Mason Students Get On-Field View of Nationals’ Baseball Success

By Buzz McClain

The Washington Nationals are having their best season ever, and by default, so are Mason’s Katie Albisu and Brianna Norwood.

Albisu, a junior tourism and events management major with a psychology minor, and sports management sophomore Norwood are members of the NatPack, the high-energy, tee-shirt-throwing, dugout-dancing team-within-a-team that provides “in-game” entertainment at each of the 81 Nationals home games at Nationals Park.

Mason tourism and events management major Katie Albisu has been a member of Major League Baseball’s Washington Nationals’ NatsPack for three years. Photo by Alexis Glenn.

They’ve been witness to the startling emergence of rookie Bryce Harper, the dipsy-doodle curveball of phenom pitcher Stephen Strasburg, Michael Morse’s clutch grand slam against the Mets, National League All-Star Gio Gonzalez’s franchise-record for wins by a pitcher, and the pair of all-in brawls with the chippy Chicago Cubs in early September.

“Actually, I was the third base ball girl that night,” Albisu says. “Someone called in sick, so I was the ball girl and I watched all the bullpens empty.”

In fact, the Cubs’ angry horde of relief pitchers dashed out of the left field pen and headed in her direction at a fast trot.

“I wasn’t quite sure what was going on at first with everyone storming out, but it was intense from where I was sitting.”

While some would find a position with the NatPack enjoyable enough to do as an unpaid internship, Albisu and Norwood are paid for their efforts. And, naturally, both women are using their experiences toward their majors.

At the Nationals games, NatPackers like Katie Albisu engage with the fans and often throw T-shirts. Photo by Alexis Glenn.

“We encourage students to take positions where they experience what it’s like to work in that position day to day,” says Mason tourism and events management professor Abena A. Aidoo, one of Albisu’s professors. “We expect them to follow the dress code, keep the hours, and follow the policies of the agency they work for.”

Not only that, but Aidoo says Albisu spent “at least” the minimum 120 hours of her practicum based on her Nats experience. “This counted for it; I was pretty lucky,” Albisu says.

For the practicum, “you have to monitor what you do every single minute at the park, make a table of each game, describe your work environment, what your day consists of, and make a binder of it,” Albisu says. “I’ve worked at least 120 hours because that’s how many you have to do for the practicum, but I’ve done a lot more than that. I’ve actually lost count of the games.”

Mason student Brianna Norwood gets the crowd cheering at a Nationals game. Photo courtesy of Brianna Norwood.

The entire division-leading, playoff-bound season has been intense from a Nats’ fan perspective, which the Albisu clan clearly is; Albisu says her father was fan from the moment the team was imported from Montreal in 2005. “He’s been a season ticket holder since then, when they played at RFK [Stadium], and I’ve been going to games with him ever since I was 13.”

That’s when she first saw the NatPack at work, and the young teenager became infatuated with the idea of joining the pack.

“But you have to be 18, so I’ve watched them do it since I was 13 and said, ‘I want to do that, too.’ And when I was 18, I auditioned and I’ve been doing it ever since.”

Norwood, finishing her first season with the Nats, was inspired to try out for the NatPack by Albisu, her teammate on the Masonettes dance team.

“When Katie found out I was a sports management major she said this could be good for me. I auditioned and I got the job.” (It didn’t hurt that Albisu was the choreographer for the tryouts.)

Norwood, whose brother Gabe was on Mason’s 2006 NCAA Final Four basketball team, says the baseball experience is paying off.

“In all my classes, we talk about networking,” she says. “Everyone I see with a Nationals’ ball park badge, I’ll introduce myself. I talk to the sports operations guys, the grounds crew; I ask them about their jobs. I see at baseball games the same thing I see at basketball games, about how much thought is put into every timeout to maximize the fan experience.”

Norwood is considering a double major, adding public relations to her studies. “Everyday I think about what I want to do [post-college],” she says. “I really like player development. But I might want to be an NFL scout.”

Albisu says their job carries into the off-season and nongame days as the NatPack often brings its enthusiasm to corporate and promotional events, and duties include accompanying the Racing Presidents and mascot Screech in public appearances. “It is,” she says, “a lot of fun.”

To read more stories about Mason, check out the university’s News site.

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