The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Meet the man with the Racing Presidents tattoo

(Courtesy Luke Griffin)
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Eight years ago this week – with the Lerner family taking control of the fledgling Nationals, who were mired in last place and facing sluggish attendance – incoming team president Stan Kasten announced some changes.

The cost of some seats and some concessions at RFK Stadium would be cut. Signage and music would be improved. There would be more fan-friendly features at the stadium, better landscaping, new banners, a “Grand Re-Opening” of the ancient venue.

And Kasten announced one more thing one more thing, buried as a mere footnote in The Post’s report: “races between innings around the perimeter of the field by costume characters resembling former U.S. presidents.”

Kasten is long gone, as are games at RFK Stadium. The touted new food items of 2006 — barbecue brisket sandwiches, a riblet – have been supplanted by crab grilled cheese and a house-made kielbasa, sauerkraut and giardiniera sandwich. But the Racing Presidents live on. And not long after they were first introduced, a then-teenaged Nats fan came to a realization perhaps unique in human history.

“That would look really cool as a tattoo,” Luke Griffin thought.

Griffin, now 24, is the son of a Yankees fan and a Red Sox fan, who agreed to raise their children in neutral ground as D.C. sports fans. He grew up in the Maryland suburbs, an area split between Nats followers and Orioles supporters, but he instantly gravitated toward the new Washington franchise.

He’s also a history buff, well-read on the executive branch and the days of Washington and Jefferson, of Lincoln and Roosevelt. He decided he wanted a tattoo to show his Nats pride, and he “figured that was the coolest way to do it.”

“I wanted something I would have and not a lot of other people would,” Griffin told me. “Probably not a lot of people would go that route.”

Indeed, probably not. At the risk of angering similarly tattooed fans heretofore ignored, I’ll go ahead and say that Griffin’s large tattoo of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and Teddy Roosevelt marching pell-mell across his ribs is the first Racing Presidents tattoo I’ve ever seen. Kasten must be kvelling.

Griffin had chosen his image long before he got the foot-long tattoo in March; that image, though, pre-dated William Howard Taft’s large-headed arrival. Rib tattoos being slightly uncomfortable, four giant mascots seemed like plenty at the time. But “to make it authentic and true to the Racing Presidents,” he has future plans to add the 27th President.

“He’s really interesting in the sense that he’s the only person ever to be a Supreme Court justice and a president,” Griffin said of the man who will one day adorn his torso. “But I think each one of these guys is so interesting.”

(Griffin is serious about this history thing. He also has the iconic image of Teddy Roosevelt with club tattooed on his arm, except Roosevelt’s face has been replaced by that of Griffin’s father Mark, a well-known local lawyer and past president of the Washington Historical Society.)

Now, obviously plenty of local sports fans have team tattoos, from the Redskins logo to the Orioles bird to the Caps’ Eeagle to Maryland’s Terrapin. Still, the Racing Presidents seemed different to me; they aren’t exactly a mascot of the team, and they don’t exactly connote the team’s name, and they were dreamed up to goose fan interest at a low moment. Even some players have occasionally been unsure about that Presidential quintet.

“I can’t speak for everybody, [but] I think it’s a little over the top,” Adam LaRoche told MLB Network last week when asked about the daily races. “But then again, the fans love it. That’s what it’s all about. They’re the ones paying to come in here and watch it, and they get fired up.”

Fired and inked up, as it turns out.