Monday, June 25, 2007
"The New Guz"
He arrived on the scene in December, 2004 by inking a 4-Year Free Agent Contract with Our Washington Nationals. Along with Vinny Castilla, these two BIG SIGNINGS signified Major League Baseball's commitment to Baseball's return to Our Nation's Capital. Our Interim General Manager Jim Bowden had made THE BIG SPLASH!!. Despite concerns of MLB not really caring and limiting Our Teams Budget to a measly $50 Million---Our New Found Home Team would make an effort to compete.
Our Washington Nationals were a bonified Major League Team.
On the day Cristian Guzman showed up at ESPN Zone in Downtown DC for the Big FanFare Public Announcement, the Fan response was palpable. EVERYBODY WANTED SEASON TICKETS to Our Washington Nationals. "The Guz" was, to many, The New Face of the "Former Montreal Expos" And, when Our Team got off to that INCREDIBLE 50-31 Start--Washington, DC was AGAIN A BASEBALL TOWN, with a First Place Team--in a Pennant Race. Those early Summer Days of 2005 were quite Special. Really, July 1st--2005 was an amazing day in my life. Our Washington Nationals leading the pack--unexpectedly. PLAYOFF FEVER was reaching FEVER PITCH.
But, through it all--somehow, someway--Washington continued to win--WITH A SHORTSTOP NAMED CRISTIAN GUZMAN HAVING THE WORST YEAR OF ANY STARTING SHORTSTOP IN, MAYBE, THE HISTORY OF MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL. Our Number 15 was terrible. Horrible in the field. Worse at the plate. Never could he get his batting average above .200 until September of 2005. Well after Our Nats had faded out of contention. Countless times during 2005--"The Guz" failed repeatedly with runners in scoring position. His fielding not much better.
Less than 6 months after signing his $16.8 Million deal to move to Washington--Guzman was the Fans Most LOVABLE PLAYER TO HATE. Was he ever booed--continuously--and it never let up. Honestly, only The African Queen and BangTheDrumNatly supported him throughout his extended slump. Playing in one of the most Political Cities in all the world, Cristian Guzman was maybe the only person in Washington that could build a near unanimous decision, from both sides of the aisle, to be run out of town.
During the off season of 2005-06 many Shouted and Exclaimed just to release "The Guz". Or trade him for a Bucket of Baseballs. Really, as far as The Fans were concerned--he was worthless. Then, during Spring Training 2006--after Laser Eye Surgery and sporting a fresh New Attitude--"The NEW GUZ" announced he was ready--Our Number 15 proclaimed he would help his team in the new season. He was tired of disappointing his teammates. Cristian Guzman was ready to play ball.
And, I felt there was NO WAY he could be anywhere near as bad as 2005. I thought Cristian Guzman would surprise--EVERYBODY.
Then, out of nowhere, he developed a slap tear in his right labrum. Surgery followed. And, many Washington Fans Rejoiced!!! Our Washington Nationals didn't have a shortstop--but many of their faithful did not care. As long as Cristian Guzman was not in the lineup--they would be happy. Content to have journeyman shortstop Royce Clayton fill the role. A position that Clayton was less than stellar at. Royce now a journeyman playing late into his career.
Cristian Guzman spent the entire 2006 season rehabbing his shoulder. Telling everyone he would be ready for 2007. And, when Our New Manager visited him in The Dominican Republic over the late winter months before Spring Training, Manny Acta proclaimed him fit and ready to go. Then, "The Guz" showed up in Viera, Florida and couldn't heave the ball across the diamond hard. Every Fans deepest worry began anew. The Calls for his dismissal renewed.
Manny--being the most patient man I have ever met--waited the entire situation out. Never panicking. Knowing Spring Training is a long 6 week affair--not a sprint--Our Number 14 allowed Guzman to get strong on his own terms. And, you know what--Cristian Guzman was ready for Opening Day--2007. He even singled in his first At-Bat off Dontrelle Willis of The Florida Marlins at RFK Stadium. Our Number 15 received a Standing Ovation for that Hit. Cheers that turned to sorrow--when Cristian pulled up lame trying to run out a grounder to first base later that day.
Injured again--Guzman would miss another 5 weeks of the season. Again, no one seemed to miss him. Especially, with Ronnie Belliard playing a decent second base. Felipe Lopez--well, he was just being FLop--at Shortstop. But, Our Washington Nationals survived.
Then, the date of May 6th arrived. Cristian Guzman was activated from the Disabled List. And, he hasn't looked back, since. "The NEW Guz" stormed on to the field--hitting triples here, running the bases hard there--and playing a decent--if unspectacular shortstop. Along with the Very Hot Hitting Dimitri Young--Our Number 15 was playing All Star Caliber Baseball. And, The Fans of Our Washington Nationals had quickly changed their opinion on him. I guess batting .329, knocking six triples, scoring 31 runs in just 43 games will make anyone think twice. "The Guz" was playing well, and drawing fan support--for nearly the first time in his Nationals Career.
Cristian Guzman, despite all the knocks, boos and hatred had become a VALUABLE PLAYER FOR OUR WASHINGTON NATIONALS. The boos had turned to "GUZ"--The African Queen and BangTheDrumNatly relishing in their unwavering support of Number 15.
Really, no one could complain anymore about his contract. In fact, it looked cheap and affordable. A full year with "THE NEW GUZ"--the exciting "Guz" appeared quite fulfilling.
Then, just when you expected Our Number 15 to establish himself as that Most Valuable Everyday Player--a freak injury sent him to the sidelines. Guzman's left thumb slamming into Cleveland's Josh Barfield's Helmet on Sunday, while taking out Barfield on an attempted steal. First appearing just to be sprained and out for two weeks--Today, surgery was performed at Sibley Hospital in Washington, DC.
Cristian Guzman was pronounced Out For The Season.
And, I couldn't be sadder.
From a long way back--"The Guz" was winning My Heart Back. In his brief appearances in 2007, he was an exciting player. No One--AND I MEAN NO ONE--ran the bases from 1st to 3rd for Our Washington Nationals better than Cristian Guzman. Yeah, he occasionally made the lax fielding play--could show some more patience at the plate. But, no doubt, Guzman was fast becoming A SOLID PLAYER.
A Competitor, who despite all the negativity surrounding his misfortunes since early 2005--had turned his game, his attitude and his career around. Cristian Guzman was again a Major League Player--worth watching--and enjoying.
In 2005, I could never have imagined saying this: But, I will miss Cristian Guzman. His loss will be a difficult hole to fill. And, may well dramatically change Our General Manager Jim Bowden's Trading Deadline Decisions. Bowden will have to get very creative. So much changes due to this loss.
What happens now to Ronnie Belliard? Once a sure bet to be tossed off to a contender.
What happens to Our Ever Improving Bench with Ronnie now an everyday player?
What happens to Cristian Guzman--who--despite all disbelief--had turned around his Major League Baseball Career?
Today, This Monday--June 25th, 2007 is a sad day.
No one more downcast than The African Queen. "The New Guz" had brought "New Life" to Our Washington Nationals.
A Person now unfortunately lost for the 2007 season. A loss felt more so than ANYONE COULD EVER HAD THOUGHT POSSIBLE--just three short months ago. How Times Have Changed.
Be well--Cristian Guzman.