Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Our Manager Manny Acta never ceases to amaze me. Our Number 14 doesn't panic and always stands by his beliefs. He truly is The Calm Amidst A Storm. And after Manny gave post season interviews to Chico Harlan at WashingtonPost.com and Bill Ladson at Nationals.com--my respect for The Most Charismatic Of Men became even greater than before.
Manny Acta believes in himself and he doesn't let all the noise, the chatter, sometimes the nonsense, surrounding his role as a Major League Manager affect his decision making. In fact, Our Number 14's demeanor makes him one strong man. A Person that earns the respect of others just by being himself.
Manny did not back down in either of the interviews with Harlan and Ladson. He explained his reasoning and why he doesn't throw chairs. Why he has earned his players' respect as well.
Nothing better than this quote in The Washington Post Interview concerning criticisms toward Mr. Acta keeping his emotions mostly in check:
Everybody is entitled to their opinion. But if I would have been a loose cannon here, then I would have had a lot of criticism, too, for being a loose cannon. I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is to try to keep everybody happy.......I'm not going to change because of people's perceptions. This is who I am. This is what I think is going to work, and this is what has worked for me, and I'm not going to change just because a few people think I should be yelling and throwing stuff around and screaming. I know when I'm happy, and when I'm not happy, I let them know that. I just don't have to let them know in front of the cameras.
and then Manny added later:
I give players space. I let them have their own space. I don't need to be in their locker room all day and in their faces. I need to give them space. That's why I draw a line. I have a good atmosphere for them over here, and they respect me and I respect them. I don't need to be hanging out with them all of the time. They know that I'm behind them. And that's all I care about. I really could care less about what other people think about me. I'm dead serious.
Manny Acta let's his players relax, be themselves, and truly feels Washington's Roster will play for him--because he doesn't stand in their way. He's only there to help them--support them.
And then this doozy later in the same Post interview on the perception that Our General Manager Jim Bowden has made Manny a "Yes Man":
...we have a strictly professional relationship. I don't go for the holidays to his house, and he doesn't come for the holidays to mine. We have a strictly professional relationship. But we haven't done anything different, me and him, than we did last year.
And he knows that I'll tell him what I think about everything he asks me. I'm not going to tell him what he wants to hear, and we respect each other because of that. I have no problem with Jim running this team.
Manny followed that up with this:
......I wasn't brought over here because I was like Jim. I don't think that was his intention. I was brought over here to manage this baseball team, get the best out of these young kids and make them better. Not to agree with everybody here from top to bottom.
Love It!! Manny is his own person. He doesn't walk to someone elses beat.
The Washington Post Interview, along with the Nationals.com Interview give a good feel about what Manny Acta is all about. An Inner Confidence with Beliefs, the same top qualities The African Queen and I have found inside Our Number 14 from the very first day we ever met him.
We hope he is Our Manager for a Long, Long, Time. You can always quibble over a few things: strategy, game decisions, lineups, it's baseball. But you can't take away the extraordinary value Manny Acta brings to the field each and everyday representing Our Washington Nationals. He is worth keeping in the fold for years to come.
Manny Acta is truly The Calm Amidst A Storm.
PS--There was one interesting comment in The Ladson Interview concerning Lastings Milledge and Centerfield. There is no question I have written that I feel Our Number 44 is better suited to play a corner outfield position.
Manny responded to Ladson's question about changes with an interesting answer:
...I think the biggest question that is still out there is the Milledge situation. I'm going to clear that up for everybody right now: We allowed this kid to play center field this whole season. That's what we promised. That's because he is the only guy out of all the outfielders that is set to be here for years to come.
We know maybe one or two guys can play a better center field right now for this team, but the future of those guys in this organization is uncertain because some of them have to prove that they are going to be fine on and off the field. We didn't feel like moving Milledge around and he understands that. It was explained to everybody here. When the moment arrives and we do find a better option, it will be dealt with.
My first reaction is that Manny is stating that no matter how talented Elijah Dukes is, Our Washington Nationals still do not fully know whether Our Number 34 can get past his personal history. This answer one of the most compelling given in the two interviews. Where will this story end?
That and the very fact Manny also believes Washington needs legitimate Number 1 & Number 2 Starters to allow Our Young Pitchers to grow without being rush. He wants them to arrive in The Major Leagues, ready to pitch, not learning on the job. The same point written about the other day in Taking Stock.
Monday, September 29, 2008
Jason Bergmann is one of Our Washington Nationals most compelling players. In the few times Sohna and I have spoken with him, Our Number 57 has been very thoughtful. Not only has he been kind enough to answer our many questions, Jason has also shown an interest in us--wanting to know more about The African Queen and Me. We always find him fun to talk to.
Recently, Jason Bergmann sat down and chatted with me about his just completed season, his team, his teammates, and what he sees in the near future for himself and Our Washington Nationals. A Season Ending Chat that, as usual, found Our Number 57 open and willing to answer my many questions.
With that, here with go with My Season Ending Chat With Jason Bergmann.
You’ve had an up and down year. (SBF)
“Yeah, you could say that.”
But you seem to be in good spirits. It doesn’t seem to have affected you mentally? (SBF)
“If you take everything and put it all together it’s been a good year (for him personally). There are going to be good and bad starts, but if you defeat yourself mentally. If you beat yourself up, it’s going to go down the wrong track. Always stay upbeat, be on the positive side and keep yourself around positive people. It’s almost like willing yourself to do the right thing. I like to go home (after games and practice), hang out with my family and just be happy, be positive because I don’t want to go down the wrong road. It is very easy to defeat yourself and have a defeatist mentality.”
“This is a very difficult game and it’s been a little bit of a tough year, with so many injuries and our record. We finally have so many guys finally playing at a good level now. Guys like (Lastings) Milledge, (Elijah) Dukes turned it up a notch. And our pitching staff, (Odalis) Perez had had a good year. (John) Lannan has had a good year. Just seeing how things are working out it’s been a tough year for some guys and it’s very easy to beat yourself up. But, as long as you go in with the right attitude, things will work out in the end. And the better you feel, the harder you work, and the better off you will be.”
Although I would venture to say you handled this season better than you may have in the past. You grew up. (SBF)
“Oh, definitely. Growing up a little bit, being here, being around the support staff. My wife and having the baby, I am so much happier personally. I use to be the kind of guy who would get upset with a lot of things and I am still a really intense competitor. But, there are certain things I have learned from last year to keep poised, keep the frame of mind in the right place. So, when I am working for things, I am not working with a chip on my shoulder. I am working to get better each time.”
Do you find yourself getting frustrated on the mound and maybe look into the dugout and see Tim Redding (a mentor) realizing you have to listen to what he is saying? (SBF)
“I never look into the dugout. (Really? SBF) Never look into the dugout. I might think about things that might have been said to me. I have a mechanical flaw in my delivery where I tend to fly out a lot. It’s something that is very hard for me to keep under control. I can’t feel it. It’s not something where I can feel I am looking out. I can see it in my pitches, but I can’t feel it in my body because I am so use to it. It’s almost as if I have bad muscle memory and it’s something that is very difficult for me to overcome. But when I am on with it, it stays with me. So, by just being able to go into side sessions with Randy (St.Claire) and being able to throw in the bullpen working on getting my mechanics straight once they get out of whack is important. I know what to do. It’s a question then of working everything out, instead of just trusting myself and throwing, trying to make changes on the fly. The game is not the best time to be thinking about all this.”
Can this correctable problem become a natural part of your delivery? (SBF)
“I don’t know if it will ever be. Throwing is not a natural motion. But I know I need to stay on top of the ball better. The more violent my delivery, the more I am prone to flying out. Keeping myself relaxed, throwing easily and not getting overly emotional out there. I think that is the hardest thing for me to do.”
I have heard you talk a lot about how you and your catcher need to be on the same page and the pre-game strategy session is important in this communication process—what exactly are you doing?
“We do just that. We do a lot of work behind the scenes. We will go over the full team as a pitching staff before a series, what these guys have done. St.Claire is, unfortunately, the only pitching coach I have had to work with. So, I can’t compare him to anybody. But from what I understand and what guys have said, this guy works harder than everybody. He’s constantly watching video. He’s watching video on the plane. I am sure his wife is going to kill him (laughing) for watching video at home. He is letting you know what this guy has done over the five to 10 games. What his tendencies are. Whether he’s starting to look inside. He’s really diving out over the plate away. He’s looking for the fastball away. He’s got to be one of the most technologically advanced pitching coaches in terms of using the video and advance scouting.”
“Like I said, the numbers are what the numbers are. You (the hitter) don’t know if you are getting a slider, but if you know that that guy is hitting a lot of sliders--he’s seeing different types of sliders. He (St.Claire) is great at seeing just that (breaking hitters down) and taking the advanced scouting report and letting the pitchers know what these guys (hitters) are doing now. What they have done over the past couple of games. How we can get them out. What their weaknesses are. We do a lot of that.”
“Then, on game day, you go over the hitters. Jose Reyes is doing this. We need to pitch him like this. (David) Wright is doing this. We need to pitch him like this. (Carlos) Delgado is hot right now, but I don’t want you to throw him any fastballs, stuff like that. That’s just a for instance, but that’s the kind of stuff we go over on a daily basis.”
So, how do you deal with someone like Chase Utley. He crowds the plate, putting his elbow over it? (SBF)
“You just can’t think about it. His elbow is on the plate, but you can get him out there too. There’s a hole. You have to be able to pitch him inside and if it hits him, you know what, he’s on the plate. He knows what he is getting into standing so close to the plate. And once you show him inside, maybe he will start to look inside (for a pitch) and you get him away. He’s a good hitter, but no hitter is perfect, otherwise he would be batting. 1.000.”
How difficult is it to pitch to someone like him (Utley) with Ryan Howard batting behind him? (SBF)
“Every hitter has his holes where he is looking. As I said, we go over the advance scouting, maybe Chase is pulling off every ball, so we pitch him away more. Howard is the same way. He is really hot some times, where he is going away real well with that swing he has. But he stands off the plate; if you throw him some good quality pitches away you can probably get him out. But you need to also show him inside to make him stop diving. If you show him inside and his mindset has changed. That’s the whole game plan of pitching inside.”
