatest moments, and it plays out just like the game footage that screens on a loop above the display. There are lineup cards from the first Nationals game, in Philadelphia (Terrmel who?), and from the last game at RFK Stadium; the jacket and jersey President Obama wore while throwing out the first pitch at Nationals Park; items related to the mega-hyped debuts of Harper and Stephen Strasburg; a champagne bottle popped in the locker room after the team clinched the 2012 NL East title; and the home plate from Jordan Zimmermann’s no-hitter on the final day of the 2014 season.
That home plate is Item No. 10 on the list of the “10 memorable media moments” selected by Newseum curators for the exhibit, but it’s not the end. An extra case displays the cover of Sports Illustrated’s 2015 MLB preview issue, featuring a grinning Harper and Scherzer, and a photo from Scherzer’s June 20 no-hitter against the Pirates. (“We’re a museum of news, so we have to be up to date,” says Newseum exhibits writer John Powell. “We’ll update [the exhibit] if they go to the World Series.”)
Baseball purists may roll their eyes at the inclusion of the Presidents Race — images of the racing presidents (minus newcomer Calvin Coolidge) are projected on the floor, and a glass case holds the golden sneakers Teddy Roosevelt wore when he finally won his first race in October 2012.
That nod to Teddy seems to sum up the feel-good vibe of the exhibit. You might think the Nationals have always been perennial postseason favorites. Those difficult early years, with six seasons under the .500 mark, are mostly glossed over. There’s nothing about how relentless preseason hype from Sports Illustrated and other prognosticators winds up crushing fans’ dreams by the time fall rolls around, and although you’ll see the jersey Jayson Werth was wearing when he crushed that homer in Game 4 of the 2012 National League Division Series, there’s no trace of the glove Drew Storen used when the Cardinals scored four runs in the top of the ninth in the following game.
“The Newseum can be pretty heavy sometimes,” Powell says, “so it’s nice to have a more lighthearted exhibit.”
In keeping with the Newseum’s mission, “Nationals at 10” also explores the team’s relationship with the media and how the team’s location in Washington has helped draw national coverage. “There were over 200 reporters at Strasburg’s debut,” Powell says. “These were hugely hyped moments. We wanted to talk about how journalists have covered the team over the last 10 years.”
So the exhibit includes magazine covers of Harper as a 16-year-old dubbed “The Chosen One” and again as a full-blown star, and an image of Strasburg dominating the Washington Post Sports section. Another wall panel examines the birth of the Nats Insider blog and how the Nationals became one of the first teams to allow bloggers in the press box. An interactive area next to the exhibit allows visitors to report on a Nationals game in front of a green screen.
But for Nats fans, this exhibit is less educational and more like a hyper-local Hall of Fame, offering a rare chance to peer at Harper’s jersey up close or marvel at the piece of lumber Ryan Zimmerman swung to hit the walk-off home run that won the first regular- season game at Nationals Park.
“The local visitor base is important to cultivate, especially in the summer when they’ve got people visiting,” says curator Carrie Christoffersen. “It’s good for families, especially if they’ve been here before.”
For baseball fans — especially parents of the youngest ones, who receive free admission to the museum through Labor Day — it’s sure to be a hit.
Newseum, 555 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. 202-292-6100. www.newseum.org. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Dates: Friday through Nov. 29.
Prices: $22.95, $18.95 age 65 and older and, through Labor Day, free for visitors age 18 and younger. This weekend, admission is $10 for adults and seniors on Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday, there will be a full slate of baseball-related activities, including “batting practice” in the great hall; a Q&A with the Post’s Nationals beat reporter, James Wagner, at 2:30 p.m.; and gallery talks with curators at 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.