Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Vignettes With The Nationals--2/21/07
"Opportunity" that is the catch word that describes the 2007 Spring Training for Our Washington Nationals. Whether you are a pitcher, infielder or outfielder, someone who has been injured or just never got the proper chance, General Manager Jim Bowden has claimed no one will have a better opportunity in their lifetimes to succeed in The Major League than with Washington in 2007.
In many respects, the action in Viera, Florida is like an "All Comers" Track Meet. Show us what you can do. If you are good, you make that squad.
So, i went out in search of some of those "bubble" players. Talented, but lost in the shuffle, invitees to Spring Training, 2007.
Infielder, Josh Wilson and Outfielder, Mike Restovich willingly gave me in depth, honest accounts of their careers and why they came to Washington. Honestly, I knew little about them, except for reading up on their stats. Yet, I left both, realizing there was more to them, than just baseball talent. Wilson and Restovich were thoughtful, decent guys. Players that the numbers game has always caught them, and left them behind.
Starting with Josh Wilson, I asked him whether he was upset after seeing Washington sign Ronnie Belliard and others to compete with him for the open infield utility role this season?
"You know, I don’t know if its changed. When I signed I knew there was a good chance they would bring in other guys. That’s what every team does. They want to make sure they have guys to fill the roles, in case someone like myself or someone else does not turn out as planned or thought. So, I don’t think anything has really changed. My job is to go out there and do what I do. If I play well, everything will take care of itself."
Has Manny Acta talked with you?
"No, not really. No one has talked with me personally. Everyone should know what is expected of them, in order to make the team. That does not change, year after year. These team WANT YOU TO PERFORM. That is the bottom line. You compete, you produce, that’s all they want or care about (it’s a business). I can play all three positions (2nd, 3rd & SS), but if they need me, I can play first (base), no problem. I may be only 25 years old, but I realized early, that the more skills you bring to the table, the better chance you have to succeed."
Where does your power come from?
“Man, its just working on my swing. I do it all the time. I need to be mechanically sound and everything working in unison. The power is there. Hank Aaron only weighed 185 pounds most of his career and he’s the all time home run leader. You don’t have to be a big guy. You need to have the right mechanics, a little bit of natural pop, it doesn’t hurt. But, bottom line, its all about the mechanics."
Are you excited about being here?
"Yes, definitely. This is the very best opportunity in baseball to make a Major League team. Not only for me, but many others here in camp. At this point in my career, I want to get up (to The Majors), make the team and stay. If I don’t get the chance to start, that’s OK, but I want to at least, sit on the bench, in the utility role. Then, hopefully, that would translate into an everyday role, if not here, than other teams in the future. Then, that would lead to the opportunity to start and make this my career for a long time."
Kory Casto told me you just need someone who trusts you, to give you that shot at the Bigs?
“That’s right. It only takes one guy. I grew up a Pirates fan. You look at when they had Mike Benjamin as their shortstop. He was there with the Pirates year in and year out. The guy never hit anything fantastic, but he was really reliable in the field. I don’t remember who the Manager was at that time, but the guy trusted Benjamin and gave him a chance. THAT IS WHAT IT TAKES!! Find that one guy that has confidence in you. And, no matter where he goes, you may find yourself with a job."
Like Jamey Carroll here two years ago in Washington? (SBF)
"Yes, he was in the same situation. He was in a spot where someone (Frank Robinson) liked him, he stuck around and made the Big Leagues. Got a great shot in Colorado and will now be their everyday second baseman." (And a two year deal, too—SBF) "You are awfully right. That’s what it takes. Make that one team, get the break and make the team. That's WHAT I WANT!!"
Like Wilson, Restovich has bounced around. I knew a little about his career with The Minnesota Twins. But, like most of us, when I am unfamilar with someone, I tend to just discard them. In my few moments with Mike Restovich, I was really taken by the guy. He was very interested in chatting with me. Was familar with blogs for baseball teams, asked where on the internet he could find the Nats320 blog. I gave him a card, with all the info. He was the most straight forward player I have spoken to, to date. After our conversation, I could only hope the best for him. He was genuine and nice. Hard to find in professional sports today.
I asked Mike: How about your opportunity here?
"I am excited about it. Obviously there is a lot of competition. But no one is really set in center and left. Some certainly have an advantage over the others. But, except for Austin Kearns, there is no one here with any long term experience. No one that has been given the job outright. So, there is an opportunity for me."
But someone told you a job was available for you to take?
"Of course, you don’t know whether they tell everyone the same thing, but that’s a part of baseball. I went with my gut feeling and obviously felt there was a good opportunity here."
You are known as a really good power hitter, how come you never have gotten that chance?
(Laughing at first) Restovich responded: "I wish I knew. If I knew that, I would have figured everything out a long time ago, fixed that and saved me some grief. But, honestly, for me, its been being in the wrong place at the wrong time. When I came up and was ready for the opportunity, the organization I was with, The Twins, were winning the division and had three starters locked up (in the outfield) with long term deals. There was no where to go for me. Since then, once you start bouncing around, its always a matter of getting into the right place at the right time. Its hasn’t worked for me so far, but hopefully this opportunity (with The Nationals) will be the one."
Bert Blyleven, (Twins Great and Broadcaster) raves about you(SBF).
“I love Bert. I always got along with him well. But, I REALLY BELIEVE I HAVE A LOT TO OFFER TO THIS TEAM. I need that opportunity."
A lot of folks consider you a limited pull hitter. Can you hit the other way?
"Yes, when I am going good, hitting to right center is my strength. Sometimes I get in a rut and start thinking too much, and try to pull everything. When I am hitting well, that’s where I hit the ball. And, that’s where most guys pitch me."
Do you need to improve your outfield skills to enhance your chance to make the team here?
"I need to do my work. I have done that for 10 years. I have the ability. Its not anything that I have not done before. Its just a matter of getting ready. A lot of times the outfield is a mental thing. Guys can be more talented. Guys can have better skills. But, its being prepared every single pitch. Sometimes that is a stuggle for guys, a lot of outfielders. You may not see one ball for three or four innings in a row. That one time it comes, you better be ready. So, the biggest thing defensively is mental preparation."
"But, make no mistake about it, you need someone in your corner to make The Big Leagues. Sometimes that is the big thing. Other times its opportunity. You can be as ready as you want to be, but if there is no where to put you, you are out of luck. I know some guys, and taking nothing away from certain players, there were some guys who I feel I was better than during a certain time in my career. They were on one team where there were seven injuries, got called up, and did well with that opportunity. And, are now 5 years into their Big League Career. That just happens. That’s baseball. You need to be in the right place at the right time. And make the most of that opportunity and have a very nice career."
Life can be unfair at times?-(SBF).
“I don’t want to be mean or bitter toward others, but life can be (unfair). I have been blessed with a lot of opportunities and and gifts. I would not trade what I have gone through, some failures, being sent down as many times as I have, and bounced around. There is a lot to learn in those situations, and I have. So, when it all works out, it will be all the more special and I will appreciate it more."
I found it fascinating to talk with both Josh Wilson and Mike Restovich. To me, they are players fans love to support. Players that once they do make the big club, are fan favorites (like Jamey Carroll). Players that remain the hard working, dedicated people, they are today. I wish both of them well.