You’ve mentioned you still want to be a starter in The Major Leagues. With all that is going on within this organization. A lot of young guys coming up. Do you feel you are going to have a role? (SBF)
“Yes, absolutely. There is definitely a role. I want to be a starter. I think I have proven, although I have had bad games, I have had some really, really, good games to build off of. Next year is a whole new year. I got to go in and win a spot, regardless. There are a lot of young arms, but as you can see, they (baseball operations) are just building arms; they are not building starters or relievers. They are building arms. Whether they trade them, (Garrett) Mock was moved to the bullpen. He was a starter. He was a starter up until the middle of this season here. I think they feel he’s going to be a quality reliever. And I think he has shown he can be a quality reliever. (Michael) Hinckley has been a starter in the past.”
“In the minors you build arms to build up endurance. Sometimes they want younger guys to throw their pitches, that’s why they put them in a starter role. It does not necessarily mean they will be a starter. I was a starter in the Minor Leagues. They moved me to relief because they thought I would get to the majors quicker—help the Big League Team. And that is the whole point of the minors and that is to manufacture Major League Players.”
Team wise—The Nationals seems a little better off than a few months ago. Injuries also took a lot of playing time away. I see some good young players here. (SBF)
“There are a lot of quality players. I think there was a lineup we threw out there where the average age was about 24. That’s unbelievable. That’s even unbelievable to have this kind of talent at this level with our team right now. You have a guy like Dukes playing well over his age, showing tremendous five-tool talent. (Emilio) Bonifacio and (Anderson) Hernandez are going to be able to fight for a second base spot (in the lineup). That is exciting because, I think, competition can only improve your team. If you get too settled into one guy, in one spot, it not always good. I think we have competition at every position except for third base. Everybody coming in (next year) is going to have a good idea of what to expect. Guys like Milledge, Dukes, (Austin) Kearns; we are going to have a crowded outfield—especially if we re-sign Willie Harris. Wily Mo (Pena) is coming back because he will be healthy. You are going to have a crowded outfield with a lot of healthy competition. Healthy competition can build better ballplayers.”
From a pitching standpoint, I would imagine you guys would be happy up the middle, because this team is much stronger defensively? (SBF)
“At the trade deadline, they (management) did a great job of adding defensively minded players with the ability to have some offensive threat. Pitching and Defense wins ball games, but you do still have to score to win. A guy like Bonifacio, if he bats .250, he might have 60 stolen bases over a course of a year. But everyone has something to work on. I have something to work on, pitching. They want certain guys to walk more. They want certain guys to take better pitches and get better swings on the ball. Everyone knows it’s a lot easier to hit a 2-0 pitch than a 0-2 pitch. Working the count a little better will help our offense out a ton. Our pitching staff has grown over the last year or so. They are giving guys opportunities to take advantage.”
Seems despite what for many has been a disappointing season—players still were upbeat, where does that come from? (SBF)
“It trickles down from Manny (Acta). Manny presents a great atmosphere. I am not saying there is no pressure. I am just saying he takes the load off. He knows that if you go out there and hustle, good things will happen. He doesn’t want anyone to sit back on their heels and kinds of let things go by him. He wants everyone running hard. He wants everyone throwing to the right bases, fundamental defense, and fundamental baseball. And we know (as a team) we are not going to hit 200 Home Runs or 250 Home Runs. But if you hit the double, bunt him over and get a sacrifice fly or something like that—that’s how the game of baseball is played. If you don’t want to bunt, hit the ball to the right side (advancing the runner). We’ve got a lot of guys that are really buying into the attitude that Manny presents. He does such a great job of letting players be the players and not being overly critical by calling people out. Like he says, throwing a chair is not going to get me to throw a fastball any better. It’s all perception and he does a great job.”
Yet some critics complain he should be throwing that chair around? (SBF)
“It’s all based on team performance. If the team is not doing well, they (fans, critics) are going to say so. It’s the fair weather idea. If things are good, just let everything go. If things are bad, now let’s be critical. That’s the way people are in all facets of life. Manny has been constant for the past two years. He’s been the same guy. He’s had the same attitude. He still pulls guys out for early work, regardless of our record and our standing. People are still going out there and working hard and that’s all you can really ask for right now. The results are showing.”
What are you doing this off-season? (SBF)
“Off Season, I am going to take a much needed break. Last year, I went to play Winter Ball. This year, I am going to rest a little bit more. I would like to get refreshed, start my workout program a little earlier, now since I have a month and a half (free time). That’s the stuff I plan on doing for the off-season. I am going to take a mental breather.”
I really didn’t want to see the team lose 100 Games. (SBF)
“I know, but look at The Tigers. They lost all those games that one year (2003) and became a better team for it. If you can play well as an individual and as a team, while losing, just think of how well you will be able to play when you are winning. It’s a building block.”
A lot of people have said this team needs a first baseman, needs a number one or two starter. You hear this all the time, not only in the media, but the blogs. Do you feel this team can compete with how it’s currently composed? (SBF)
“Given a healthy team, I think the pitchers have proven they can pitch. Every hitter has proven, at times, they can hit. You put a healthy team out there and I think we are looking pretty good. I am not saying that’s the team we have out there. I am just saying the team we have had out there on The DL (Disabled List) is a pretty good team. You add guys in there like Nick (Johnson) and Dmitri (Young) and Wily Mo. It’s like I said, what healthy competition does is produce better players, because now the best will come out in each player, no one gets complacent. Now, they (the players) have something eating at them and they want to do better. Competitive Edge is what it is all about.”
Make everyone more prideful of what they are doing. (SBF)
“If you get too laid back and reserved with the way things are, there is someone else out there who is hungry and wants it more. There is always room to improve.”
With that My Season Ending Chat With Jason Bergmann concluded. As always, Our Number 57 was upfront and refreshing in his commentary. He doesn't hold back. The African Queen and I like that--a lot. As Charlie Slowes mentioned recently at Jason's ESPN Zone Appearance, chatting with Jason Bergmann is a lot like having your Own Good Talk Radio Show. He's got the knowledge and he dispenses it well.
Sunday, September 28, 2008
102 Losses guarantees The First Pick In The 2009 Entry Draft for Our Washington Nationals.
And the Dismissal of Five Coaches plus The Strength and Conditioning Coach, right after the final game this year, guarantees more changes--unexpected or not.
Not moments after The 2008 Season concluded in Philadelphia, The 2009 Season Officially Began this afternoon for Our Washington Nationals.
Now is the time to tread lightly. Because now is The Time to make The Right Decisions. Accountability needs to be reviewed, stock needs to be taken.
Many Big Resolutions are on the horizon this winter leading into next summer. And making The Number 1 Pick next June is just one of many coming our way concerning DC's Team.
Stephen Strasburg is the so-called consensus #1 Pick. A pitcher out of San Diego State. At least that's what I read everywhere else. But, I don't know that for sure. And whether he is or not, Our Washington Nationals need to make THE CORRECT CHOICE next June. An informed pick. Clearly, not all Top Picks Pan Out. Just look at the history, it's pretty interesting. But a correct determination sets Our Team onto a continually rising path. A bad choice sets Our Franchise back unnecessarily so. We don't need a mistake right now. We need a Win--in the draft lottery. The same holds true for Our Pick Number 10--as compensation for Aaron Crow in 2008 not signing.
Washington needs to land TWO CAN'T MISS Prospects. No question about it.
Dana Brown, Our Scouting Director--the ball is in your court--with Your Staff. You have been fabulous at choosing picks for Washington--even under the disguise of Major League Baseball's pauper ownership. I am trusting you will not let us down. Your diligence can lead us down the right chosen path. I truly believe that.
But that choosing and signing of Our Top Draft Picks, which must occur next summer, are not our only issues.
From The Minors Leagues through The Majors, Our Personnel need to be better skilled at The Basics of The Game. Washington needs to become a better bunting team, a better fielding team. Clearly, The Fundamentals of The Game need to be addressed. I can't tell you how many times over the past four seasons Our Washington Nationals have lost due to the inability to make the routine play. Bad bunts, poor tracts to hit baseballs, hitting the cutoff man--the skills that should be rote, but make me, as a fan, shake my head in wonder over the poor workmanship.
If Baltimore had "The Orioles Way" for those nearly 25 Years and was so successful during that time frame, then Washington needs "The Nationals Way". From Rookie Ball to The Major Leagues, every single player must be taught the same way. The Basic Skills to play the game. There can be no exceptions. And today's relieving of their coaching duties of nearly the entire Major League Staff, except Our Manager Manny Acta and Pitching Coach Randy St.Claire, must be addressed with a vision. Forward thinking that Our Coaches in The Big Leagues are the FINAL PIECE to the puzzle. The last tweaking in the development stage of skills honed through five levels of Minor League Ball--not the first stage.
Our Players need to arrive at Nationals Park with the ability to play The Major League Game--not just with the opportunity given to find out whether they have the skills or not. The talent should already be there. The guessing games need to extinguished as much as possible. Learning on the job is one thing--but if you have not already been taught the skills to be a Major League Player, your chances of success will falter--greatly.
You will not succeed.
Success comes with better talent, but winning can also be found with better baseball. Our 25 Man Roster does not have to contain a dozen or so Five Tool Talents in the field. Or, 12 guys that can throw 95 Miles Per Hour. Our Washington Nationals need skilled players that know how to play the game, competently--with that big bopper thrown in at the plate, along with that one overpowering starter on the mound. It's how you build a team these days, component parts to complement your few stars.
Washington doesn't have any of those Top Billed Players, not just yet. But it doesn't mean they can't be found.
Ryan Zimmerman has the makings of a Franchise Player. Elijah Dukes, The Slugger In Waiting. Jesus Flores, Our Catcher for the Future. John Lannan Our Starter. There are others worth considering--Lastings Milledge, as a corner outfielder, Alberto Gonzalez, Emilio Bonifacio and Anderson Hernandez up the middle. "The Guz" as perfect compliment for a Good Team. Not many players gave more on the field of play in 2008 than Cristian Guzman. His contract is not a weighty as some believe.
No question, Washington has an overload of outfielders. Barring a trade, Austin Kearns, Wily Mo Pena, Roger Bernadina, Ryan Langerhans are all under team control and will return. Just like Willie Harris--if offered arbitration. Where do all those players stand when you add in Dukes and Milledge? Who are the odd men out? And how does Our General Manager Jim Bowden solve those thorny issues. Some need to go. Some need to be traded--leaving Our Core Outfield for the future. Also, can JimBo bring back a useful young player in return through his trading skills for talent. Players we currently possess my play an important factor over this winter in trade value.
