Monday, March 12, 2007
Felipe Lopez is one of the most intriguing members of Our Washington Nationals. Upon his arrival last July, in the Blockbuster 8 Player Trade with The Cincinnati Reds, Lopez showed a tremendous amount of talent. "FLop" (lovingly called that moniker by many Nats Blogs, sort of like JLo, KFed, and I can not take credit for first using it, but I do LOVE THE NICKNAME!!) has a good bat, with some pop, excellent speed, a terrific arm and the ability to make the hard defensive play, look effortless. Unfortunately, the easy defensive plays can eat him up. And, many times, last season, Felipe had problems taking throws at second, while covering the bag on a steal.
In less than one half season with Washington, Felipe Lopez hit .281, scored 43 runs, knocked in 22 runs and stole 21 bases. Decent numbers, all. He also had 14 errors at shortstop for The Nationals (28 for the season). Not too decent.
For the 2007 season, Number 2 has agreed to move to 2nd base so 2005 incumbent, Cristian Guzman, can return to his starting shortstop position after missing 2006 with a slap tear in his right throwing shoulder. At this point in Spring Training, no one seems to be quite sure if Guzman will be ready for Opening Day. Cristian showed up at Camp with his surgically repaired shoulder still not 100% and has been brought along slowly by Washington's Training Staff. In fact, today in his Online Chat with Fans, Washington Times Beat Writer, Mark Zuckerman responded to a question asking if The Nationals are considering moving Lopez back to Shortstop, if Guzman is not ready to play, anytime soon?
Zuckerman stated:" We're not quite at the point of no return for Guzman, but we're not far off. He needs to play in the field and soon. If for some reason he's not ready by Opening Day, look for Lopez to move to shortstop and Ronnie Belliard to take over at second. Come to think of it, even if Guzman is healthy, if he struggles, Belliard could force his way into the lineup."
From my perch from Section 320 in 2006, FLop was interesting to watch. He seems to play with little emotions, a little distant in manner. I am not sure why, and I did not get any real answer out of him on that topic, when I first met him during Nationals Spring Training this past February 22.
Lopez was very guarded at first, with me. He noticed I was talking with a few different Nationals Teammates before I approached him. As I stepped over to his locker, he stated, without being questioned (and he is a man of few words, but he does make his points):
“I am ready for anything, man. I don’t worry, about anything. I just want to play. I am here to do my job.”
What do you think that job is?
“Its what I do. (Score, Runs?-SBF) “You know it. A lot of people doubt me. And, I like that, because it puts a spark of fire inside of me. When they doubt me, I like it. I hear and read a lot of things. People saying stuff, that’s why I don’t care what they put (in their stories), I am still going to do my job. I get on base. I steal bases. I score runs. That’s my job."
So, you read a lot of newspapers, watch a lot of TV reports, and the Blogs, too?
“People call me, tell me stuff and I hear stuff . I find it all funny, because they don’t realize how hard I try, each and every day.”
How about the move to 2nd base, is that going to be a difficult move for you?
“Not at all. I just got to get use to it and get comfortable. Until the games starts, I am not going to feel ready. Once the games start, and I am playing at game speed, I know I will start to feel better.”
What's going to be most difficult about that switch to 2nd base?
“Learning where to position myself and where to be. Once I get caught up with every place I need to be, I should be alright.”
Have you and Guzman talked about working together, turning two, helping each other out? (Remember Lopez and I talked on February 22nd)
“Unfortunately, we haven’t had a chance to work on anything yet, He's still recovering. So, he should be ready soon."
Has the team told you to possibly be ready to move back to shortstop?
“No, not at all. My mind is set on second base. Unless someone says something otherwise, but that has not happened yet. Manny (Acta, Manager) and I have talked, but he hasn’t said anything specific about my game. I think he definitely knows what I can do. He just wants everybody to work hard.”
I read that when you got traded from Cincinnati you were expecting the trade. Why?
“Yes, I was expecting it, because of the way they were treating me. Weeks prior to that (The July 13, 2006) trade to Washington--why are they doing this to me, sitting me down, not giving me playing time? Last year (2005), the year before, I was an All Star, leading the league in runs scored, hits and stolen bases and they (Cincinnati Management) were acting funny towards me. I kind of expected the trade. I really smelled it coming. So, I prepared and got myself ready for that (the trade).”
By funny, can you be more specific?
“I am not going to say, just that they were acting funny toward me.”
Although you were expecting a trade, were you surprised that Washington was the team that wanted you?
“No, I was not surprised at all to come here. I know that Jim (Bowden, Nats GM) likes me. I knew that Washington was one of the main teams Cincinnati was talking with.”
You are comfortable in DC now?
“Yes. I love it here. I really do. My wife is from nearby Hagerstown (Maryland), so that helps. I like it here, The Clubhouse and the Guys are fun to be around. I get along with everybody. The atmosphere is really good, upbeat. This is a very young team. So, it gives me the chance to play a leadership role, as a veteran. I can help out those younger players, and it helps me out too. It keeps me focused. I am going to surprise some of my doubters.”
Felipe Lopez had warmed up to me, now. He was getting a kick out of my recordable Ipod, and when he saw me out on the field with my digital camera later, he called me "Gadget Man." My new moniker stuck. Later that evening, The African Queen and I ran into him in a restaurant, FLop was kind enough to come over, wanting to meet "Gadget Man's" wife. While holding her hand, Felipe wished to know how she possibly put up with me. Sohna responded, "Because, I love him!"
Lopez held onto her hand for a few moments longer, saying: "Yes, I understand," shaking his head up and down.
Felipe Lopez had opened up to us, just a little bit. And, he no longer seemed that distant to me.
P.S. Lopez didn't seem to be aware of the "FLop" nickname. Of course if you sat at RFK Stadium anywhere near Section 320 during 2006, you could not have missed me yelling out--"COME ON--FLop!!", each and every at bat during every single game.