Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Thomas Jefferson: The Man Behind the Mask

I agree with Ryan: spring training, especially this pitchers-and-catchers only part, is boring. So boring, in fact, that the big news out of RFK stadium yesterday was that the Nats are soliciting fans to don 45-pound president costumes and race around the ballpark in August. Excellent!

I've always enjoyed the president races, and I was thrilled when Abe, Tom, George and Teddy made it off the JumboTron and into real three-dimensional racing splendor. Racing presidents are just the kind of bread and circus-style distractions that we need to distract us from the fact that 1: It's the third inning and Rauch is already pitching and 2: The "2 and 0" numbers on the scoreboard are the number of errors committed by the Nats and their opponent, respectively. The presidents give us something to cheer for when all other hope has been lost. As long as the presidents have been racing I have always rooted exclusively for Thomas Jefferson. My motivations for doing so are deep-seated, with roots in my very origins.

You see, my mother has always had a very strong scholarly interest in our nation's third president. Mom is an avid amateur 18th century American history scholar, and Jefferson is far and away her favorite figure from that era. As kids, my sister and I were constantly immersed in all things Jefferson. I've been to Monticello, Jefferson's Charlottesville, VA home, dozens upon dozens of times. My parents' home in Cincinnati is filled with every book written on the man, and his portraits and quotes adorn the walls. A small shrine to Jefferson, complete with a bronze bust and two paintings, graces the entry foyer.

But it doesn't stop there. Oh no. If it has to do with Thomas Jefferson, my mom owns it. Miniature TJ action figure? Check. Declaration of Independence mouse pad? Got that. Jefferson Beanie Baby? Affirmative. Framed collection of nickels and 2-dollar bills? Yep. Not pictured: talking Jefferson doll, scale model of Monticello, Jefferson brand whiskey bottle, Jefferson brand Virginia wine bottle, numerous smaller pewter busts and various and sundry portraits. My middle name? You guessed it, Jefferson. I'm serious.

So you see, Thomas Jefferson has always been a great part of my life, and there's just no question for me when it comes to who to root for during the Nats President Race.I got to thinking: what would Jefferson, a founding father and the author of the Declaration of Independence, think about a 10-foot tall grotesque of himself racing around an arena for the amusement of the masses? I decided to ask Mom, the expert:

"I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt what he would have thought, because this man would not celebrate his birthday and would not even tell the country what day it was...he didn't want it to be about him, he wanted it to be about the country."
Okay, so Jefferson probably would not have approved of being part of such a spectactle, but hey, that's the price of fame. But in a way, the racing presidents are about our country, inasmuch as we've been fortunate enough to have leaders that we're willing to cheer, instead of burn, in effigy. Who are the Iraqis going to have in their president race? Probably not that Saddam guy! Can you imagine the Brits racing Henry VII, Elizabeth I and others 'round the jolly ol' pitch? Neither can I, and that's what makes Amurica great!

Mom went on to say: "I think he would have liked the idea that there was a team called the Nationals in Washington, D.C. because he was for anything that brought more glory to the country." I like the idea of the Nationals in D.C., too, but they won't be bringing anyone much glory in 2007. But as Stan Kasten is fond of saying, Washington may be the most important city in the world, and it's important that our capital have a representative in our erstwhile National Pastime. Now about that whole representative in Congress thing...

I asked Mom if Jefferson himself ever had anything to say about sports. Now, baseball wasn't around during Jefferson's lifetime (1743-1826) (or was it?), so we can't know what he would have thought about the game. But he did have this to say about sports:
"Give about two of them {hours}, every day, to exercise; for health must not be sacrificed to learning. A strong body makes the mind strong. Asto the species of exercise, I advise the gun. While this gives a moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise, and independence to the mind. Games played with the ball, and others of that nature, are too violent for the body, and stamp no character on the mind. Let your gun, therefore, be the constant companion of your walks." (Letter from Thomas Jefferson to nephew Peter Carr prior to his matriculation at the College of William and Mary, 1785.)
Despite baseball being a "ball game," I think Jefferson would have appreciated the cerebral nature of baseball, with its reliance on stats and geometric strategy over brute force or raw physical talent.

Anyway, we Nats fans in 2007 owe Thomas Jefferson a huge debt of gratitude. As if it weren't enough that he was instrumental in our independence and doubled the size of our country, Jefferson founded the University of Virginia in 1819. 188 years later, we have UVA phenom and Nats star third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. Destiny, baby, destiny. So the next time you're enjoying a President Race at RFK, think about all that this great man has given us, past and present, and cheer a little louder for the one, the only, Thomas Jefferson.