Our General Manager hinted at his potential bartering during last week's ESPN Zone Chat.
Either way, sharp decisions need to be made. Positioning that enhances the future of Our Washington Nationals. Young pitching is close to arriving with Jordan Zimmermann and Shairon Martis--maybe Collin Balester. But there are no guarantees, we need some more. Washington needs a legitimate Number One Starter for 2008, maybe a Number Two. John Lannan had a fabulous Rookie Season, but he can't do it all by himself. Not by a long shot.
Washington lost their 102nd game this afternoon in a meaningless affair at Citizens Bank Park. But Our Management can't sulk about it, neither should our fans. Washington's Front Office must turn this negative into a positive by making educated and well informed decisions--helping to turn Our Washington Nationals from loser into winner. No, I don't think they are as awful, or that far away from respectability, as some have portrayed. When you have five starters 23 years of age--all of whom have shown promise--the glass is Half Full for The African Queen and I. Never do we believe Our Tank is half empty, possibly running on fumes. There are many good signs that raise hope for us.
Our Future is coming over the next nine months, leading up to The 2009 Entry Draft. And Our Washington Nationals need to be well prepared to make The Right Moves. Because whether others want to believe it or not, some talent is already here. It just needs to honed and enhanced, to make Our Washington Nationals more complete.
Final Score from Citizens Bank Park, where an abusive fan base is a well established way of life for the home side, The Philadelphia Phillies 8 and Our Washington Nationals 3 in a game that only stood for one fact. Season 5.0 of Our Washington Nationals began at 4:14PM Eastern Time, the very second Emilio Bonifacio grounded out to The Phillies First Baseman Chris Coste to end Version 4.0 with a record of 59 Wins and 102 Losses.
Changes are coming and Washington needs to make some solid decisions--both on and off the field of play. Time for Our Washington Nationals to Take Stock.
Today's InGame Photo--(AP) Tom Mihalek
The abuse started well before we stepped foot into Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. Walking out of the Chesapeake House Rest Area on Interstate 95N in Maryland taking a short break from the drive north--some old man in a Phillies Cap yells over: "You can't possibly be heading to The Phillies Game today wearing that crap!!" Yeah, I responded (Sohna and I wearing Our Washington Nationals Gray Away Jerseys). Of course we are, we support our team."
The Old Geezer responds: "You are going to get MURDERED THERE!!"
As it turns out--his prediction was pretty close.
From the very moment The African Queen and I stepped out of our car in the parking lot beside Citizens Bank Park--the insults began. The yelling in our face, the rudeness. The staring and pointing. As we walked to Will Call to pick up our tickets--the shouts continued and did not stop. Two 10 Year Old Kids, WITH THEIR PARENTS WATCHING AND LAUGHING--came so close to slapping Sohna in the face screaming at her--if they had--World War Three WAS ABOUT TO BEGIN.
No one seemed to care. No one showing any respect for visitors. No Adults, No Security, No Police.
No wonder that throughout the entire afternoon and into the early evening in South Philadelphia this Saturday, we only saw four other fans of Our Washington Nationals. Colleen and Jeff (along with Curly "W" their rally monkey), who attend most every Washington home game, and another Father with his son wearing Red Curly "W" Caps. No one else. Not a soul.
As we took our seats, good ones, 20 rows from the field between Home Plate and Washington's Third Base Dugout--the abuse continued. Four early 20 Something Youths decided that whenever Washington was batting with Runners in Scoring Position--they needed to stand up--just to block our view. Repeated requests to just sit down--were followed by more insults and cursing. So bad it became--ONE USHER AT CITIZENS BANK PARK FINALLY STUCK UP FOR US (in the 7th inning)--telling the immature and out of control idiots to stop it--or they would be thrown out.
Immediately followed by another bozo to Sohna's left laughing in her face over Cheering For Our Washington Nationals. "Why should you care about that team?" He demanded, "This game means nothing to you!!" Always one to fire back--The African Queen said: "Who made you The God of Fans? Where does it say in the baseball rule book that any team that plays Philadelphia can not have their fans come here and support them!!" That shut him up--at least until he guzzled another beer.
By that time--Our Washington Nationals were in the midst of a TREMENDOUS COMEBACK. With The Philadelphia Phillies just two outs away from Clinching The National League East--a magnificent choke by Philadelphia was in the works. Thanks to a very rare shaky closing appearance from The Phillies Brad Lidge. A one out single by Roger Bernadina, a walk by Pinch Hitter Ryan Langerhans, a bloop single to left center by Anderson Hernandez scoring Our Number 2 and a slammed single to right by Cristian Guzman loading up the bases. A now 4-3 score with one out in the top of the 9th. A turnabout that now found Philadelphia's fans standing--stunned their Phillies might actually lose their most important game of the season.
How great would that be?!
As Ryan Zimmerman stepped to the plate, you could see the nervousness in each and every Phillies' Fan. They didn't want to admit it themselves, but Washington was about to upend their possible post season chances. When Our Number 11 stepped into the batters box, Sohna looked over at me, both knowing if The Z-Man knocked in the go ahead runs--justice would be served. We wanted to see Baseball's Most Obnoxious Fans suffer a terrible defeat.
No one deserved it more.
And they almost did feel that pain, at least until Reigning NL MVP, Jimmy Rollins, made an excellent stop of a Zimmerman ground ball to his left. With the ball heading up the middle, Rollins dove to his left, and stretched his glove hand out to retrieve the baseball, then tossed the ball, from his knees, to Chase Utley at second base retiring "The Guz" for out number two. Utley then pivoted and threw to Ryan Howard at First Base for a Double Play. A Game Ending, NL East Clinching Final Out that sent Citizens Bank Park into a FRENZY!! Fireworks, White Rally Towels and a combined BELLOW OF CHEER among the 45,177 that was nearly deafening. Was it ever loud!!
The Partying began on the field. The Celebrating continued in the stands. Unfortunately, so did the rude behavior.
Even In Victory--Philadelphia's Fans Have No Class. They Can Not Be Gracious.
And this time it got totally out of control.
As Sohna was standing on The Main Concourse waiting for me to return from the rest room, two drunken idiots attacked her pushing and shoving her. Only stopping after Colleen came over to help and I confronted them upon seeing the incident unfolding.
Believe it or not, it then got uglier.
Four morons began to threaten us, surrounding Sohna and I as we moved toward the exit gate near third base--heading toward our car. Two pushing and shoving, the others verbally threatening to assault us. One claiming they were coming to our car to trash it. "You guys aren't going home alive." Laughing, pointing--and being serious.
We immediately grabbed two Philadelphia Police Officers standing nearby. One of the officers responding: "They are just blowing off steam!!" Blowing off steam? They are threatening us. Only after these two Philadelphia Police Officers realized WE WERE SERIOUS--did they finally decide to help us. Of course, they did nothing to stop the intoxicated ones. Those four, realizing they might be held by Police--ran off into the ever enlarging crowd leaving Citizens Bank Park.
Instead, with Two Philadelphia Police Officers around us--Sohna and I were escorted to the parking lot safely to our vehicle--whereupon one officer informed us that other policemen would be watching out for us as we drove out of Citizens Bank Park. Alot of good that did. While two Philadelphia Police Officers stood on S. Broad Street directing traffic heading toward I-95, more Phillie Fans rocked our car back and forth, banged on our windows and made EVERY SINGLE ATTEMPT to harm us.
The Police Officers DID NOTHING!! They just stood there and watched.
Nothing like The City Of Brotherly Love.
Fortunately, the traffic began to move and the idiots fell away from our car--they had spotted another victim to attack.
America's Worst Fans had set a New Standard. Even after winning The National League East. A Glorious Day for any Franchise hoping to advance and possibly win a World Series Title, Philadelphia's Fans had soiled that fine moment--once again proving they are The MOST OBNOXIOUS, INSULTING AND DISRESPECTFUL FANS IN SPORT.
Classless. No one else comes close.
Yeah, Sohna and I knew we were heading into The Lion's Den yesterday at Citizens Bank Park. A difficult place to watch a ballgame as a visiting fan. But we should be allowed to watch, enjoy and leave The Phillies Ballpark knowing we are always SAFE. That was not the case late Saturday Afternoon.
I am sure Philadelphia's Fans are proud of the way they treated us yesterday. But The Philadelphia Phillies Baseball Club and The Philadelphia Police should be embarrassed. In fact, they both owe The African Queen and I an apology.
She NEVER WANTS TO SET FOOT INSIDE CITIZENS BANK PARK EVER AGAIN. EVER.
You better believe The Philadelphia Phillies are going to be hearing from us.
Game Notes & Highlights
Under the bright lights of a playoff atmosphere, John Lannan pitched well. He survived five innings, giving up just three runs. And got out of one serious jam with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 4th. With two Philadelphia runs already in, and this game about to be broken wide open--Our Number 31 settled down to get Jimmy Rollins to ground out to Ryan Zimmerman at third base. Later, Lannan gave up an opposite field home run to Jayson Werth that was quite remarkable the ball left the yard. The wind was blowing strongly from center to leftfield. Werth got the ball up and even while curving to the right field foul pole, the baseball just went over the fence. He must have hit it hard, but he was also benefited by the short fences at Citizens Bank Park. The Home Run Walls are too close--making for some cheap home runs. This one probably one of them.
Anderson Hernandez and Cristian Guzman both had three hits apiece. Zimmerman two. Hernandez continuing to show some good play at the plate. Today with two of Washington's three RBI. Lastings Milledge knocked a sacrifice fly for an RBI in the 8th.
Sohna and I ran into Vendor Neal at Citizens Bank Park. Most anyone that attended games at RFK Stadium and sat in the lower bowl, must remember Neal, the beer vendor that always ran with his cases of beer back and forth, hustling to sell and then pick up more cases. Neal was MickNats main Beerman in Old Section 320 of RFK Stadium. Neal told us he works not only Nationals Park, but Camden Yards, M&T Bank Stadium (for Ravens Games) and Citizens Bank Park--"They drink alot of beer here," he laughed. He doesn't work Eagles football games across the street at Lincoln Financial Field because city rules allow only one beer to be sold per transaction. "They also cut off sales earlier, so you can't make enough money," he concluded.
