Jayson Werth’s game-winning playoff home run was the climax of the 2012 Nats season, the jolt of joy that led strangers to hug strangers, the moment that is now immortalized in a massive banner hanging behind the Nats Park scoreboard.
The second most memorable moment was less of a lightning bolt and more of an hour-long party: the seemingly endless celebration after the Nats clinched their first division title. And throughout that revelry – which many fans experienced via an extended MASN postgame show – one constant was first-year sideline reporter Kristina Akra, drenched with beer and champagne, interviewing one delirious player after another.
“That night was unbelievable,” Akra told me last week. “I was thrilled to be in the middle of it. We did that full live hour of interviews covered in champagne, covered in everything. It was utter chaos.”
Her next workplace is likely to be a bit less messy. MLB Network recently announced it was hiring Akra to appear across the network’s studio programming, primarily as a host of the new “MLB Now” program with Brian Kenny and Harold Reynolds. Instead of venturing into the middle of celebrations on baseball fields, she will thus operate out of a studio in Secaucus, New Jersey.
“I’ll miss the ballpark, I’ll miss the fans,” Akra said. “I’m coming off an exciting season that defined my life last year, being at a ballpark every day. It’ll be a new dynamic for me. But just as much as the ballpark is exciting, as a person who loves television and has been in it for a while now, I get the same thrill when I walk into a studio, when the lights go on, the cameras are rolling and it’s live television.”
Akra has worked in a studio setting before, hosting an SEC football show for FoxSports South before joining the Nats last spring. And she could have stayed with the Nats for another season; fans overwhelmingly approved of her work, at least according to my e-mail inbox, and the network wanted to keep its on-air crew intact.
(MASN is still interviewing candidates to replace Akra, a person familiar with the process told The Post’s James Wagner. There is no timetable set for making a hire.)
But Akra said she took the offseason to reflect on her career and assess other opportunities. The new MLB Network Show – which debuts this Monday at 8 p.m. but will typically air live Mondays through Fridays from 4 to 5 p.m. – will present in-depth baseball discussions that venture beyond news headlines. Reynolds will represent the player’s perspective on the game, Kenny will present a more analytical and numbers-based approach, and Akra will serve as “kind of the traffic cop.”
The three-person panel, she said, has offered “a crazy dynamic” in meetings over the past few days; the network will also have her working on other shows once MLB Now settles into a routine. Still, Akra said it was hard to leave the Nats before the most anticipated season in franchise history, with fans salivating for the season opener and media outlets almost unanimously choosing Washington as National League favorites.
“I will 100 percent miss it: the organization, the players, that clubhouse, the families, the fans – it was sheer enjoyment to go to work last year,” she said. “From a distance, I’ll be watching and kind of rooting for them….It was just a really cool atmosphere to be in, the fans were great, and that honestly made it even tougher to make the decision.”
MLB Network, she said, offered “a phenomenal opportunity” that she couldn’t turn down. So she’s already studying UZR and BABIP, to better interact with Kenny. She’s working on being a devil’s advocate to both Reynolds’s traditionalism and Kenny’s new-school analysis. And she figures at least her frequent brushes with celebratory fluids – Nats players also doused her with Gatorade during several postgame interviews – are finally a thing of the past.
“I’ve already said, I’ll just pass on my poncho to whoever’s gonna be out there,” she joked. “I’m pretty sure there’ll be more Gatorade splashes this season. I won’t miss the dry cleaning bill.”