Why I Designated the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy as a Beneficiary in My Will
Peggy M. Siegel
"Every picture tells a story," to quote veteran rocker Rod Stewart, and that's especially true at Nats Park. There's Players' Row overlooking the main concourse and then the color-coded gaze of Max Scherzer guarding right field. But for me, it's the newest, most prominent signage-featuring Anthony Rendon with a young boy-that holds the deepest meaning. The sheer joy on their faces reflects everything that I love about baseball. And the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy logo above them suggests how I, as well as many other baseball fans, can contribute our own chapters to this ever-evolving story.
Like many Nationals fans, I grew up in a baseball home, just not in DC. As teenagers in New York, my dad had idolized the Yankees, my mom the Brooklyn Dodgers. They met and married in Cleveland, so naturally, the Indians became their shared team and my first baseball love.
I was too young to celebrate in 1948, the last time that the Indians won the World Series. Later on, my dad would take me to games once I was able to walk, talk, and sit still, especially when the Yankees came to town. I can still remember sitting behind the visitor's dugout and gawking at Mantle, Maris, and Yogi with Whitey Ford on the mound.
Baseball and I strengthened our bond once my dad taught me how to bat, throw, pitch, and catch so that I could join in neighborhood games. The relationship grew, eventually with my coaching several girls' high school softball teams during the summers while in college. Pitching and second base were my preferred positions on numerous work-based softball teams, including the Ohio Senate long before partisan politics would itself become such a contact sport.
In 1983, I moved to Washington and immediately experienced baseball withdrawal, temporary relief provided only from the occasional Baltimore trip whenever the Tribe played the Orioles. Finally, a permanent cure arrived from north of the border in 2005 when the Montreal Expos reemerged as the Washington Nationals. Baseball after 34 years had finally come back to DC-and my life, as well as the lives of many other local fans, has been enriched ever since.
Baseball's return, I was thrilled to discover, included another gift for the Nation's Capital: the commitment shared by MLB, the Lerner family and its Dream Foundation, DC Government, and the Washington Nationals to create a Youth Baseball Academy in the underserved neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River. The brand new education facility surrounded by three baseball diamonds officially opened in 2014 with a dual mission-to offer baseball and softball to the greater community while providing after-school and summer education and nutritional programs to "scholar-athletes" (neighborhood boys and girls, grades three through eight) and their families. A "Science of Baseball" curriculum includes activities and projects that teach STEM competencies as well as teamwork.
Many local residents and business partners, as well as a number of Nationals, volunteer as mentors and coaches-turning into fans themselves as the scholar-athletes present their group projects. I got a real kick out of witnessing the reactions of Trea Turner, Joe Ross and former Nat Ben Revere, as well as MASN field reporter Dan Kolko during August 2016, as teams of 4th and 5th graders enthusiastically explained how they would allocate their funds to bid for players or plan and budget for a fantasy road trip to different ballparks. Players, like Max Scherzer, regularly host fundraising events for the Academy.
…which brings me full circle to the picture hanging at Nats Park of Anthony Rendon and his young friend.
During 2013, I had joined a Nats-sponsored fan weekend when the team played the Cubs in Chicago. In addition to attending two games at Wrigley, events included a behind-the-scenes ballpark tour followed by lunch with the Nats 3rd baseman during his rookie season.
Rendon was more than generous with his time, answering multiple questions, signing baseballs, and posing for pictures. A spontaneous "thank you" broke out at the game later that evening, as our group morphed into screaming maniacs whenever the "new guy" came up to the plate, no doubt surprising many Cubs fans-and Rendon himself-in the process.
In 2015, Rendon succeeded former Nats shortstop Ian Desmond as the player ambassador on the Academy Board. According to staff, he agreed to serve as long as the focus remained on the kids, and not on him. That same spirit underscores the Academy's core values- "Be outstanding, be healthy, be a leader, be a scholar-athlete"-and illustrates just how those values can be brought to life.
By now, I had stopped working and was trying to decide what to do next. Baseball figured prominently in my thoughts. To paraphrase President Kennedy (this is Washington, after all): "From those to whom much has been given, much should be expected."
Becoming the first person to designate the Academy as a beneficiary in my will is a special privilege, the best way I know to honor the memory of my parents, as well as express appreciation for a lifelong love affair with baseball. My decision aims to support the Academy mission by preparing scholar-athletes to follow their dreams, to enrich their lives with insight, success, and happiness (whether baseball is involved or not.)
So that's my story, pictures included. It is deeply personal, yet hardly exceptional. Every baseball fan I know could share a comparable narrative based on his or her own unique blend of team loyalties, favorite players, eras, experiences, and memories.
Together, our stories can help forge a lasting legacy of baseball and community in DC for generations to come. My sincere hope is that others will soon join in-to both play and pay it forward.