The Nationals Dream Foundation will have its annual Dream Gala on Saturday evening at the Marriott Marquis in downtown Washington.
It's more than just an evening of food and drinks and mingling with ballplayers. There's the live auction, where one can purchase special prizes such as Jayson Werth's signed, game-worn historic jersey or a Nationals rocking chair.
The Dream Foundation is committed to community partnerships that improve the lives of children and families in the D.C. area. The foundation has put together three cornerstone programs: The Nationals Youth Baseball Academy, the Nationals Diabetes Care Complex and the Neighborhood Initiative. The academy and complex were built this year.
MLB.com caught up with Marla Lerner Tanenbaum, the chairperson of the Dream Foundation, and talked to her about the success of the gala and the foundation.
MLB.com: How much are you looking forward to Saturday's gala?
Lerner Tanenbaum: It is always an exciting night, but this year is something special because of our venue. We have been talking about this move to the brand new Marriott Marquis since before there was a hole in the ground. We are thrilled to hold our event at this gorgeous new venue; it's especially meaningful as the Marriotts are important donors of the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy.
MLB.com: This gala has been your baby since the Lerner family became owners of the Nationals. What do you expect to accomplish this year?
Lerner Tanenbaum: It's our major fund-raiser for the year, so I hope to accomplish a lot of money! I hope there is a great energy at the auction. I hope there is an excitement about what the foundation is doing. I give a "state of the union" about what we accomplished this year, what our goals are, where we are going. This has been a big year. Since last year's gala, we've had two ribbon cuttings -- the Nationals Diabetes Care Complex and the baseball academy. So there is a lot to talk about and a lot to report. Education and fund-raising is what I hope to accomplish that night.
MLB.com: Are you surprised that the gala is popular, especially with the fans?
Lerner Tanenbaum: I'm not surprised because I think the team has -- in a short period of time -- become an institution in Washington. People welcomed the team in with open arms. We get the benefit of that affection, as well. I do also think that the foundation has also earned our fans' affection and support because we continue to deliver on all the promises that we've made in our cornerstone programs. People appreciate what we've done so far.
MLB.com: After what you accomplished so far, what are you looking to improve when it comes to the foundation?
Lerner Tanenbaum: It's always a challenge to communicate your goals and accomplishments to our fan base. People have a lot on their minds when they come to a game, so we are always looking for the best possible way to communicate to the fans. I think we can do a better job with that.
There might be room for a fourth cornerstone program. We have our eyes open for what that cornerstone program will be, what the critical needs are in our community that we could play a part in addressing. Besides communication, we have to consider when will it be the right time to expand our mission.
MLB.com: How much has your family helped you with your projects?
Lerner Tanenbaum: I get a lot of great suggestions. [Brother] Mark has been super with the baseball academy as well as my father [Ted Lerner]. They are builders. Mark knows how to design and build a building. He was really helpful with that and remains my go-to guy for asking a lot of questions on these things. The rest of family -- Debra [Lerner Cohen], Bob [Tanenbaum], Ed [Cohen] and Alan Gottlieb -- have really helped me find donors, prospects, people who might be interested in donating to the academy or just coming to the gala.
MLB.com: Do the players enjoy the gala?
Lerner Tanenbaum: I sincerely hope so. Some of them are just quiet and take it in and enjoy their conversations with our gala attendees. Then there are the larger personalities who really get into it like Gio [Gonzalez]. I remember the first year that Bryce [Harper] came, he was pretty wide-eyed. He had a jersey that we auctioned off that night and he came on stage to make the pitch. I think the jersey went for $11,000. Honestly, he gave me a high-five. He thought that was so cool. And the players and their spouses contribute homemade "Player Baskets" of items that reflect each player's personality. I understand this year Ian and Chelsey Desmond have donated a paddle surf board and a beach bag filled with Desmond family beach toys and other goodies. People get very creative!
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also can be found on Twitter