The course at the Washington Nationals’ bullpen cart driver tryout was supposedly shaped like a curly W, but you can be the judge of that. Racing president Teddy Roosevelt stood in the middle of the course, and if you made a wrong turn or drove out of bounds, he’d chase you with an orange traffic cone. If you nearly collided with a garbage can or sped through the finish line almost running over a staffer, he’d double over at the waist, hanging his head in disappointment. Somehow, his flimsy-but-gravity-defying glasses stuck to his felt face.
Darren M. Haynes, the WUSA9 sports anchor, set Tuesday’s course record at 47 seconds, but he won’t be getting the job. He floored the golf cart the Nationals used in place of the official bullpen vehicle on straightaways and took U-turns at high speed. (This golf cart topped out at 8 mph, but it’s top-heavy and it feels faster. The real cart reaches 20 mph.)
Ted, a retired Library of Congress administrator from Davidsonville, Md., is probably better qualified, seeing as how he didn’t nearly skid the cart on two wheels during his run. So is James, a 56-year-old who lives less than a block from the first base dugout at Nationals Park. Or Ann, a mom from Sterling, Va., who insisted she is perfect for this role.
“I saw the job online and said, 'That’s got my name written all over it,’ ” she said.
The Nationals posted a job opening for a bullpen cart driver earlier this month. Within three days, the team received 432 applications, according to Tom Davis, the club’s entertainment director. People offered to relocate from across the country for the honor of driving pitchers from the bullpen to the area beside the home dugout.
Tuesday, the team culled the field to 21 applicants and held tryouts in the center field concourse of Nationals Park. A coterie of Washington fans, many of whom dressed up for the occasion in ties and blazers, festooned with Nationals caps and scarves, put their best foot forward. (Or down, as the case may be.)
Applicants needed a valid driver’s license, at least 10 years of driving experience and to promise to attend all 81 Washington home games. Participants were timed, but that was more to establish a reasonable speed than anything else. Most important was the personality question: Can you remain chill when Sean Doolittle sits down in the shotgun seat, ready to close out a tight game?
“We all want to have fun,” Davis said, “but it’s a serious situation. You’re driving Major League Baseball players.”
And that means knowing when to be jovial and when to shut up; with whom you can be chatty and to whom you’re strictly a chauffeur.
“It’s just down to my winning personality,” said James, after completing the course in 1:02. He also swore that he has never gotten a speeding ticket. “And who doesn’t want their driver to be named James?” he asked.
(The Nationals asked participants to disclose only their first names and hometowns. Team officials said they wanted whomever was chosen for the role to be a mostly anonymous figure, like the people inside the racing presidents costumes.)
Ted sent in a minute-long video with his application that included photos of him and his wife at Nationals events, such as the All-Star Game, a stadium tour and spring training.
“Anything to prove I’m a fan,” he said. He has already purchased a Kurt Suzuki batting practice jersey. He boasted that he once rode his motorcycle cross-country, so he is more than capable of handling anything the bullpen cart might encounter on its trip around the warning track.
Ann asserted her years of ferrying her now-grown children to and from sporting events and friends’ houses across Northern Virginia uniquely qualified her for the role. She was the second applicant to try the course and spent much of the morning advising drivers who came after.
“That one turn over there is a killer,” she said, pointing to the top left curl of the curly W. “Once I got through that last turn, I put the pedal to the metal.”
The team is set to announce its new hire by the end of the week. Washington’s pitchers will not have any input on the selection, to the chagrin of Doolittle, who said earlier this month a couple of test drives with pitchers on board might be warranted.
“If they’re going to be driving me and my friends around, I would like to at least have some input,” he said. “At least when you call for a Lyft or an Uber you get the rating and stuff like that.”
For this group, Davis and President Roosevelt have thorough notes. Now they have to decide who gets five stars.
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