Friday, September 25, 2009

Josh Willingham ESPN Zone Appearance

September 24th, 2009 was the final installment for this baseball season of the monthly ESPN Zone "Meet & Greets" in downtown Washington with a player for Our Washington Nationals. Josh Willingham joined Radio Broadcaster Charlie Slowes at the 11th & E Street, NW Eatery at 12 noon for 30 minutes of questions and answers followed by an autograph and picture taking session.

Here is the complete transcript:

Charlie: “Good Morning! Good Afternoon everybody!! It is good to see some familiar faces here once again. There are folks that come to every one of these. And we thank you very much. Say hello to Josh Willingham!!”


Charlie: What a game last night? If you love baseball, was that a game that had just about everything all packed into one nine-inning game? (September 23rd 5-4 Washington Victory)

Josh: “Absolutely. We had a three run homer. We had great pitching, great defense and to have a walk-off win like that is always very special.”

Charlie: “Yeah, that was an exciting ball game. You were back in a role; in fact we (Charlie & Dave Jageler) had to look it up when was the last time you came up as a pinch hitter? It was like late May or early June.”

Josh: “Yeah, I am glad I don’t have to do a lot of that anymore. I’ve been putting some really good at-bats together and I just missed a three run homer (September 23rd against The Dodgers pinch hitting). Maybe, I can start getting back on track and swing the bat at little better.”

Charlie: “I thought you had that one. I really thought that you got it. You probably missed by a fraction of an inch on the bat on hits like that.”

Josh: “I hit the ball good, but he (Chad Billingsley) jammed me a little bit. If it’s Adam Dunn and he gets jammed a little bit—he probably hits it out (laughter). But I can’t get jammed. I need to hit it pretty good.”

Charlie: “I’ll tell you what. I was shocked with Billingsley’s first pitch curve ball (to Ryan Zimmerman in the bottom of the 6th)”

Josh: “Really?”

Charlie: “Sometimes the pitchers can make their first pitch of the night and you just don’t swing. Or, it’s a swing and a miss. But, Zimm (Ryan Zimmerman) just crushed that baseball. And as soon as he hit it you knew that ball was going a long way.”

Josh: “Billingsley was probably trying to get ahead in the count by throwing a curve ball—expecting him to take it. He (Zimmerman) jumped all over it with a big hit. I think that was our first hit of the game?”

Charlie: “It was. The Nationals were being no hit to that point. Billingsley, unfortunately, walked two before that at-bat and then gives up a three run homer. A great game. The Nationals wrap the series up tonight and you expect to be back in the starting lineup tonight?”

Josh: “Yep. I will be back in there tonight. Hopefully, I can do something to help us win tonight.”

Question: The day we first traded for you I was extremely happy because you seemed to be the guy that was always killing us when you were with The Marlins. In the 9th inning, it seemed like you were hitting the home run in Marlins Stadium or whatever they called it back then. This year it seems like the same thing. In the important games we have won you have been the person to make a difference. So, do you have a different mind set when the game is on the line?

Josh: “You really don’t have a different mind set. I just think when the game is on the line and you are in a key situation and offensively have a chance to do something—I think you really have to get yourself to relax because it’s really easy to get the adrenaline going and swing at something you would have otherwise would not normally swing at—trying to do too much, swing too hard. So, for me, one thing I have learned over the years when I have been in that situation several times is—you really just have to take a deep breath and relax. Try to do, basically, as little as possible because your body is going to take over. When you try to do too much, it’s usually not a good thing.”

Question: “Rob Dibble (MASN Analyst) always refers to you as The Hammer. Is that (nickname) an invention of his, or have you been called The Hammer for some time?

Josh: “Ever since I was drafted in the year 2000, I adopted that nickname. My nickname always in high school and college was Willi—because my last name is Willingham. And I didn’t want everybody to say that all the time (chuckling). Then, I got to pro ball and there was a kid named Josh Wilson who already had that nickname. So what they did was extend the last part of my last name and it became The Hammer. But, I tell people, because of the way I hit the ball—I got the name (laughter).”

Question: You had the greatest game of your life a month or so ago when you had two grand slams. Can you give us a description of how that day was for you?