It was a total surprise to see Neal and catch up with him. We had not seen him at Nationals Park for a while.
Finally, walking around the ballpark before the game began, Sohna and I ran right into Our General Manager Jim Bowden and Assistant General Manager Mike Rizzo in Ashburn Alley, The Centerfield Plaza of Citizens Bank Park. Bowden yelling out: "Hey, good to see you guys in your Nats Uniforms!! You look great!! You guys are pretty brave wearing that here."
Sohna replying: "We love our team and are here to support them, despite the fact we are in The Lion's Den and we are going to go down fighting."
JimBo: "Good for you. You guys are great fans. We need more fans like you two."
Of course at that time, we had no idea how close Sohna's fighting comment was to the truth as to what was to unfold later at Citizens Bank Park.
All Photos--Nats320 (All Rights Reserved)
Friday, September 26, 2008
This evening was the very first time Sohna and I had the opportunity to listen to Charlie Slowes & Dave Jageler on 1500 AM--
WFED--since Bonneville Communications removed Our Washington Nationals from 107.7 FM. To say the least, this new arrangement is UNACCEPTABLE!! From our home in Alexandria, Virginia--we can barely hear the signal properly. Echos and Constant Noises--many times The African Queen and I felt like we were listening to Charlie & Dave from a bunker in Afghanistan.
Honestly, it was that bad.
If Bonneville signed a contract with Our Washington Nationals to broadcast the games on 1500 AM and 107.7 FM, among other affiliates for the 2008 Season, what gives Bonneville the right to arbitrarily remove Washington Broadcasts from the air and put them, as a fall back, on WFED ONLY--when the current season has yet to be completed?
Seems like a breech of contract to me?
Our Washington Nationals need to solve this issue over the off-season. Charlie & Dave need a strong FM Signal to broadcast their games. There is no way Washington Fans throughout the Greater DC Area can not hear the radio play-by-play properly. This is not 1968, but 2008. The time of Digital Communications. Our Washington Nationals should not be regulated to the bygone days of AM Radio Only.
If Bonneville has breeched the contract, then Our Washington Nationals should have the right to shop their broadcasts elsewhere. Nothing less is acceptable. Whether another strong FM Signal might be available--is the other question.
Of course considering the outcome of tonight's game at Citizens Bank Park, maybe The African Queen and I were lucky the 1500AM signal was so weak in our home. Facing a loud, hostile and close to Division Championship Wanting Crowd in South Philadelphia, Our Number 40 got whacked. No one for The Phillies doing more damage than Ryan Howard. The Former NL MVP knocking a three run homer and rbi double, giving The Home Side an early 7-1 lead that Washington could never fight back from. What made the early deficit so frustrating was watching Balester serve Howard low in the strike zone fastballs and breaking pitches. The very pitches Ryan can hammer. Maybe his command was off, maybe he just had a bad night. Maybe his September call up catcher, Luke Montz, didn't fully understand the game plan, but Collin needs to either throw the ball in the dirt or pound Howard with letter high fastballs. Ryan Howard has never been able to consistently hit those pitches.
What Balester threw him--Howard crushed--even into a stiff wind blowing from centerfield to rightfield.
Hopefully, Collin Balester learned a lesson tonight. He didn't look good, under pressure, in a playoff environment.
Now behind by six runs before the second inning was even completed--Washington attempted to get back into the game. A two run 5th and a Kory Casto Home Run to right field was simply not enough--even after Our Number 5's shot was the very first Homer subjected to Instant Replay by The Umpires. With the naked eye, it was unclear whether a fan leaning over the railing had interfered with the hit ball. After a short delay, The Umpires ruled the fan did not touch the ball until after the baseball had gone over the right field wall. Casto awarded his 2nd Homer of 2008.
A then 7-4 score that never became closer as a fervent Home crowd--waving their White Rally Towels all night long--did all they could to cheer their Phillies to victory. An eventual win, combined with a New York Mets loss to Florida at Shea Stadium this evening that sets up Citizens Bank Park tomorrow afternoon as a possible clinching date of the NL East Title. The Mets play at 1PM. The Phillies at 3:55PM. The African Queen and I are going to be in The Lion's Den in South Philly tomorrow. Experience tells us it's not going be easy rooting for Our Washington Nationals. But, unquestionably, it's going to be very, very interesting. At least for us, we are going down fighting as the season comes to an end.
As Sohna said tonight as we watched the Game on MASN, while attempting to listen to Charlie & Dave on 1500AM: Can you imagine what Nationals Park will be like when we are that close to winning a title? Yes, she is right. The thrill of it all would be mighty exciting and make all the experiences we lived through in 2008 and beforehand--all the more worthwhile. A High Time we hope comes more sooner than later.
Final Score from a ROCKING Citizens Bank Park, The Philadelphia Phillies 8 and Our Washington Nationals 4. Washington reaching the century mark in losses in 2008. Now 41 Games Below .500, a Moment In Time no one following Baseball In Washington really wanted to see.
No one--no matter the circumstances.
But The African Queen and I would still have enjoyed LISTENING to this affair (with the TV sound turned down) with Charlie & Dave coming in crystal clear on the radio. No Away Game of Our Washington Nationals is worth paying attention to without Two Of The Finest Radio Broadcasters in the game calling the Play-By-Play. Which had Sohna and I laughing over the quandry: So, if we couldn't hear them, as hard as we tried--did this loss really take place?
Game Notes & Highlights
Lastings Milledge once again had me shaky my head over a defensive decision. As Emilio Bonifacio drifted back for a pop up by Reigning NL MVP Jimmy Rollins, Our Number 44 called for the ball in the bottom of the 4th inning. With Emilio seconds away from making the catch--Milledge's yells for the ball forced Our Number 7 to drift away from the falling hit. Only to see Lastings DIVE FOR THE BALL AT THE LAST MOMENT. Like--say what? Lastings, if you are calling for the ball, you better have the catch under control--not sending another fielder away that already had the ball in sight--easily. The Result--Lastings Milledge missed the ball and Rollins ended up on second base. He didn't eventually score--but the misplay was just awful. There is no excuse for bad communication this late in the season.
Manny also had me wondering in the 7th. With Michael Hinckley in trouble, Our Manager came out to remove him from the game. The Phillies had runners on 1st and 3rd with two outs. Our Number 58 had just recorded that second out on a ground ball by Shane Victorino. A potential 6-4-3 Double Play Ball that was foiled when Philadelphia's Eric Brunlett took out Bonifacio at second base. A good, clean play.
With the lefthanded Greg Dobbs stepping to the plate, Our Number 14 removed Hinckley from the game--knowing full well The Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel would counter with a right handed hitter--Pedro Feliz. This was a three run game at that time. Hinckley had yet to allow one single run in his previous 12 appearances in The Majors. A Perfect Record.
Why trust the situation to "The Human Rain Delay"? Why send Jesus Colome to the mound to relieve Michael Hinckley? Would it not be better to see if this youngster can find a way out of a situation of his own doing? Why not let Our Number 58 grow up on the job? This is what September is about for teams out of contention.
The fact that Hinckley was unscored upon hopefully was not a factor. But I am not sure. But I would have loved to ask Manny that question. Especially after "The Human Rain Delay" threw a rising fastball that Luke Montz could not handle. A passed ball that officially gave Michael his first run scored against--although an unearned one. Still, I would have enjoyed more seeing Our Number 58 working himself out of his own trouble--facing the heart of The Phillies Lineup. Experience he could harness for situations to come later, in his burgeoning career.
Luke Montz would knock in his first RBI of his Major League Career. A two out single to left in the top of the 2nd that scored Elijah Dukes from third with Washington's First Run of the evening. Cristian Guzman had another two hit night. But with Ryan Zimmerman still out of the lineup recovering from Flu Symptoms--few others could pick up for his loss.
Of course, Collin Balester had put Washington in a Big Hole with his worst start of his young career. 1.2 innings pitched allowing 7 runs on 7 hits and one walk. When Manny took that slow stroll out to the mound to replace Balester with Jason Bergmann, you could see the frustration on Balester's Face as Our Number 14 simply took the ball from his hand. As Collin slowly walked away, he looked dejected--knowing A Huge Phillie Home Crowd would be cheering him lustily for his mistakes--all the way to the clubhouse. Not a good feeling that must have been.
Finally, interesting that Manny Acta announced to the media covering Our Team this afternoon that changes are a coming within Our Coaching Staff for 2009. The shakeup is about to be announced. A not unexpected move after a new manager usually gets his say on his own people for the first year or two of his reign. You have to figure that Pitching Coach Randy St.Claire is safe. I can't say for 100% who else may be.
Tonight's InGame Photos--(AP) H. Rumph, Jr.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
No more "Lets Go Zimmy!!" will be heard. Or, "Come On Last Child!!" Sohna's shout for Lastings Milledge. At least at New Nationals Park for the remainder of 2008. Sadly, the rains moved into the Washington, DC area this afternoon and would not go away. The result, A WASHOUT. The Final Home Game Scheduled at New Nationals Park cancelled. Game Number 159 of this season will not be made up.
For nearly two hours this affair between The Florida Marlins and Our Washington Nationals was in an Official Rain Delay. But most everyone on hand, which could have only numbered a few thousand anyway, surely understood this game would never be played. And there was really no reason to under the circumstances.
Too bad, because The African Queen and I really wanted to just see one more home baseball game featuring Our Team. We enjoy watching every game--no matter the outcome. And I would imagine most everyone else that made the effort to show up--really wanted to see one final ballgame also. Instead, Sohna and I spent most of the evening moving around the ballpark saying goodbyes and thanks to many of our friends--until Final Word came at 9:18 PM.
Washington will play no further games on South Capitol Street in calendar year 2008.
Our Washington Nationals will simply finish this season on the road in Philadelphia. A three game series in which The African Queen and I are expecting to make the middle game of the set. The 3:55PM Start on Saturday. We just want to see one other game. Hopefully, some other Fans of Our Team will make the short journey themselves to Citizens Bank Park to cheer on Our Nats with us that day. Sohna and I know of a handful of fans that are definitely attending Sunday's Final Game.
