Mackowiak enthralls area students

Mackowiak enthralls area students

WASHINGTON -- The children simply wouldn't sit still, and who could blame them? There was a baseball player in the room.

Nationals outfielder Rob Mackowiak visited nearby Anthony Bowen Elementary School on Friday afternoon for about an hour, joining in the festivities for Community Appreciation Day at the 77-year-old school. Bowen will close for good after school ends next week, and its students and teachers will move over to nearby Margaret Amidon Elementary.

But for one fun-filled afternoon, that was forgotten, and all that mattered were hot dogs and one very special guest.

Mackowiak said he really enjoys getting out into the community, especially when making appearances for children.

"It's always good doing things for kids," he said. "Personally, I love to do things with kids especially, because they look forward to it, and it's something that, when you go out there, they're just just excited to see a player."

Mackowiak began his visit standing in front of about 100 assembled students and a smattering of teachers and other visitors, answering questions from children in the audience. The Oak Lawn, Ill., native answered questions ranging from how many home runs he's hit to when he started playing baseball to some slightly harder ones.

"When do you get paid?" one student asked, drawing laughter from the crowd.

"I don't know if I should answer that," Mackowiak said with a chuckle and a wide smile, before admitting the truth: "Twice a month."

Bowen principal Almeta Hawkins praised Mackowiak's approach, saying it was the best way to keep the students engaged and interested in what he had to say.

"He spoke to them like they understood," she said. "His approach was the ideal approach ... because that's what they wanted to know."

Mackowiak was part of a day-long celebration at Bowen, which will close its doors at the end of school next week for the last time. It will become the First District Police Department.

Principal Almeta Hawkins said closing the school would be bittersweet. But she said she was thankful for the outpouring of support from the community, including the Nationals, whose new park is just blocks away from Bowen's front door.

"It's a wonderful experience for the community, not only the students," Hawkins said of Mackowiak's visit. "You can tell by the students' reaction that they are very much aware of the ballpark being in their area, and that's a great honor for them to actually see someone that plays."

After about 15 minutes of informal question-and-answer, Mackowiak sat down at a desk and autographed cards with the Nationals' logo emblazoned on them, as teachers struggled to get students to stand still in a straight line. The children craned their necks to see how long it would take before they got their turn with their Major League visitor.

Mackowiak obliging signed a card for every desiring child, then posed for pictures with students, teachers and others in attendance from the community before going outside to help with arts and crafts.

"I think it's everybody's responsibility on a baseball team, to get out," Mackowiak said. "The school's closing, and to come out and say something positive to them, I mean anything. If one [student] takes anything out of it, that's good."

Hawkins reiterated after the event how thankful she was for the community's support of Bowen Elementary in the school's last days. She singled out Mackowiak for his willingness to come spend time with her students as they and the community around them said goodbye to their school.

"That's great community outreach for a person of his caliber to take time out to devote to the children," Hawkins said.

Mackowiak said he was happy to attend. He said he had fun just "seeing a bunch of kids running around, having fun," and he said it's important for baseball players to recognize what they mean, especially to children.

"A couple of kids just come up there and stare at you," Mackowiak said, standing on a basketball court and laughing at the action around him. "It's a good feeling to us to realize how much they respect you and how much they look up to you."

Zachary Osterman is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.