WASHINGTON -- Nationals center fielder Denard Span visited Anacostia Library on Saturday to read to a group of around 30 kids enrolled in the D.C. Public Library's 2014 Summer Reading Program.
Three other members of the Nationals also conducted readings on Saturday at other branches of the Public Library. Manager Matt Williams attended Tenley Library along with his wife, Erika, and daughter, Madison, while outfielder Scott Hairston read at Deanwood Library and reliever Drew Storen visited the Mount Pleasant Library.
Span arrived and took a number questions from kids and parents before reading Baseball Hour by Carol Nevius.
"This was my first time being in a library in a long time," Span said. "But when I walked in, just seeing all the smiles on the kids' faces just was an unbelievable feeling. And once I began reading, just watching and seeing how engaged they were."
This is the first summer the Nationals have teamed up with the Public Library to promote the Summer Reading Program. The partnership was announced in the spring, and Span took on the responsibility of serving as the team's ambassador to the initiative.
"I think it's just important for kids to take reading serious, and education serious as well," Span said. "Any time I can give back -- whether it's time or effort, money, whatever -- that's something that I want to do. And when they came to me, I had no hesitations in accepting."
The Nationals have played a huge part in expanding the scope of the Summer Reading Program not only by donating their time, but also via tangible benefits. The Washington Nationals Dream Foundation contributed a $4,000 grant to the D.C. Public Library Foundation to purchase baseball-themed books, including the one Span read for the group on Saturday.
The team's eventual goal is to reach more than 12,000 kids through the program.
"The Nationals have been a great partner for the library in part because it allows us to bring the Summer Reading Program to higher prominence, giving us more exposure and getting the message out that reading matters all summer," Public Library representative George Williams said.
The program is comprised of age-specific initiatives that offer kids varying incentives, including a Nationals/D.C. Public Library soft baseball for kids up to 5 years old, a Nationals Activity Book for kids ages 6 to 12, and tickets to select Nationals games for kids ages 6 to 18 who reach the summer-reading goal of eight hours.
George Williams said studies have shown that kids can lose up to two months of what they learned the previous school year if they don't read over the summer. Just eight hours of reading can make the difference as far as kids being ready for the next grade in the fall.
"Reading is very important," Span said. "If you can't read, then you're going to be lost in this world."
Daniel Popper is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.