Offbeat A 101-year-old Nats fan gets the thrill of her life in first ballpark visit

19:10  15 june  2017
19:10  15 june  2017 Source:   The Washington Post

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Bryce Harper introduces himself to 101 - year - old Mary Hughes with a hug before Wednesday’s game at Nationals Park . (Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post). Mary Hughes sat on the grass in front of the dugout, waiting. A baseball was in her left hand, a pen in her right.

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Bryce Harper introduces himself to 101-year-old Mary Hughes with a hug before Wednesday’s game at Nationals Park.© Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post Bryce Harper introduces himself to 101-year-old Mary Hughes with a hug before Wednesday’s game at Nationals Park. Mary Hughes sat on the grass in front of the dugout, waiting. A baseball was in her left hand, a pen in her right.

She was among the kids and other fans waiting to ask Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman for an autograph. Sporting a white Harper jersey, white pants, white socks, white shoes and a red Nats hat, she might have been the biggest Washington Nationals fan waiting on the field. She was also, without a doubt, the oldest.

At 101, Hughes was presented with the Nationals Spirit Award before Wednesday’s series finale against the Atlanta Braves. She’s lived through two World Wars and the Great Depression, the Civil Rights Movement and the Space Race. And Wednesday was her first visit to a major league ballpark. In fact, this would be her first professional sporting event.

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She arrived at Nationals Park at 1:30 p.m., her Harper jersey on her back. Harper, she said, is her favorite player. She hoped to meet him.

She came to the game with Angela Hay, Samantha Ross and Megan Ruff from the Green Valley Commons assisted living and retirement facility in Winchester — her home for the past 2½ years. Hay, Ross and Ruff are among her caregivers at Green Valley.

When Hughes first visited Green Valley, and her family asked about the community and the assistance, Hughes only had one question: “Do they have the baseball channels?”

They did.

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Hughes never misses a game. There’s a calendar in her room where she writes down the Nationals’ opponents, what time and what channel. After the game, she notes the score.

Hughes never asked to go to a game, even though Green Valley is about a two-hour drive to Nationals Park.

“We started talking about it,” Hay said. “It was never something she brought up or asked. Then we got invited.”

While she was waiting for the game to start, the Nationals took her up to the Skyclub. In the cool air conditioning, she was wheeled past pictures of former presidents throwing out the first pitch — from William H. Taft to Barack Obama. Hughes wasn’t alive for Taft, but she was alive for Woodrow Wilson and every chief executive since. She’s also outlived her husband, but she doesn’t have any children. But she does have eight nieces.

Baseball is and always has been her favorite sport, back when she played softball from sixth grade up until eighth grade. She then, according to Hughes, got a job in government.

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“Do you want me to sign your baseball?” third base coach Bob Henley asked. Hughes was given that baseball for autographs, and it will be her first autographed baseball she owns. In her room at Green Valley, she sleeps on Nationals sheets. She also owns a Harper bobblehead, given to her as a gift.

Time passed. The sun shined through clouds. The warm wind blew. Ruff took a selfie with Hughes. Then just after 3:50 p.m., Hughes was wheeled near the first base line. She was shown on the Jumbotron. The crowd cheered. Hughes smiled. Then, out of the dugout, Harper emerged. He held a jersey folded in his hands. He went up to Hughes, smiling at her, and shook her hand. He gave her the jersey; he signed her ball; he hugged her and then he posed for pictures with her. And then, he went back to the dugout. It was game time.

Hughes was wheeled out from the field, to her seats behind third base. But before she left, she looked at the jersey gave her. It was small. It had the number 34. But it was different. This jersey didn’t say Harper.

This one said Hughes.

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