Craig Fifer has been a season ticket holder for Washington Nationals games for 19 consecutive years, since 2005 when the team relocated from Montreal. Remember Vinnie Castilla and Brad Wilkerson? Fifer does. He was in his seat in rickety RFK Stadium for those early seasons when those were the top players, before the advent of palatial-by-comparison Nationals Park and the emergence of MLB all-stars Bryce Harper and Juan Soto.
As a reward for his continued indulgence, the Nationals invited him to take part in the time-honored tradition of throwing the ceremonial first pitch of the game. The call came on the Thursday before a Tuesday game as he was headed out of town—not a lot of time to hone his splitter, but Fifer said yes.
Fifer is a 2008 graduate of the Schar School of Policy and Government’s Master of Public Administration Fellows program, a degree program designed for mid-career professionals employed by regional governments. At the time, Fifer was four years into a position with the City of Alexandria, beginning as a manager and working up to director of communications and public information.
In 2021, Fifer was loaned to Governor Ralph Northam’s administration to serve as director of intergovernmental affairs for the Commonwealth during the COVID-19 vaccination campaign. He is now special advisor to the commissioner of the Virginia Department of Social Services, an agency of some 1,600 employees overseeing 11,000 human service workers throughout the state.
“I think it certainly helped,” he said. “I sometimes think the purpose of a graduate degree is to demonstrate a commitment to a profession. Mid-career public servants with the drive to pursue MPAs are also likely to distinguish themselves at work in other ways that earn promotions, so it all fits together.”
After graduating from the fellows program, Fifer was repeatedly invited by faculty members to give guest lectures to MPA courses. That led to his appointment as an adjunct professor in 2019. He’s preparing now to teach his eighth semester in a class called Ethics for Public Administrators. “I love teaching and I’m grateful for the opportunity to give back after a great experience as an MPA student,” he said.
Back to baseball: With limited time to get his curveball to groove, Fifer “read every article on the internet about how to throw out a ceremonial first pitch,” he said. He managed to practice a little with friends and by July 25, the day the Nats were to face down the Colorado Rockies, he was good to go. Sort of.
Nationals’ player Joe La Sorsa played the role of catcher, Screech the bald eagle mascot served as umpire, and Fifer took the field in front of the pitcher’s mound, which was still covered with a tarp from the 90-minute rain delay that preceded his pitch.
“I had been practicing a high arc [throw], because everybody tells you don’t pitch in a straight line or you’ll hit the dirt,” he said. “My goal was that the catcher did not move his feet.”
“I blew it. I pitched very straight. It hit the dirt. But the catcher was super nice and made me seem like Babe Ruth. He signed the ball and was very gracious. It almost makes it worse that’s he’s actually a pitcher.”