It's Aug. 28, the penultimate day of the Potomac Nationals' home season. General manager Bryan Holland is sitting at his desk within an office cluttered with the detritus of another long Minor League season. But this year the team commonly referred to as the P-Nats isn't just wrapping up another Carolina League campaign. They're bidding adieu to their home since 1984, Pfitzner Stadium, a.k.a. The Pfitz.
In 2020, the P-Nats, currently based in Woodbridge, Virginia, are leaving Prince William County and relocating some 30 miles down the road (read: I-95) to Fredericksburg. They are rebranding in conjunction with the move, adopting a yet-to-be-revealed identity that will reflect the new locale. In the process, they're leaving behind 36 seasons of memories, comprising six Major League affiliations, five team names and four Carolina League championships.
It's been a long time coming but nonetheless: It's never easy to say goodbye.
After 36 seasons, the sun is setting on the Pfitz.
When Holland is asked about the challenges of operating out of the Pfitz, he lets out a heavy sigh before deadpanning, "How much time have you got on that tape recorder?"
"You know, we have an archaic concession space," he said. "And this ballpark wasn't built for a Corey Feldman autograph signing or a Fred McGriff autograph signing or a Dwier Brown autograph signing. The layout is cookie-cutter. Like, it literally resembles a cookie cutter.... There's very little cover. When it's hot, it's the Florida State League in here. When you walk down on our concourse and it's raining and you get hit with a little drop of water it's like, 'Man, I wish somebody would've plugged that hole years ago.' It's just an old facility that has graduated, if you will. It's graduated to not being able to host updated Minor League Baseball. We've been operating on a waiver [to continue playing despite not meeting Minor League Baseball facility standards] for quite some time. To survive as a franchise, we need to move on. And unfortunately part of that process for our local fans is saying goodbye."
A rehabbing Ryan Zimmerman signs autographs prior to the Aug. 28 game against Myrtle Beach.
This writer talked to a plethora of these local fans during the Aug. 28 ballgame as well as Aug. 29's season finale, both of which were victories over the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. The former featured rehabbing Washington Nationals star Ryan Zimmerman in the starting line-up, the latter an infield dirt giveaway to the first 750 individuals through the gate. A melancholy feeling was in the air, but very little anger. Those in attendance may have been disappointed by the inability to keep the team in Prince William County, but by and large they understood the rationale for the impending move and were resigned to it.
Potomac fans Steve McTeague, Julie Huebsch and Miranda Herd.
"This may be a dump, but it's our dump," said Steve McTeague, succinctly expressing what seemed to be a common sentiment regarding the Pfitz. McTeague, wearing a jersey of franchise predecessor the Alexandria Dukes, was seated in the third base bleachers alongside friend Julie Huebsch and her teenage niece, Miranda Herd.
"This is my first [season] getting way into baseball," said Herd, wearing a pin featuring 2019 P-Nats pitcher Andrew Lee. "I just like how it's easy to talk to the players, and you see the same people all the time."
"I used to come here with my nephews when they were little," said Huebsch. "They're in college now.... When my youngest niece came two years ago, she was five and we sat behind the bullpen. I was trying to teach her to read the scoreboard, and the bullpen was eavesdropping on us. They called her down and gave her a ball and she was so excited. They [the players] are just nice kids."
For those who loved the Pfitz, the combination of family bonding and easy access to the players was a common theme. Todd Headington and his 14-year-old daughter, Abbie, live in Fredericksburg but were nonetheless sad to see the Pfitz go.
14-year-old Abbie Headington and her father, Todd.
"2013 is when it really started," said Todd, speaking before the Aug. 28 game. "We were sitting right above the dugout and [Salem Red Sox infielder] Garin Cecchini handed her a ball. It flipped her [into a baseball fan] for life.... You might look at it and think it's the worst stadium in Minor League Baseball. But I don't think there's a better place to watch baseball than right here. I mean, we can literally stand at the dugout and talk to the players. [Abbie] calls balls and strikes every inning. She'll get behind [the umpire] and call balls and strikes. I don't think there's too many stadiums that give you that opportunity."