Josh: “When I look back on it, it was really a surreal day. When I was in the moment, it was more about focusing on what I needed to do for that particular at-bat. After I hit the first grand slam, the situation was presenting itself again. And I was thinking—this is ironic to get up with the bases loaded in the same game—after already hitting a grand slam. So, my focus was not on hitting another grand slam, it was on finding out what the relief pitcher that just came into the game had? What he was going to throw to me because I had never faced him before? That was my focus. I got another good pitch to hit and hit it out. But as more time has passed and I look back on it—it is really special. And as the years go on, I am sure it will be even more special.”

Charlie: “During that broadcast, we were looking up how many times something like that had been done in the history of baseball and we found out there have been more perfect games thrown (13 times—audience member). That’s how many times it’s been done in the history of the game.”

Question: Your handshake with Adam Dunn, can you talk a little about how that got started. And also, some of the traditions of baseball, what do you enjoy about baseball and its traditions?

Josh: “The handshake was something where one of us hit a home run and everybody always gives the knuckles, or something crazy—which I am not really into. So, Adam and I—being the simple people that we are—said: ‘look, just give me a handshake!’ So, I gave him the handshake once and it kind of turned into an every time thing. I think it is something people in the dugout make fun of, but we kind of appreciate it, and I think others are starting to appreciate it as well.”

“As far as the traditions of the game, I can’t really pinpoint one. Baseball has been such a game that has been played for such a long period of time that I really appreciate seeing someone playing the game the right way. A lot of times in this day and age, people can be a little flamboyant. I like to see someone go out there every single day and play the game hard and play it the right way.”

Question: To go back to traditions—do you expect the rookies to dress up (in drag) for the last road trip?

Josh: “They have already dressed up. We made them do it in Philadelphia on the way to New York. It was a good time.”

Charlie: “I think they kind of got off easy since it was a bus trip right to the hotel. The best rookie hazing we saw was a couple of years ago. It was from RFK Stadium to Penn Station in New York. Instead of letting the rookies get on the bus, they had to walk from Penn Station to The New York Hilton in those costumes. That was good!”

Josh: “Yeah, I had to do that once. But you sort of blend in—in New York.”

(A lot of laughter)

Charlie: “You are coming through Times Square. How kooky can it be? Everybody just looks at you and says: ‘Oh Yeah!’ Another time when I was with Tampa Bay, they did the rookie hazing out of Toronto. That was good because they made them go through the airport AND go through customs—which is where you see some strange things—but not that strange. So, that was pretty good.”

Question: I have noticed that this year you have bounced from left field to right field. What changes do you have to make and how hard is it to play the corners differently?

Josh: “Most of the time, I have been on the left side of the diamond in my career. So, you get use to the way the ball moves. If it’s hit off a right-hander’s bat it will hook a little bit down the line—slice a little bit into the gap. When a lefty hits, it will slice when it goes down the line and be opposite in the gap. So, when you move to rightfield you really have to take a lot of balls off the bat—like in batting practice—to get yourself used to how the ball moves because it is totally different. I would just say it is more awkward than anything—moving all the way across the field. It’s just something where I needed to take a lot of fly balls and get in a lot of extra work to get adapted to playing over there. But once I got solved the balls off the bat by playing a few games—I got comfortable. It is a lot bigger adjustment than some people think. Some people think you just move around an outfielder because it is just another outfield position. But, it is very different.”

Charlie: “Even more so, and I am sure you and Adam were talking about this because he was doing it for a while too—moving from leftfield to rightfield and eventually to first base. How about switching from one side of the field to another and going from outfield to infield? That’s really hard when you haven’t played infield in a long time just because of the reaction time off the bat.”

Josh: “I came up as an infielder and can still play infield, but I haven’t played it in so long. Adam is the same way. He played so much outfield before he got moved back to the infield that it just takes time to get used to. It takes a few games to play there to get your feet back under ya and feel comfortable with that position.”

Charlie: “We talked about it on the air. For the first three weeks that Adam was at first base, he really didn’t have a hard hit ball come his way. He had a few dribblers, a few throws in the dirt that he was really adept at picking up. But he didn’t have to make a throw to second. And then, all in a span of a few games, he had everything. A 3-6-1 double play. A throw to the plate. A throw across to 3rd—all of it starts happening.”

Josh: “It is one of those things where everybody says when you are put in a position on the baseball field where you are not too familiar—the ball is going to find you. Ian Desmond is a prime example when he was playing rightfield (moans from the crowd). He had never played there and you knew at some point in the game, the ball is going to find him. And it found him in a key situation. The ball will find you.”

Charlie: “That’s a tough one. A ball hit like that—an established outfielder—when you get that low line drive—that can fool anyone who has played outfield for years.”