When tonight's game was officially cancelled, Our Manager Manny Acta, along with most of his coaching staff and active roster, headed out to the field, just in front of Washington's First Base Dugout. On site, Manny gave a brief thank you to the wet group of fans still standing behind the Dugout. Then, most every player and coach threw T-Shirts to the rain soaked gathering. Willie Harris even tossed his cap into the crowd.
Additionally, Our Washington Nationals announced the policy for ticket exchange/credit for Game Number 81 of the 2008 Home Schedule.
With tonight being final scheduled home game of the 2008 season, the following are ticket details as it pertains to tonight’s cancellation:
Season Ticket Holders: The value of your season ticket(s) and applicable season parking pass(es) for this game will be credited to your Nationals season ticket account and will be applied towards the cost of your 2009 season tickets.
Individual Ticket Buyers: Fans who purchased individual tickets and/or parking pass(es) in advance for this game may redeem their tickets for the same price or lesser value tickets for any Monday – Thursday non-premium game during the 2009 regular season, based on availability. Fans must present the September 25, 2008 game ticket at the time of redemption. Individual parking passes may be presented at the same parking lot for the game in 2009 that you choose to attend.
Group Ticket Buyers: Fans who are in possession of group tickets (i.e. 25 or more tickets purchased through the Nationals Group Sales Department),may redeem their tickets for the same price or lesser value tickets for any Monday – Thursday non-premium game during the 2009 regular season, based on availability. For further information regarding your group ticket purchase for September 25, 2008, please contact your Group Leader or your Washington Nationals Group Sales Representative at 202-675-6287, Option 1.
Complimentary Season Ticket Exchange Tickets: Season ticket holders who are in possession of tickets for the September 25, 2008 game, that had been exchanged as part of our Unused Ticket Exchange Program, may redeem their tickets for Upper Gallery Level or Upper Right Field Terrace seats for any Monday – Thursday non-premium game in the 2009 regular season, based on availability.
Complimentary Tickets: Complimentary tickets that are not part of the Season Ticket Holder Exchange program have no value and may not be redeemed for a game in the 2009 regular or post season. Raincheck redemption will begin when individual game tickets go on sale for the 2009 Nationals season (late February/early March).
Tonight's InGame Photos--(AP) Nick Wass
First Pitch Of The Game by Tim Redding in the top of the 1st inning--Home Run Deep To Left Center By Hanley Ramirez.
1-0 The Florida Marlins.
Third Pitch to Cameron Maybin--Double To Left Field.
Fourth Pitch to Jorge Cantu--Hit By Pitch by Our Number 17.
A disappointing start that only took Home Plate Umpire Kevin Causey about two more seconds to Warn Both Teams about retaliatory attacks. An unlikely spur of the moment by the arbiter. A decision that had The Marlins Manager Fredi Gonzalez quickly heading out of the visiting dugout to protest--immediately followed by Our Manager Manny Acta.
Maybe Umpire Causey should have warned both teams he wanted to see a better game. Not two teams out of contention just going through the motions of Game Number 158 of The 2008 Schedule. And maybe Our Number 14 was apologizing for the rough beginning (and that's just a joke) by Our Team.
Either way or however you look at it--the conversations between The Managers and Umpires failed to deflect the danger ahead--a soon to become blowout. A Ball Game with little excitement. That is, unless you were cheering for The Fish and there weren't many of their fans in attendance. No, not at all.
Making his final start of the season, and with a chance to finish with a winning record--Our Number 17 concluded 2008 with his worst start of the season. Less than three innings pitched and seven earned runs allowed. Tim Redding had nothing in the tank and The Florida Marlins knocked him all over South Capitol Street. A resultant early 7-0 deficit before Washington had even batted for their third time. A hole dug so deep, instead of heading home for the fall and winter with an 11-10 record or even at 10-10, Redding found himself tonight now walking off the mound, for the final time, knowing the big deficit he put his team in would finish him with a losing record in The First Season ever played at New Nationals Park.
Did he ever get walloped.
Yeah, Washington attempted to get back into this one by scoring two runs in the bottom of the 3rd and two more in the 8th--but this game was NEVER TRULY IN DOUBT. The Marlins' advantage so decisive that by the time the 9th inning rolled around--there could only have been a few thousand left from the announced crowd of 23,299. When Lastings Milledge popped out to Hanley Ramirez at shortstop to end this game--nary a sound was heard within New Nationals Park.
Really, it was that quiet.
Everyone in the stands just got up to leave--knowing that had just witnessed a bummer of a game.
The Warning had been given by Home Plate Umpire Kevin Causey before one out was even recorded in the very first inning. Unfortunately, the danger sounded ahead could not be overcome by Our Washington Nationals. They could not find a better game to play.
Final Score from a mostly silent New Nationals Park where there is nothing like The Fish coming to town. A South Florida Team that draws very few fans--both at home and on the road--do they ever have a poor fan base. The Florida Marlins 9 and Our Washington Nationals 4 in nine less than stellar innings. A veteran pitcher had put Washington in a big hole and a makeshift Manny Lineup without Ryan Zimmerman, Cristian Guzman and Willie Harris included, simply could not dig themselves out of it. Loss Number 99 of 2008 was in the bag four pitches from the start. Yeah, this one got out of hand early. And when this game finally ended--the latest defeat all but assured Our Washington Nationals will reach the 100 Level Plateau of Losses in The Inaugural Season of New Nationals Park.
Sad, but virtually unavoidable now. Hopefully, they will not reach that century mark in the final home game of 2008.
Game Notes & Highlights
What a line score from Tim Redding this evening: 2.2 innings pitched, 7 hits allowed, 2 walks, 7 earned runs and an ERA that rose from 4.67 to 4.95 before he hit the home clubhouse steps. Pitching the most innings, in any season, in his Major League Career--182--Our Number 17 tired noticeably down the stretch. Taking away, at least statistically, what had been for the five previous months, a fairly solid campaign.
There was one THRILLING moment tonight, thanks to the glove of Roger Bernadina. Starting in left field, Our Number 2 quickly and deftly loped back toward the left centerfield wall on a drive off the bat of The Marlins Jorge Cantu in the top of the 4th. With baseball clearly over his head and past his outstretched glove, Bernadina leaped, with his glove hand, his right hand extended AS FAR AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE. Seconds before he face planted himself into the warning track, Roger caught the ball as both his body and the baseball were both losing gravity. A tremendous catch that found Bernadina landing hard and rolling slightly into the Visitors Bullpen Fence. Easily, The Defensive Play of This Game. Maybe only outdone by Reed Johnson, the centerfielder of The Chicago Cubs who FLATOUT LAID OUT for a drive to left center off the bat of Felipe Lopez back on April 25th. The very night Wil Nieves hit his IMPROBABLE game winning homer to right to defeat the team that now, is clearly, The Best In The National League--The Cubbies.
Doesn't that moment seem like about Two Years Ago? It's hard to believe how that Our Washington Nationals defeated The Chicago Cubs two out of three at New Nationals Park five months ago. Of course, Alfonso Soriano was still injured and on The Disabled List at that time.
Emilio Bonifacio continued to play well batting soley from the left side of the plate. Using his speed he ripped a triple to right field scoring Nieves with Washington's first run. And scored on a routine ground out by Alberto Gonzalez. A walk to Elijah Dukes and consecutive singles off the bats of Kory Casto, Pete Orr and Nieves plated their final two runs of the evening in the eighth--when this game was mostly already over.
When we play The Marlins why does it seem that either Ramirez, Josh Willingham or Dan Uggla hit homers against us--like all the time? Tonight, Ramirez and Willingham with the honors. If Uggla goes this entire series without knocking one out of the park, I will be mighty surprised. He, along with Houston's Lance Berkman hit two of most TITANTIC Shots at RFK Stadium. Uggla's on Opening Day, 2007 into the Upper Deck in DEAD CENTERFIELD at The Old Ballyard On East Capitol Street. Did he ever hammer that shot. I don't think I will ever forget it--just like Berkman's off Zach Day to centerfield in 2006 and Daryl Ward's Extra Inning Towering Shot into the Yellow Seats just above the foul pole down the right field line off The Astros's Russ Springer-also in 2006. Ward's maybe the most Majestic Home Run in the short history of Our Washington Nationals. The very fact there was a Full Moon shining just above the wavy rooftop of RFK where the home run was launched--made that Blast By Ward Something Special. No one on sight that night, could possibly forget that one--not even the Salute he gave The Crowd After Crossing Home Plate. That was a great moment never to be forgotten by me.
Of course with The Marlins in town--Mr. Misty May was on hand donning a Florida Uniform and in the starting lineup. Married to the two time Olympic Beach Volleyball Champion and arguably The Greatest Women's Player of All Time--Misty May. Matt Treanor may well play Professional Baseball, but he will always play second fiddle to his wife.
As I told The African Queen, if Misty May was anywhere at New Nationals Park watching her husband and I found out about it--I would have been there, in a heart beat to take a picture with her. That Lady is ONE TREMENDOUS ATHLETE. Of course, she is now competing on "Dancing With The Stars".
Tonight was the final Fan Giveaway for 2008. The first 20,000 arriving, and since there were only 20,299 announced--it's a safe bet most everyone got a Curly "W" Navy Blue Scarf as they entered the ballpark tonight. In fact, considering the cooler temperatures, the scarf came in handy for some--including for Our Friends Melissa and Matt. Melissa wearing the Curly "W" Scarf proudly for this photo.
Although tomorrow's final home game versus The Florida Marlins might be in jeopardy, due to torrential rains expected--Sohna plans to show up at New Nationals Park--rain or shine. Win, Lose or Postponed--The African Queen will complete a personal odyssey on Thursday, September 25th. She will have attended EVERY SINGLE GAME PLAYED AT NEW NATIONALS PARK in it's Inaugural Season Of Play--including the exhibition against The Baltimore Orioles and The First Game ever played. A college affair between George Washington University and St. Josephs. Good for her. She wanted to be there and loves coming to each and every game.
Finally, to their great credit--during the 8th inning, Our Washington Nationals announced that one of The Washington Senators Greatest Players--Mickey Vernon--had passed away this afternoon at the age of 90. Mr. Vernon had suffered a stroke last week and never was able to recover. Fans of Our Washington Nationals may well remember meeting Mickey Vernon at home games played at RFK Stadium. Three times, to my recollection, Mr. Vernon showed up to sign autographs for any fan wishing from 2005 through 2007. Twice an American League Batting Champion--Mickey Vernon was one of the most famous players to ever don a Senators Jersey. President Dwight D. Eisenhower also called Mr. Vernon "My Favorite Player".
