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In the Community

AU Night at the Ballpark Celebrates WONK Natitude

By Kerry O’Leary

Psychology professor Art Shapiro tested the crowd’s pitching intellect during his interactive WONK Challenge.

WAMU 88.5’s self-proclaimed DC WONK, Kojo Nnamdi, threw out the first pitch this past Friday at Nationals Park to celebrate American University Night. Approximately 1,500 tickets sold using the university’s exclusive discount code, and AU and WONK pride could be seen throughout the park, from the wrap-around LED display boards and hi-def scoreboard, to the backs of 25,000 lucky fans in the form of a commemorative “baseball WONK” t-shirt.

A sold-out, pre-game picnic overlooking right field brought alumni, faculty, staff, and students and together to celebrate the new academic year and the hometown team. AU cheerleaders and AU’s mascot Clawed Z. Eagle, who high-fived Jefferson at the finish line of the Presidents’ Race, welcomed picnic attendees.

AU at the Nats

“It was wonderful to catch up and re-connect with my freshman year roommate and enjoy a beautiful D.C. night with AU and the Nats,” said alum Elizabeth Claps, Kogod ’05. Claps was one of two lucky ticket winners from a pre-game Facebook raffle promoting the event.

President Neil Kerwin, Provost Scott Bass, several board of trustees members, and faculty came out to show their AU pride and root for the Nats.

In addition to pre-game chatter on social media, an early August on-campus appearance by the Nationals’ famous Racing Presidents amped up the pre-game buzz. Teddy and Abe came to campus to help shoot an in-game teaser for AU’s latest video project, which had its big-screen debut following the game.

Sleepy College Town,” which introduced a post-game fireworks display courtesy of the Nationals, illustrated that AU’s successful students, faculty, and alumni are fueled by a passion to see something greater in the nation’s capital and around the world. Among the notable alumni featured in the video are: WUSA-CBS9’s Derek McGinty ‘81, FOX News Channel’s Alisyn Camerota ‘88, local entrepreneur Constantine Stavropoulos ‘87, and former chief of staff to First Lady Laura Bush and current executive in residence Anita McBride, an alumna of the Washington Semester program.

The two-season-long partnership between American University and the Washington Nationals embraces the energetic hometown venue and smart, passionate fan base to communicate to fans the university’s core values of active citizenship, learning from leaders, and a commitment to creating meaningful change. Select home games during the past two seasons have included WONK signage, rotational signage behind home and third bases, interactive faculty challenges, and ad placement in the printed game day programs.

During the game, AU vision scientist and psychology professor Art Shapiro, who won an award for his illusion that shows the curveball doesn’t curve as dramatically as we think it does, tested the crowd’s pitching intellect with an interactive WONK Challenge on the big screen. Shapiro, one of four professors to demonstrate their intellectual prowess through the challenges, taught fans that a typical curveball makes 12 to 15 rotations once released from the pitcher’s hand and takes about a half-second to cross home plate.

The partnership’s first year saw increased fan recognition of AU’s academic reputation and community involvement, and a rise in the mention of AU by fans as a “top-notch university” in Washington. This year’s partnership, culminating in this celebratory AU night for faculty, staff, students, and alumni, built upon last year’s success.

At Friday’s game, Jordan Zimmerman took to the mound for the Nats in a seven-inning duel versus the New York Mets’ Dillon Gee. The Nats fastballer held the Mets to no hits until the fourth inning. An eighth-inning homer from Steve Lombardozzi cut the two-run deficit to one, but the rally wasn’t enough to take the lead. The baseball victory went to the Mets, but the real victors of the evening were the AU Eagles for using their proximity to greatness to their full advantage.