John Lannan stared wonderingly at the playing card in his hand. Moments earlier, the Washington Nationals pitcher had clutched a few pieces of a shredded card. But under the guidance—some might say magic—of legendary trickster David Blaine, the pieces of the card came together.
“I didn’t feel a thing,” Lannan says. “Crazy.”
Lannan experienced Blaine’s magic tricks at a Washington-sports-star-studded event at the Nationals Park Monday night. He and eight other Nats players—including first baseman Adam Dunn, new closer Drew Storen, and catcher Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez—showed up to support their teammate, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, in the DC launch of his charitable foundation at a gala called Night at the Park.Proceeds from the event went to the Zims Foundation, started by Zimmerman in his native Virginia Beach four years ago. The organization aims to fund and support treatment and a cure for multiple sclerosis. The disease afflicts Zimmerman’s mother, Cheryl, who was diagnosed with MS when Zimmerman was 11. When negotiating his contract with the Nationals, Zimmerman ensured that the Zims Foundation would receive free use of the stadium once a year to host benefits.
“Moving to DC is a big stepping stone for [the foundation],” Zimmerman says. “We want to make it bigger and better, so the next step was to bring it to a bigger and better city, and there’s no place better than DC.”
Much of what this city does, of course, is politics—which is why the Zims Foundation reached out to a number of prominent politicos: Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Representative Michael Burgess (R-TX.), and Representative Russ Carnahan (D-MO) are all outspoken leaders in the Congressional Caucus on Multiple Sclerosis and served as honorary co-chairs of the event.
“In Washington, if you want to be an activist and want to get involved, that opens doors,” said NBC chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd, who emceed the event. “And Zimmerman is the face of the franchise. He went to University of Virginia, and he has roots here. That gives him some cache in Washington, and he’s putting it to good use.”
Todd encouraged attendees—numbering more than 700—to put their own money to good use by bidding on auction items that included four tickets to an American Idol filming and a workout day with Zimmerman.
Bidders and observers loosened up before the auction at various bars throughout the stadium. For the general-admission ticket holders ($75), a cash bar and concessions were available. Those with elite-level tickets (clocking in at $175) or VIP access (for $500) enjoyed an open bar and buffet; for the elite, dinner was carved turkey and pork, and sides of cheddar grits, cole slaw, cheddar-scallion biscuits, and baked beans. VIP guests dined on fire-grilled mahi mahi, carved ancho-grilled sirloin, turkey, and salad. Magician Blaine made his way around the VIP area, whipping out card tricks and signing autographs.
After dinner and the live auction, guests continued to bid in a silent auction while artists Mutlu and Amos Lee performed. The evening raised upwards of $200,000, according to a spokesman for the foundation.
“We want to do this every year,” Zimmerman says. “We can call this night the ‘Inaugural Zimfest.’ We’re excited to be here.”