Tonight's InGame Photos--(AP) Nick Wass
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
This March began just three batters into the bottom of the 1st Inning when Ryan Zimmerman hammered out his 14th Home Run of 2008. A Two Run Shot off Scott Olsen that appeared to land a good 12 rows deep into the left field stands. The Accompanying Bang!! Zoom!! Of The Fireworks!! as The "Z-Man" circled the bases signaling A Parade Was Beginning. One centered around Youth.
For some time now, Our Washington Nationals have stressed they are building from the bottom--from the ground floor to the eventual reaches of those yet to found Grand Heights. No question, inexperience and youth, combined with talent looking to find their way in The Great Game has led to a struggling Version 4.0 Team which calls New Nationals Park its new home this season. But tonight, a shining light was seen bearing down on South Capitol Street. Not only had three of Our So Called "Core Players" Zimmerman, Lastings Milledge, and Elijah Dukes delivered, but so had other youngsters, some NOT EVEN WITHIN OUR ORGANIZATION as July turned to August.
Few in Washington had heard of Alberto Gonzalez before Our General Manager Jim Bowden acquired him from The New York Yankees last month. The same holds true for Anderson Hernandez--acquired from the other New York Franchise--The Mets. Both considered long on glove and short on stick--Our New Numbers 12 & 6 have been nothing short of exciting to watch in the field of play. Everyone has come to realize Gonzalez may play one of the finest fielding and throwing games in The Major Leagues. With that glove and arm--he is mighty impressive. Hernandez also, well known for his defensive work as well. Their respective problem--both being unable to consistently hit Major League Pitching.
Whatever their pasts, whatever their backgrounds--since donning a jersey representing Our Washington Nationals, both Alberto Gonzalez and Anderson Hernandez have produced at the plate. Probably none better than their performances tonight. Facing a Florida Marlins Team, still in the playoff hunt--Gonzalez produced his FINEST NIGHT IN THE MAJORS--Four Hits, Three Runs, Two RBI batting second and his usual STELLAR work in the field. Yeah, I know, its only a small sample of his work thus far in Washington--but how can you NOT BE IMPRESSED with Our Number 12? Gonzalez has been TERRIFIC since coming over from The Yankees. A Quality Player so far.
And just like The Mets gave up on Anderson Hernandez, Washington gave up on Luis Ayala, as well. A change of scenery for two likable talents in which each needed a new place to grow. Blocked in Queens by Jose Reyes and Argenis Reyes, Hernandez was not going to get an opportunity at Shea Stadium this season, or Citi Field come 2009. Playing for a team building with youth--Ayala's value had seen it's better days in The Nation's Capital. And there are no problems with that. As sadly as it was to see Our Now Former Number 56 leave and take his place in the bullpen of The Mets (and I will always wish him THE VERY BEST--Luis is quite the character), Anderson Hernandez has been equally as impressive playing second base for Our Washington Nationals since coming over. This evening--two hits, two runs, two rbi from the leadoff spot in Our Lineup.
Not only had youth started a parade at New Nationals Park--but the review which followed was quite the spectacle.
A 25 Year Old Second Baseman now becoming the table setter (Hernandez)
A 25 Year Old Shortstop becoming a producer (Gonzalez).
A 23 Year Old Third Baseman reclaiming his role as Franchise Player (Zimmerman).
A 23 Year Old Right Fielder troubling opposing pitchers just enough to get those batting around him something better to hit (Dukes).
A 23 Year Old Centerfielder continuing to knock in more runs at the plate--becoming a more relied upon RBI Threat. Tonight Lastings Milledge with three hits and three RBI--a now team leading 60.
Except for Ryan Zimmerman--not a single one of those top five hitters in Our Lineup Tonight were in Washington Last Season. None had ever marched their way onto the diamond and produced in a DC Uniform until 2008.
How times have changed--from even those dog days of this past June and July--when Our Washington Nationals were in a tailspin, losing consistently and without much of a fight. Now, Our Manager Manny Acta sending out a lineup that, although still learning and inconsistent, exhibits some flaunt, some flash and a quality of play not seen here in some time. 13 Hits, 5 Walks, consistently getting hitters on base all night long. And then parading those runners around to score 9 runs.
A Washington Nationals March that that was pretty refreshing and that feeling had nothing to do with the cool, comfortable weather in and around New Nationals Park this evening.
Especially after watching tonight's pitching for Washington. Shairon Martis, Steven Shell & Michael Hinckley were not even considered as viable candidates for The Major League Roster in 2007. Martis was in Single A Ball, Shell with The Los Angeles Angels AAA Team, Hinckley lost and forgotten--buried deep down within Washington's Minor League System. Joel Hanrahan was a Rule V STARTER. Our Number 38--the only one of those 4 pitchers above 26 years of age.
Now look at all of them--collectively. The 21 Year Old Martis would battle through 5 innings with The Fish this evening, throwing a ton of pitches (103) but not getting himself in too much serious trouble. Shell would get Martis out of a problem in the sixth and Hinckley would continue to slam the door shut on each and every opponent he has ever faced in his brief Major League Career. Reaching 10 appearances from the beginning of your Major League Career without allowing a run to score may well have to do with a little more luck than skill and the very fact NO ONE HAS SEEN YOU YET AT THE PLATE. But, after tonight, Our Number 58 completed two additional shutout innings in his 12th appearance and left the mound with the confidence and a new found strut of a One Time Top Prospect now FINALLY understanding--He Can Pitch In The Major Leagues. Yes he can, and effectively so.
What a feeling and revelation that must be for this southpaw that may well have believed his career in 2007 was possibly over. Michael Hinckley should be proud of himself--he never gave up--when many others had already done so. Fast becoming one of the best stories of the final month of The 2008 Championship Season.
12 Hits, 6 Runs and 9 RBI on display tonight from Our Youthful Lineup.
9 Innings Pitched with 8 strikeouts from Our Youthful Pitching Staff.
The Result, a convincing win that was never really in doubt.
Final Score from a wonderful fall day at New Nationals Park--Our Washington Nationals 9 and The Florida Marlins 4. The Bang!! Zoom!! Of The Fireworks!! signaling a glimpse of Our Future. One that is not as awful as some have written of late. Our Record may not be good but no one can rightfully say we don't have some Major League Quality Players that should help Washington take that next big step--from also ran to respectability--in the very near future.
Curly "W" Number 59 featured a Youth Parade on South Capitol Street which marched all over The Fish tonight and sent out word to those among the 20,657 in the crowd that Our Washington Nationals are not done for the season, even though The Marlins are now finished in the run for the playoffs. Shairon Martis had garnered his First Major League Win, and in doing so ELIMINATED Florida from the post season. Once again, for the second straight season--Our Washington Nationals continue to play a spoiler role as this 2008 Season is quickly heading to a close.
At least there is some consolation in that. Finishing The Fish while attempting to finish Our Season with promise.
Game Notes & Highlights.
Alberto Gonzalez had a career night, with four hits including three singles and a double. He was a catalyst all night long, starting and extending rallies. He really was impressive.
The same for Ryan Zimmerman after blasting out his home run. Our Number 11 looking healthy and swinging his bat with control, something not seen earlier this season before his shoulder injury. Ryan standing tall at the plate giving a performance over this last month of September very reminescent of his strong efforts from his Rookie Season of 2006. Zimmerman looks really good right now.
And Lastings Milledge is beginning to just drive in runners from scoring position. Tonight a sacrifice fly and two singles knocking in key runs. Sometimes Our Number 44 swings at too many first pitch off speed pitches thrown off the outside corner, but this evening he was more patient and let some of those tosses go and was rewarded with a fine night at the plate. One in which his effort was less about power, but the power to just get on base.
After Roger Bernadina walked pinch hitting for Michael Hinckley in the 8th--the sight of Our Number 2 scampering around the bases from 2nd to home on a short fly to left center by Anderson Hernandez quite remarkable to witness. With the speedy Willie Harris scoring in front of him, Bernadina NEARLY CAUGHT HARRIS at the plate. Long Strides, covering a tremendous amount of ground--Roger Bernadina can run like an antelope. His stride reminding Sohna and I of the last person we remember wearing a Washington Jersey that could run so effortlessly--Alfonso Soriano--although Bernadina has a long, long way to go before he can match the overall talent of Our Former Left Fielder.
And with speed now being a factor when it comes to Our Washington Nationals, those two runs plated in the 8th were set up by a beautiful double steal by Harris and Bernadina just before Hernandez slapped them home.
Attempting to close in on 50 Wins in The Presidents Race, Abe was blocked tonight by Teddy, GW & Tom as The Rushmores ran across the right field warning track, but once The Presidents hit the corner, near Washington's Bullpen, Honest Abe Cheated and just like a Roller Derby Match--pushed all his cohorts into the wall--rushing past them for an easy victory--his 49th of 2008.
Tonight was the final T-Shirt Tuesday of the season and players for Our Washington Nationals were at the Entry Gates to New Nationals Park for about 20 minutes around 6PM. Sohna and I came across Lastings Milledge, Aaron Boone and Austin Kearns at The Center Field Gate. And then found Willie Harris at The Left Field Gate. Although we did not see them, Saul Rivera, Jesus Colome and Jason Bergmann were scheduled at other entrances.
Finally, all New Nationals Park Merchandise and all Player Numbered Jerseys and Tee-Shirts are all now 50% off at The Team Stores throughout New Nationals Park. From now until tomorrow night's closing game of the season on South Capitol Street, the sale will run. There are Opening Night Tees, Long Sleeve Inaugural Season of Nationals Park Tees, many other items. Some good stuff was still available. Of course, we picked up some loot--as always. You might want to check it out--as well.
Tonight's InGame Photos--Manuel Balce Ceneta
All Other Photos--Nats320 All Rights Reserved
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Finishing up where we left off in Part One. Our General Manager Jim Bowden and Assistant General Manager and Vice President of Player Development Mike Rizzo are sitting in The ESPN Zone in Downtown Washington, DC last Friday, September 19 meeting, greeting and chatting with Fans of Our Washington Nationals. Radio Broadcaster Charlie Slowes is hosting.
