At his home in Waldorf, Maryland, Anibal Apunte has a Nationals World Series Champion T-shirt covered in autographs from nearly every player on the team. He plans to frame it.
His Instagram account is full of photos of him at the World Series championship parade and rally. In one, he has his arm around Anthony Rendon, and another features Victor Robles. One image shows Apunte waving to the crowd on top of a bus.
But nobody knew he was there. For several hours on Saturday, Apunte received VIP treatment worthy of a World Series champion, all while dressed as Elmo.
“It was fun,” Apunte says with a laugh. “Nothing negative about it. It was just amazing being Elmo for the day. I guess that’s what famous people go through. You get access to go anywhere. When you’re famous, doors open up to you.”
It had been a tough few weeks for Apunte. His 3-year-old dog died, someone stole his motorcycle, and he found out that a childhood friend had recently passed away. When he went to Gene’s Costumes in Kensington to buy his 8-year-old son a costume, he decided to “go all out.”
Apunte, 51, spent $65 to rent a giant, bright red Elmo costume, while his son chose to be Master Chief, the main character from the Halo video games.
That night also happened to be Game 7 of the World Series, so after attending a friend’s watch party dressed as Elmo, he went over to Nationals Park. The fans went wild for the costume.
“Everyone was having a blast,” Apunte says.
He had originally planned to return the costume on the Friday before the championship parade, but got home late from running errands. The next day, Apunte, who works part-time for the Washington football team as a flag person and also owns a dog-walking business in D.C., drove to the parade and parked near The Wharf.
Apunte brought along the Elmo costume but didn’t wear it. At the last minute, he decided to put it on and walked toward the parade’s start on 15th Street NW.
“I saw people getting around me, yelling, ‘Elmo! Elmo!’” Apunte recalls. “Kids were asking me to sign their hats. I was taking pictures with them. Then people started chanting, ‘Elmo! Elmo!’ I was taking pictures with cops, giving high-fives.”
A woman carrying a clipboard told him to walk toward Pennsylvania Avenue NW, where he drew an even bigger crowd. A mob had surrounded him by the time he reached the fence between the general public and the buses carrying the players and their families. When he reached the front of parade around 12:30 p.m., security told him to go through the gate.
“I guess they thought I was a part of the parade,” Apunte says. “I guess he wanted to whisk me out of the craziness.”
While inside, he ran into one of his friends, a colleague from the Washington football team. They were walking toward the front of the parade when a bus full of kids spotted Elmo. The bus driver waved him in.
“I guess I’m gonna hang out on the bus for the rest of the parade,” Apunte remembers thinking.
He believes that the bus, which was in the middle of the pack, held mostly family members of Nationals players. Apunte took countless selfies and made small talk with those aboard. He had practiced speaking in a high-pitched Elmo voice the previous few days in the costume, so the interactions felt natural.
Fans and a photographer for The Georgetowner captured Apunte during the parade dressed as Elmo and holding up his “C is for Celebration” poster.
“The whole time I was in costume, I felt like I was in a movie,” Apunte says. “Watching [through] a little screen, I didn’t see anything else. I didn’t feel like I was in my body. It felt like it was happening to somebody else. The only time I opened up the costume was to drink a little water. I didn’t want to ruin it for the kids.”
When he got off the bus near the makeshift stage, he started to follow the crowd. “I didn’t know where the hell I was,” Apunte says.
Inside a tent, the players, coaches, team members, and their families waited to be called on stage. Many of them took turns taking photos with Elmo. Apunte found a pen and started to ask players if they could sign his shirt. In all, Apunte says he got about 27 signatures.
“It was just an amazing experience,” he says. “The best $65 I ever spent in a costume. Now I’ve got a nice shirt to remember for the rest of my life.”
On the walk back to The Wharf, Apunte spotted a bride and groom with their wedding party heading toward him. They shouted at Elmo and the groom gave him a hug. Later while eating dinner, Apunte helped a man who was having trouble breathing while still in costume.
“An incredible day,” he says.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Apunte had yet to return the costume, but a costume store employee told him they would waive some of the late fee.
Nobody can say no to Elmo.