Monday, February 23, 2009
The Fun Level Jumps Up As The Detail Work Begins--In Earnest
The fun level rose exponentially this morning at Space Coast Stadium and the surrounding practice fields. The Boys Of Summer had reunited for the first time in 2009. Dave Jageler had arrived in Viera and was taking in the sunshine while teaming back up with Radio Partner--Charlie Slowes. The laughter started right away.
"Where's my goodie bag?" stated Dave to The African Queen. "When I first saw that picture of Charlie holding a gift bag, I couldn't quite figure it out. Then I saw the Shoe Phone story and I got it."
Then Dave immediately goes into this wonderful story that easily becomes The Quote of The Day:
"I went to a chiropractor during the off-season. He mentions that my posture is just terrible. My head kind of leans forward—sort of hunched over. The Doctor asks: ‘In your work, do you look down a lot?’ I said (knowing The Radio Booth sits high above Nationals Park): ‘No—only 10 stories!’ (Charlie, Dave, Sohna and I all busting out laughing).
The laughter so loud Our Manager Manny Acta even looked over from Field Number 3 to see what all the commotion was about.
Yes, The Boys Of Summer were back together again.
The 2009 Baseball Season had officially started anew today.
In fact, there were alot of fun moments today on the practice fields of Our Washington Nationals. Sure, there may well be an ongoing Federal Investigation involving Washington right now--but Major League Baseball is still being practiced each and every day. 69 players are still on the fields or in the training rooms--preparing for the upcoming championship campaign.
And today's sessions were all about The Details. The practicing of the little things that can win any ball game.
Sohna and I don't recall EVER just seeing Bunting Sessions during Spring Training--not these specifically dedicated routines. For the entire practice, every single field player rotated through a side field set up with a pitching machine. Once there, Spring Instructor Jose Cardenal had every single hitter practice sacrifice bunting and bunting for a hit. Nick Johnson yelling over to Jose: 'You want ME to bunt for a base hit?' Cardenal responding: "You--no never!!" (Laughing). Actually, Nick Johnson is a pretty good bunter. Unlike many of his teammates--NJ can direct the bunted ball off the bat.
Which all started a very interesting conversation between Our Assistant General Manager Mike Rizzo, Sohna and myself over bunting technique. Having grown up playing the game, I was always taught to square around to the pitcher, let the ball come to me and then 'Catch" the ball with the bat. Virtually nobody for Our Washington Nationals executes a bunt is such a way.
Mike Rizzo told us: "That is the way I was taught also. But today, rotating your hips around and dropping your hind leg back is more preferred. This way, the hitter can disguise the bunt and hopefully surprise the defense."
But that doesn't explain why so many hitters, especially here in Washington, are simply not good at it? (SBF)
"That's true. They don't practice the skill enough. Every single pitcher on this team was probably the star hitter of their high school teams. Once they advanced to professional ball--even college ball--the DH took over. They never hit again and that skill suffered." Mike Rizzo went on to say how they must convince their pitchers that bunting is an important tool in The National League. "We try to stress that by being able to handle the bat, Manny (Acta) might be able to keep them in a ball game longer and get them a win in a close game. They need to understand that bunting is important."
Mr. Rizzo also agreed Washington has been a poor bunting team and even our everyday players must take better pride in practicing the skill and not make it a lost art. Sohna and I noticed too many players today were offering at too many pitches up, out or low in the strike zone. "We have to get them to understand that we can win games by bunting well--not just by hitting the ball out of the park," concluded Mike.
Learning to be a more complete player--what a thought.
Mastering tasks like our catchers were also doing today. For nearly two hours--Minor League Manager Jon Stearns threw ball after ball into the dirt for Jesus Flores, Wil Nieves, Javier Valentin and every other backstop in camp to block, pickup and potentially throw out runners. At the same time, everday field players ran the bases in front of those catchers--making the decision to advance--all the while listening carefully to the baserunning expertise of new coach Marquis Grissom. Grissom seems to command respect. Whenever he spoke--the practice stopped as everyone listened.
As usual--Jon Stearns was his overly outgoing self. One pitch to Wil Nieves bounced and struck him hard right in the face mask--knocking him momentarily. Stearns--never one to baby ANYONE yells out: "That's the way to use your head Nieves!!" As funny as it was--Stearns was serious too.
That businesslike approach also set up by new Strength & Conditioning Coach Jim Philbin. Like Batting Instructor Rick Eckstein, Philbin has quickly gained the respect of Our Players. Not only do all players have to run from work station to work station-- all pitchers are running hard on the outfield track--foul pole to foul pole. Winded by their efforts, some had to take breaks. All Hitters running the bases--hard, not letting up--over and over again--not a lot of stopping.
Then--Philbin sitting on the field with each successive group--stretching and working on flexibility.
A mindset seems to be developing. While other teams may only be able to beat you with one swing of a mighty bat--Our Washington Nationals are attempting to transform themselves into a more complete team--capable of winning with not only the 3-Run Homer, but smart base running, athletic ability, and taking advantage of opportunity to advance baserunners ahead and into scoring position.
Yeah, we are sure Our Washington Nationals practiced these skills each of the past four seasons since Baseball returned to DC--but never have we seen this effort on such a programmed schedule. A new direction appears to be taking place. Washington is trying to become a more well rounded ball team. A complete team effort--hopefully coming to Nationals Park--very soon.
Speaking of becoming more complete: How would you like to be 18 Years Old--like Destin Hood--and have Devon White and Marquis Grissom as your PERSONAL SPRING TRAINING OUTFIELD INSTRUCTORS? Well, that exact scenario played out on Field Number 4 after EVERYONE ELSE had left for the clubhouse today. Folks--there are a combined 11 Gold Gloves sitting on White's and Grissom's Mantles in their homes. As posted the other day, Hood seems to have a good head on his shoulders. I can't imagine any young player in America not being honored to have Devon White and Marquis Grissom on their side. A very impressive showing--virtually unnoticed at camp today.
Other interesting notes: Elijah Dukes took fielding practice with The Centerfielders today. And Our Washington Nationals released Odalis Perez from his contract. Craig Heist from WTOP telling Sohna and I that JimBo wanted it that way. Our General Manager didn't want Perez's holdout to linger any longer. Odalis really is not in the long term plans but I wish Perez could have paid some sort of penalty for his change of mind. He did after all--agree to his non guaranteed contract.
Finally--while speaking with Jordan Zimmermann for a Nats320 Interview--a female fan comes over to ask for an autograph saying: "Ryan--can I get you to sign?" Jordan responds almost curtly: "I am not Ryan."
The African Queen states: "You got the wrong Zimmerman(n)there!!"
Team President Stan Kasten happens to be walking by, hears the commentary and as always chimes in: "Actually, he might be the right Zimmermann--before it's all over."
Laughter all around. Jordan Zimmermann surprised and impressed with the comment. "Hopefully!!" Jordan Zimmermann responds back to Mr. Kasten. Kasten just smiles and continues on his way.
PS--Saul Rivera loves having his picture taken. Whenever someone takes a picture as he walks by--Our Number 52 always takes a different pose or stance to give it a personal feel. Always smiling--the man with the rubber arm seems happy.
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