With that, here with go with the conclusion:
Charlie: How do you make decisions going through the off-season for the guys who have been hurt? I know you speak to the doctors and they let you know what the recovery is going to be like and whether a guy is going to be as good as new. But, you never know that until he gets on the field in spring training—as you were so surprised with Nick (Johnson) last spring.
Jim: As you know, we have to evaluate what the doctors say about the player coming back. And we have to look at how their injuries are going to affect their performance. Those are tough judgments to make. Obviously, the one concerning a player who has missed the entire season, or most of the season, I don’t think anyone should ever assume at this level, the player can definitely come back in the exact same level as he was before. It’s happened before. I have had Ron Gant and Eric Davis miss entire years and both of them came back and hit 30 Home Runs as if they hadn’t missed a year. That does happen, but you have to take all the information, put it together, look at it, and make your best judgment.
Question: As a full season ticket holder, I found this year unquestionably the most difficult to watch on a day-to-day basis. The Season Ticket Bill is not for five years down the line—it’s for the next year. I was wondering what specifically you are looking to do in the off season to make the team that we have now—better to watch on a day-to-day basis next year—as we build for the future.
Jim: I think one of our goals as I have mentioned before, is try to get a big bat in the middle of the lineup. That’s a priority for us. Obviously, we never stop trying to improve the pitching. It would be nice to have another starter near the top of the rotation. We would like to have a more experienced bullpen, to help some of the young kids develop. The first priority, if we could, whether it be trade or free agency, the preference would be trade, is to try to find another big lefty bat that can help get more fastballs for the other players in our lineup.
Follow up: Is Free Agency a possibility?
Jim: It is a possibility. We are going to look at absolutely everything but our preference, obviously, would be Free Agents in their 20’s that can be a part of the long term solution, not a short term fix. Not that we wouldn’t do that as well, as we want to look at everything. Ideally, we would prefer to control a player that is in their 20’s that can be a part of the solution.
Charlie: Jim, people have asked me about Willie Harris, sign Willie Harris. Signing him is not an issue, he’s arbitration eligible. I guess the confusion about that is because you signed him last year as a free agent because he was arbitration eligible but Atlanta non-tendered him and did not offer him arbitration.
Jim: Yes, that is right. We control him because of service time and he is not an issue in that he does not become a free agent. We control the player.
Charlie: Is he of great value to have based on what you saw this year?
Jim: Yes, Willie brought a lot to the table. And a lot of the things he brought to the table were not on the field. They were in the clubhouse. He’s been a tremendous influence along with people like Ronnie Belliard with the young players like Lastings Milledge, Elijah Dukes, and Ryan Zimmerman. Willie is a very serious person who really cares about winning and preparing for a game. You know, in his ideal role he would be able to play four or five positions. He can play, 2nd, 3rd, center, left, right—he gives the manager the ability to double switch. We have had a lot of injuries to make him an every day player. He certainly brings a lot of energy, a lot of enthusiasm and leadership to the clubhouse and he has worked out well for us.
Question: Jim, you just mentioned that you need a left-handed power bat. You know you might not be able to trust Nick Johnson being 100% next year. You also don’t seem to have a young person in the pipeline at first base—maybe Chris Marrero, maybe not. What are you going to be doing to fill that position so you can be confident you have someone that can both hit and field?
Jim: We are looking into every option we have out there. The doctors do think Nick is going to be back. With that being said, we are searching for what’s out there. We do think we have Chris Marrero in the pipeline. He is only 19 Years Old. We think he is going to be an impact player at some point in his career. He’s not ready for next year. Certainly, his (broken) ankle, we feel, is nothing that will set him back in getting to the big leagues at a young age.
Question: There seems to be a lot of talent in the minor leagues in the outfield. Mike Daniel, Michael Burgess, I forgot some of the others. But, there is a lot of depth there and a lot of our current outfielders are really young. So, those guys in the minors, are they going to be looked at more as trade bait or would one of those guys possibly convert to the infield?
Jim: I think when we look at players and value, you can’t get enough depth. We do have depth at positions that are there to trade. That is why they are there. They are not going to play for you. Whether you trade an outfielder at the Major League Level or AA or AAA, or even Rookie Ball—we will get every option we can to get the pieces we want. One of the reasons you build up the farm system is so you can make a deal to get an impact Major League Player. You have to pay the price of trading two prospects, three prospects that you really like, that you don’t want to trade, but it gets you that impact, young player that you control. So, as far as depth goes, you never get enough depth and yet we are very blessed with a lot of outfield prospects in Dustin Hood, J.P Ramirez, throughout the system, from Rookie Ball all the way to the top.
Mike: I think that what we have become in the last 30 days very deep in the infield also. We’ve got Cristian Guzman who has been terrific for us and signed an extension for two years. And Alberto Gonzalez who we have seen flash plus defensive skills and is swinging the bat well for us—along with Anderson Hernandez. We’ve got a pipeline of middle infielders at every level of our minor league system from AAA to Extended Spring, that we believe are prospects at shortstop, and in centerfield. We’ve come a long ways in our depth. We made some astute trades to improve our depth in the upper minor leagues and our drafts have really supplemented our depth in prospects—impact type of players in our organization.
Jim: No question we have some depth. One of the things, obviously we’ve had some injuries, Cristian Guzman had two really big injuries over the last couple of years. And it was difficult when you don’t have a defensive shortstop to pick you up when you have those sorts of injuries. We feel pretty blessed if he (Guzman) were to go down again—sitting there with Gonzalez and Hernandez—two guys and even Bonifacio can play shortstop. We have three guys that can play there.
Question: Could you describe what you look at over the summer with the summer leagues. And the second part is that the draft is a long time off, who would you say would be the top three if you had to pick tomorrow?
Mike: The summer coverage is organized and covered by our tremendous director of scouting Dana Brown. He’s out and about today. He’s not with us. He is scouting games right now. His staff puts together everything. There is a bunch of coverage right after the draft (in June of each year). The Day after the draft starts preparation for next year’s draft. There are area code games, east coast showcases, the Jupiter Games, there is The Cape Cod League where we scout intensely. There is a full four-month slate of scouting that we do to prepare for the ’09 Draft. So, we are well into the beginnings of the preparation for the ’09 Draft. Going into today, it’s a long way from the draft. I don’t like to name names, but people we are bearing down on and looking at—we are going to do our due diligence on all the players we have. (Stephen) Strasburg’s name comes up. (Grant) Green, the shortstop at Southern Cal. There are a bunch of names that we feel are on the upper echelons of the draft for 2009. But, it is such a long way off, they’ve got so much more seasoning and improving to do for us—that I am going to delay the answer until we get a little closer to the date.
Question: Is there something that can be changed in the training or the regime they (the players) go through before a game to help (the series of injuries this year). And number two—how do you look at these prospects in the eye of staying healthy and conjecture what would we have been, record wise, if we did not have the injuries we had this year?
Jim: Answer to the first part. We are always looking for ways to improve. Certainly, we look at the training and physical therapy, the conditioning, the flexibility programs. We are always looking at that, always trying to find a better way, always trying to be sociable not only with other teams in baseball, but in other sports, trying to find a better way to do things. Certainly, our injuries have been very wide spread. A lot of that had to do with bad luck, but some of the injuries certainly we look at saying, he had two calf pulls, that’s not normal. What are we not doing right to cause that? We certainly look at that and what was your other question for Mike?
Question: Basically, are you looking at the prospects? Does this person look like he is going to be healthy for X number of years. And the other was a throwaway—what would our record have been had we not had the injuries we had this year?
Mike: I will let our General Manager do the conjecture answer. But, I do believe there are young players within our minor league system that we have done a phenomenal job of keeping pitchers healthy—knock on wood. Our pitching program has come to a point where we really have improved The Nationals in that regard. Position player wise, it’s good to draft athletes that are strong, flexible and versatile. When they enter the program in good shape, and each player is put on an individual workout regimen that is monitored throughout the season obviously, but throughout the winter also. We are hoping as the exit physicals after the season come into the office, we are hoping to have the beginning of spring training, instructional league and our accelerated program to have continued good success with our health all over our minor leagues.
Jim: As far as conjecture, I will tell you that in Spring Training, all of our baseball people felt, the consensus was that if we stayed healthy, and the players all performed up to what their potential was—we felt at Spring Training, we could have gone 82-80.
Charlie: Jim, when you talk about injuries, of course pitchers you monitor more closely than anything to try and keep their arms healthy in how they prepare, flexibility, the whole regimen. But, there is not really much you can do for Nick Johnson’s swinging injury, Wily Mo Pena a torn labrum, wear and tear, a swinging injury or from diving for a ball—that type of thing. Austin Kearns, who knows how long he had chips. He had five chips in his elbow—they don’t show up overnight. There are some things you just couldn’t do anything about once they are known.
Jim: There is no question about that. And certainly there are a lot of players that play hurt. You like having players that play hurt and don’t worry about injuries. But when a player is hurt in this game, whether it be a knee or a shoulder, you are not going to get a player living up to their potential because the game is too hard to play through those type of restrictions. In the case with Austin, he had five bones. The Doctors were, quite frankly, surprised and could not understand how he could actually be playing baseball. He is just a tough kid and that’s how he did it.
Charlie: If you talk to trainers over the course of the grind of 162 Game Schedule, it’s hard to find a player who isn’t hurting or having something nagging him over the course of the year. What people don’t realize is how tough the game really is. The grind it puts on the body.
Question: I am sure you are very pleased with how The Potomac Nationals did this year. I’d like to hear some reflections on how you feel about player development at the upper levels of AA and AAA. And also, if you can share some names of players at those levels who you think have a more legitimate chance of making the team next year—who have not made an appearance yet on the Major League Roster.
Mike: We are so proud of development people—Bob Boone and Bobby Williams have done an outstanding job of putting together not only the champions at Potomac but also our Gulf Coast League Team lost the final game of its championship at that level. Our Dominican Summer League Team won its second straight championship in The Dominican Republic. So, we believe we have one of the top Farm Systems as far as prospects in all of baseball. We have come a long way in a short period of time. In June of ’06, we were ranked 30th out of 30 teams in Major League Baseball as far as Minor League Systems. Last year, we jumped that up to 9th and we expect to go up even higher this year. Some of the players that were instrumental in the Potomac Championship—I can let Jim expound on some of them—some late entries to our prospects such as Stephen King, Michael Burgess among a bunch of other players that were there for a majority of the season and helped out.