"I want to be an onfield reporter when I grow up, so coming here has helped give me a passion," said Abbie. "We saw Carter Kieboom here, and then we saw him at both Futures Games [in 2018 and 2019]. We traveled to [Cleveland] Ohio this year to go see him. He threw me his batting gloves from the game, after. Before the game he came over, gave me a hug, took a picture with me. Because he knew I was coming."
"That's why I always tell people, if you can go to a Minor League Baseball game you have to do it," added Todd. "Just because of the intimacy of the game and the memories that you make every single game."
Prior to the Aug. 29 game, the line for concessions snaked through the Pfitz's dank, dimly lit concourse. Among those waiting were Dasha and her father, Charlie.
Lifelong P-Nats fan Dasha Osborne and her father, Charlie.
"She's been coming here since she was four years old, when she would get the coupons from the library," said Charlie of his daughter. "We would sit out in the bleachers and get popcorn, Cracker Jacks, cotton candy. After that it was, 'OK, dad, time to go home.'"
"Yeah, but that developed into something," replied Dasha. "I love watching the game. My love started here and this is a place I'm never going to forget. Especially with my dad being my baseball buddy. Like I remember seeing Albert Pujols play and seeing Skip Schumaker play, seeing Ian Desmond play.... You name it, we've sat in all these seats. I worked here [as an usher] for 11 or 12 years. I can tell you pretty much everything about this stadium. I know it in and out."
During the Aug. 29 season finale, Potomac Nationals Booster Club president Dave Mitolo was manning a table situated on the first base side between the grandstand seats and the bleachers. His organization was selling a variety of team-related memorabilia with all proceeds, as always, going back to the players.
Potomac Nationals Booster Club treasurer Jane Bise, vice president Lori Mossey and president Dave Mitolo.
"There was another family, Lamar and Dottie Boone, that started [the Booster Club]," said Mitolo, a father of three children ages 14, 12 and 11. "Lamar was the president for, like, the first 22 years and I took over after that. We do breakfasts, or lunches, for the [players] on getaway days. We give them blankets that have their names embroidered on them, and 'Potomac Nationals.' Every month they get gift cards and awards. We do offensive [player], starting pitcher, relief pitcher every month. And then if they get any Carolina League honors we give them awards for that, too. We have a Meet the Players banquet at the beginning of the year and then we just had our end-of-season banquet. There were, I think, 12 different awards -- our MVP and stuff like that."
Fans and players mingle at the Pfitz following the final out of the Aug. 29 finale.
As the conversation progressed, Mitolo was joined by Booster Club vice president Lori Mossey and treasurer Jane Bise.
"Before the big Nats [parent Washington Nationals] started to feed them on a regular basis, the Booster Club would give [the players] a hot meal on Saturday nights," said Bise. "Then we put that money toward the blankets.... We've even had coaches from the other teams comment on them. They're like, 'How'd you guys get those blankets?'"
"We live in Fredericksburg, my husband and I. At the time, it was hard to find housing for a lot of the Latin [players] because they all wanted to stay together," said Mossey. "So we took them in and provided a vehicle so they could all stay together and have one driver.... Oh my God, the best thing I've ever done was open my house up to a bunch of these kids. I mean, we go to the Dominican Republic and meet all these families. We still keep in touch with them. I call them my baseball kids."
While the franchise's impending move to Fredericksburg will be more convenient for Mossey, she, like many in attendance, was heartbroken to be leaving the Pfitz behind.
"Even though it'll be closer to me I can't replace all the friends we've made up here. These people are family to me," she said, beginning to tear up. "I'm gonna cry before the night's over. I just hope it stays this close knit after we move."
There's a chance that the rebranded P-Nats could return to the Pfitz for the start of the 2020 season, should the ballpark in Fredericksburg not be ready in time. Nonetheless, Thursday's ballgame had an air of finality. The concession stands were cleared out, the National Mall team store was ransacked following a $5 fire sale and Uncle Slam the mascot was nowhere to be found. (In fact, he hadn't been seen all season). Soon, the memories will be all that's left.
"I've been here for eight years, but this goes back to 1984," said Holland. "It's something special here at the Pfitz. We've always been a beacon for a great time."