Friday, February 23, 2007
Our Final Day In Viera
Today's morning practice for Our Washington Nationals was the last one for The African Queen and I for this TERRIFIC TRIP!! What more can we possibly say. The granting of a one day press pass was just icing on the cake. Sohna and I were able to meet just about every single player looking to make Washington, DC their home. And, through random luck, actually were able to meet up with some players in area restaurants. It just doesn't get much better, as a fan, really.
Today, Chad Cordero, Micah Bowie and Luis Ayala were the most prominent Nationals pitchers getting their bullpen work in. Everyday players continued taking batting practice from real pitchers. Catchers worked on retrieving foul pops behind the plate. While, all pitchers continued to practice fielding situations around the bases.
Nick Johnson continued to rehab and attempt to get himself back into shape. Nick working to build up his stamina by walking around Field 3 again. While doing his work, AAA Manager, John Stearns yelled over to Johnson, "Nick, How far are you away from doing a light jog." Johnson looks over, "Well, I don't know really. I don't know." Stearns was a little taken back by the answer, saying: "That long, too bad." Nick continued on his way.
I asked Nick how's the rehab going? "Good," he stated, "I am doing a little walking, up to 12 minutes. And, I am also doing some pool work, trying to get real strong again."
Has it been frustrating for you? "Yes, it has been. I really would liked to be out there with the guys. Unfortunately, it is what it is, and I got to keep working so I can get back out there (on the playing field)."
How accurate was your original statement about a June, 2007 return to play? "Yeah, (you know that comment caused alot of controversy?-SBF), there is no time table. When I am strong, I will be out there."
Personally, would it hurt you to miss the whole season? "When I am ready, I will be ready. I don't know when that will be. I certainly don't want to miss the entire year, but we shall see how long it takes (to heal).
When you get the word that you are 100% healthy and ready to go all out. How much longer will it take for you to get into baseball shape. You haven't, at that time, hit or fielded a ball for some time."
"Wow, I don't really know the answer to that. I might be hitting and something else might happen. So, I just take it day to day. I have not swung (a bat) in a while, or run. You have to do the whole bit, we'll see."
That day of your injury was, by far, the saddest day of the year for The Washington Nationals. I have written that until you get healthy and back out on the field competing, Austin Kearns might be affected, at least, mentally?
"No, he's a gamer. You don't have to worry about him. He (Kearns) plays the game the right way. He will be fine."
Do you fear that the thoughts of the injury might make you hesitate chasing down a ball again?
"No, it will not change the way I play. When I get out there, it will be the way its always been. I just go. I will play the game the way I always do, play hard. That play (the accident) was a tweener, tough to get to. We both missed it, by a foot or something. I will continue to play hard."
How tough was this winter, sitting around, limited in your movements?
"I had two other surgeries, rehab three or four days per week. I was pretty busy doing that stuff. But, I pretty much hung out with the family. ("Watch alot of TV?--SBF) "Alot of TV!! (laughing). I had every package going--NHL, NFL, NBA. I got all of them. I was sitting on the couch. I didn't do too much. (both of us chuckling).
We talked briefly about the fan support in Washington and how so many will miss Nick Johnson until he returns healthy., "Its terrific. The fans are into the games. I love how they jump around down the 3rd baseline. The Stadium (RFK) starts shaking. Its a great place to play."
I only hope that Nick Johnson's career will not be derailed by his injury. More than one Nats Player this week told me, Nick is the heart and sole of the team.
Chad Cordero telling me: "Yes, he is. He plays hard each and every day. That's all you can ask for. Unfortunately, its part of the reason, he got hurt, because he was going so hard after the ball. That is the way he is. Again, he's had injury problems. He goes out there and plays hard every single day. He's awesome (as a teammate) because he jokes around in The Clubhouse. He is really a good guy, and it was sad to see what happen to him last year."
Personally, I can only wish Nick Johnson the best. I really like him--as a person.
As I mentioned yesterday, Jason Bergmann was aware of The Nats320 blog. Jason reads the blogs to keep abreast of fans feeling about, not only his work, but the teams.
"Yes, I read the blogs," Bergmann told me. "My teammates call me 'Internet Junkie'. I look around the internet for all kinds of stuff. I like to be handy. I like to think of myself as a 'Geek'. But, I do like the internet games, the online games. So, obviously, I read all the stuff. What's everyone else's take on the fellows. But, for me personally, I am not looking for bad news about myself or anyone else. Or, even good news about myself. I am only interested in being informed."