Jim: And also I think one of the names that we didn’t bring up because of the number innings he had pitched this year and he had some bicep tendinitis at the end of the year—was Jordan Zimmermann who is the one prospect we have the 29 teams call us on all the time. We feel his has the potential to be a pitcher that goes right into our rotation out of spring training next year. We did with him, what we did with John Lannan last year. It was tough for us not to bring John Lannan up in September (2007). But certainly based on all our medical people and all the history of innings pitched—we felt it would be more beneficial to shut John down so that this year he could go a full year in starting games—which he has not done professionally (at that time). We have done the same thing with Jordan Zimmermann—who is on a similar track record and history. But he is certainly a guy that you can see or you might want to watch come Spring Training this year.
Charlie: Certainly worked with John Lannan, he was about in uncharted territory for innings pitched and maybe threw his best game as a Major Leaguer last time out.
Jim: He did and ironically the adjustments he made—he had changed the grip on his changeup after watching Shairon Martis, our other 21 year old starter, who had pitched that brilliant game in Florida and kept on throwing that nasty change up. And John was talking to him—Shairon showed him the grip and changed to it. Odalis encouraged him to throw it more. And against The Mets, he threw a one hitter. Yeah, we were pretty proud of Balester who had thrown a one hitter a few games before that. To sit there with a rotation of three guys that are 23 and under not something that is easily done these days and certainly we are proud of their developments—knowing that Jordan Zimmerman is being added next year. This gives us four young guys under 23 to help build a starting rotation around.
Charlie: Maybe the most positive thing that has come out of this season.
Jim: There is no question that when you go through the pain and agony that all of us have had to go through to know that at the end of the year we are developing so many young players. In the middle of our lineup, we have four guys that are 23 or under in Elijah Dukes, Lastings Milledge, Ryan Zimmerman and Jesus Flores. So they have had to go out there and fight by themselves without veteran players who were injured to help them get better pitches to hit. And certainly it has been painful to watch them develop. But at the same time, for them to have to face those tough sliders and tough breaking balls and the location of the balls that they have had--in facing some really good pitches, will only help them develop quicker next year.
Question: Follow-ups from some questions earlier. First of all, Alberto Gonzalez, Emilio Bonifacio, Anderson Hernandez—none of the three of them have ever had On Base Percentages in the Minor Leagues higher than .340. When they all revert to their minor league numbers, who plays second base? Number two is about the injuries. Injuries happen but they happen to Cristian Guzman. They happen to Dmitri Young. They happen to Nick Johnson—every year. How do you explain away the reward contract you have given to Young and to Guzman?
Jim: Sure, I think that if you take Guzman baseball card and look at the games played his entire career, I think you will find it’s about 148 games on average per year. Certainly we had the two years here in Washington where he was hurt. But, the rest of his career that was not the story. This is a guy that wants to play every single day. He’s fifth in the National League in hits right now. He has more hits than David Wright. He plays the game hard. He’s a shortstop and certainly our feeling is that baseball guys do get hurt. His history is not that. Nick Johnson that is a different case. Certainly, his history was injured when we signed him. We signed him at a deal that was significantly below market value because we thought it was worth taking the risk in case he was healthy. That one did not work out. As far as your question on On Base Percentage, Elijah Dukes didn’t have a high OPS there either. His has been 420 since he came back from the injury and .380 for the year.
Question: That’s a six-week stretch.
Jim: We think Emilio Bonifacio has a chance to develop into a player like Luis Castillo. He’s got tremendous speed, game-changing speed. We like him from the left side. If you take his On Base Percentage from the left side and take away all the At-Bats from the right side—you will like his On Base Percentage.
Question: Tell me, how can you do that? He is a switch hitter?
Jim: Well, there is a couple of ways you can do it. You can go baseball wise and identify mechanically why he cannot hit from the right side. Are there ways that we think you can develop a player to improve his swing and his average and On Base Percentage from the right side. The answer to that is yes. Our hitting people think there are things that they can do to help him improve that. They are working with him every day to do that. We think this is a guy that down the road has the chance to be a leadoff hitter.
Question: My question is for Mike. I look at what you did in Arizona and there was a three or four year stretch where you directed the drafts there where you had the crystal ball of knowing every guy you hit on—Justin Upton, Mark Reynolds, Stephen Drew, Max Scherzer, Micah Owings—it was like one after the next. Those are the guys that are putting The D-Backs in the playoffs now year after year. And they are going to for a while. A lot of people talk about the draft as a crap shoot. I don’t believe that. I believe drafting and scouting are repeatable skills and some people are better at it than others. I see you as a future General Manager in the league. My question for you: Is that something you want to do? Do you want to be a General Manager at some point in your career?
Mike: The short answer for me is yes. I have visions of heading an organization in the future. But, I am really excited about what I do here. We got great leadership here. We are going in the right direction. It’s a great turnout here today. This organization is going in the right direction. We are leaps and bounds ahead of where we were in Arizona in their second year of existence. There are troubled times here, but we are building. We are building it the right way. We are doing the right thing. We have great, great leadership with The Lerner Family, Stan Kasten, and Jim. What we have done here since June of ’06 as far as scouting, player development, given the resources from The Lerner Family—is second to none. We are attracting some of the best and brightest minds in scouting and evaluation. Player Development side has had steady improvement and we are heading in the right direction. We are the youngest team in the Major Leagues right now. We are fast, athletic and exciting to watch. We need to tweak things. A few tweaks here and there. And we need patience from our fans, like the knowledgeable fans like here today. But believe me, as far as where we are timeframe wise—where I started in Arizona we are leaps and bounds ahead of anything we could of dreamed of over there. Short of gaining $100,000,000 in Free Agent Signings like we did in Arizona to win the World Series in ’01—we had to retool the entire situation and it is because of the draft and development we had there in Arizona that they are in the condition they are in right now. And as far as what you do with the good drafts, as far as the Major League Level goes, they either play for you or you package them in deals. And Arizona has six of their 8 starters/players were drafted and developed by that organization. The other players were obtained by trading 33 of the players they had in their system. So, We are well along the way of getting there in Washington. We’ve got a tremendous scouting and player development staff here with Washington and that is the backbone of any good organization. It’s the fundamental fun process of the leaders above you letting you implement your plan. And I can assure you that the people above us have given me and my people every resource possible in every encouraging way they could possibly give. And it starts with Jim and filters down to everybody we have in the organization. So, I appreciate the kind words. If you like what we did in Arizona, wait another year or so because we are going to better it here in Washington.
Question: Hi, I have been a season ticket holder for four years and I obviously care about The Nationals because I come here. You are talking about the fans and they are educated fans. I think, in general, The DC Fans are not very educated. There are a lot of people who are trying to like baseball that never got into it before and lived in a city where they did not have baseball. Or, you have the fans that are from New York or Boston and they expect perfection. How do you go about educating the fans that aren’t here—how important the farm system is? How to be patient? There are a lot of people out there who are not patient and are willing to give up—not renew their season tickets. How do you get through to those fans to explain what you are going to do and the progress of how long it will take. We are not going to be The Marlins. How do you go about that?
Jim: Means like coming out here and talking to the fans here, talking to the media, answering e-mails we get from fans, letters we get from fans. And we do the best we can to educate. We have been very upfront and honest from the very beginning. Stan Kasten came in as President two years ago. People don’t seem to realize it’s only been two years since he’s been here. He’s a big believer in development and scouting as he did in Atlanta. It’s how The Braves won 14 Consecutive Division Titles. You know we have been very upfront with the fans. We have not been misleading telling them how we are going about doing it. Certainly, we all understand the frustration. Everybody wants to win. But, when you do win, you don’t want to have to break the team down. You want to be able to sustain the winning—like Atlanta did for 14 years and that is the blueprint we have. In mean time, instead of wasting, as we mentioned before, we could have signed some guys for $10 Million per year for five years. They are mediocre players and paid $50 Million. Instead of that, we are putting money into the system. Sure, we have been aggressive at minor league free agents to fill in like Joel Hanrahan, (Tim) Redding, and Odalis (Perez). Rule V with Jesus Flores. We’ve been able to do that with some good scouts. But the reality is that we are trying to build the organization with the draft and through trades for young players like The Dukes’, The Milledge’s and The Bonifacio’s. We have just tried to be upfront with fans and let them know how we are getting there. We certainly think we made a lot of progress and are going in the right direction.
Last Question: You guys talk about Austin Kearns. I look at a guy like Roger Bernadina. I have been looking at this guy since he played at Harrisburg (AA) and seen him move up here. I think if you look at some of the plays he made when you first brought him up here to give him some At-Bats, to get his bat on the ball. This guy has an arm I have not seen in years. I think if you look at some of the plays this guy has made recently when you talk about defense. He has got to be a guy you put into the equation for the future. How do you look at a guy like that. I know he is going to play in the off-season to further his game. But I think this is a guy who can be a leader in the clubhouse. When you talk about a guy like Martis, these guys are close friends, from what I understand. Do you look at a guy like that and say hey we got a talent here that we can do something with and make a decision for guys of that nature to give them the confidence they need?
Jim: There is no question Roger hit over .320 at both AA & AAA this year. He stole 40 bases for the second consecutive year. Although, at times, he may have some bad jumps and angles, he runs a lot of baseballs down. He’s got a good arm. He is very athletic. He’s an exciting player. He needs an opportunity at this level to see what he can do. But certainly, does he fit in the same grouping as our other young players talent wise? Absolutely. It’s just a matter of opportunity for him.
Charlie: All right folks. Thank you for your questions and your comments. Please say thanks to Jim Bowden and Mike Rizzo. Great Questions, you ARE the educated Nationals Fans. We thank you for coming this afternoon.
After the session ended, both Jim Bowden, Mike Rizzo and even Team President Stan Kasten (watching the event) stayed around for some moments after to talk to fans on the side. This was a good discussion, the success of which will hopefully allow for more such get togethers with fans in near future. Nothing like giving everyone their chance to ask their question, or questions, directly to those in management of Our Washington Nationals.