Do you or your teammates find it humorous, what you read about yourselves in the blogs?
"I don't know if its humorous, but its nice to know what other people think sometimes. I have heard some nasty things written about myself. Some good things, also. Basically, its me keeping in touch with the fans thoughts, see what they think, and maybe improve my own character. I try to reach out to fans, talk with them, sometimes. I tell people I have helped out, meeting with people, saying 'hello'. Its a good thing to do."
There are nearly 30 Nats Blogs and Chat Rooms out there?
"That' GREAT!. And, that shows the extent of the fan support. I think its wonderful. The past two years, We have been up and down. We were .500 one year, the next season we were a little poorer than that. But, the fan outcry and support has been fantastic. Playing in Washington has been a real thrill."
Even when the team is down, the fans have been there at RFK Stadium?
"Yes, but you can still attribute that to a new team in a new city. Washington's been in dire need of a team since the early '70's, when they (The Senators) left. Its been a real thrill playing in front of fans who want to see you day in and day out. In time, we will have a quality team to really root for."
Of course, Jason has been up and down these past two years, switching gears, I asked him: What do you want to accomplish this season?
"Stay in one place," Bergmann immediately laughed back. "Hopefully in the Major Leagues. I worked by butt off this off season. There was a lot of things that I corrected, hopefully. I have had some really tough games, and some positive games. I am working forward from there, not lingering on the bad stuff, but concentrating on the good stuff?
Like what exactly? "My main thing was throwing quality strikes. I was flipped around from being a starter to a reliever. Its tough to really find a groove. But, using the coaching staff we have. Randy St.Claire is back. He is a really good supporter of me. He teaches real well on my pitches. I am trying to keep myself in great pitching shape. Last year, I did not come in (to spring training) too hot off surgery. So, this year, I have a fresh start and have the ability to find a spot. There are four open starter roles. I am just trying my best to make impressions on people."
You want to be a starter?
"Absolutely, I will take any position that is open. I will play first base if they want (laughing). Don't think its going to happen, but (even with Nick Johnson injured, its not going to happen), I think I can play first base anyway (both of us laughing). No (shaking his head back and forth), not going to happen."
Of course, I could not finish up my last full day of 2007 Washington Nationals Spring Training, without giving the final word to Manager Manny Acta. As Manny was leaving the practice field for the day, The African Queen and I stopped by to thank him for his graciousness toward us this past week. If not for Manny's encouragement to talk to fans, many of his players may not have been so forth coming to talk with me so I could gather so much information for The Nats320 blog.
These were my final few questions to Manny Acta:
Manny, In my week of being here, what do you feel you have accomplished toward your 2007 goals?
"We have installed the positivity to the guys that we are able to win without having the big names and high paid role guys. I like the attitude. I think I can feel it. Guys are going to be able to put that behind them. And, also the fact that we have been implementing the plan we want for defense. I think we have gotten the point across, in a week."
Most every player I have talked to seemed happy to be here in camp with The Nationals?
"They should be because of the opportunity we are offering, but the fact that we are in The Capital of The United States. Then, next year we will have the brand new stadium. And, if you are not excited by that, then something is missing. I think we are doing it the right way, building from the ground up. I think our international fruits are going to be paying dividends in the very near future."
Finally, after asking hundreds of questions all week long, my last question for the week: Manny, are you having a good time?
"Oh, I am having a GREAT TIME! I am LOVING IT!!"
So you are going to feel that way after that first five game losing streak?
"Oh, I am not going to get beat down. This is not the first time I have managed, even if I lose five in a row."
Manny laughing at his answer, then wished The African Queen and I well. Asking if we might come back in Mid-March for some exhibition games. "Manny I do work for a living, you know. The blog is not a profitable business."
Manny still chuckling: "Yeah, I know, but you do seem to enjoy it."
No doubt, I LOVE IT!!
Quote of The Day: Since many have told me I write about everything I hear or see. Team President Stan Kasten and General Manager Jim Bowden were driving past The African Queen and I, in a golf cart, leaving the practice fields. Upon spotting us both put up their hands, trying to pretend getting away from us, yelling: "No Comment, No Comment!!" laughing as they drove past.