Josh: “It really will because that ball looked like it was going to be short off the bat, but it obviously had some back spin and a lot of carry to it.”

Question: With all the new parks with all the nooks and crannies, which do you find the toughest to play outfield in?

Josh: “It’s a good question. Let me think for a few moments (pauses)”

Josh: “A lot of the parks are really different down the line. Like when a ball is hit into a corner, the ball will shoot out (toward centerfield). Others, it will hit off the stands (down the line) and shoot out toward deep shortstop. All of them are different, but I would say Arizona (Chase Field) is kind of hard because down the line the fence goes out then comes back in--then heads back out toward the gap. That is something you really have to get used to because when a ball is hit into that corner, you think it’s going to hit the fence, but it’s deeper there. Citi Field in New York is HUMONGOUS. And you start running into the gap and the fences just never end. They just keep going out that way (pointing away from himself). And having played rightfield there, they have that overhang that comes over the fence. There are so many things that you have to get used to and it really pays off to go out there early and get some balls hit off the wall and see where the ball is going to ricochet because every park is different.”

Charlie: “Citi Field is tough. How many of you are old enough to remember an Etch-A-Sketch? (hands raised). I think that is how they designed the outfield walls at Citi Field!! (Laughter). I think Jeff Wilpon (Mets Owner) was sitting there seeing if he could design it on his Etch-A-Sketch and ended up with a whole bunch of crooked lines. Last night, there was a controversial call there again. They called it a home run (for New York). Bobby Cox (Atlanta Manager) thought it was not. They (the umpires) said it hit the top of the fence. They (park designers) have made it nearly impossible for the umpires because fans can interfere at nearly any point except for dead centerfield and the bullpens. It’s too hard of a call for the umpires with these very high walls that have fans right on the fence.”

Question: “Old Yankee Stadium, New Yankee Stadium, Citi Field, Shea Stadium—better or worse—what do you think?

Josh: “Well, unfortunately, I didn’t get to play in New Yankee Stadium because I was home. But as far as Shea Stadium and Citi Field, there is absolutely no comparison. Citi Field is so big. The wall is so tall. And like I was saying, when you are running for a ball in the gap in left centerfield—it never ends. It is like running on a football field. Shea Stadium was a lot shallower in the gaps. Every field is different but Yankee Stadium was something I will never forget playing in. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to play in the New Yankee Stadium. But Citi Field and Shea Stadium are completely different ballparks. I loved playing in Shea. Citi Field—not so much yet—maybe I will learn to love playing there too.”

Charlie: “I don’t think The Mets love playing there either. (laughter)”

Question: This season there have been a number of rain delays and pretty lengthy. Can you give us an idea of what the players do during the rain delays? Also, how does that affect your ability to stay warm (loose) and be ready to play again once the delay is over?

Josh: “I thought I was getting out of the rain when I left Florida but that is obviously not the case.”


Josh: “But during a rain delay, several people do a lot of different things. I like to play cards. So, someone will get a card game going. Some people like to go into the back and take a nap. We’ve got video games in the clubhouse that some people play. Obviously, eating is a common thing—something that everybody does—get a bit to eat. I would say those three things. You always see card games going. You always see somebody play video games and people eating. Those three things are the most common.”

Charlie: “And there are other baseball games on the TV.”

Josh: “Yes, and others are watching TV as well.”

Charlie: “Another added bonus at Nationals Park is that The Family Room is across the hall from the clubhouse so you might be able to hop over and see the little ones”

Josh: “Yes, if it is a lengthy delay, I always go and see the family. I will bring them something to eat from the clubhouse and all that stuff.”

Question: You may be the only baseball player to have a degree in Marine Biology?

Josh: “That was my major but I do not have a degree yet. And I haven’t worked on it since college. It was something I was interested in and I was probably going to major in that, but baseball had its own mind and I didn’t have enough time to go back during the off-season and go back to school. Those are some classes that you really can’t take over the Internet. They are pretty hard classes.”

Question: In my country we don’t have baseball, we have other games like soccer. But I wanted to know when did you decide you wanted to play baseball for a living?

Josh: “I knew I wanted to play baseball when I was about five years old. Growing up, I always played every sport. I played baseball, soccer, basketball, and football. When I got into high school and I started to think about getting an education for college—I wanted to get a baseball scholarship. So obviously, baseball helped me go to college as well. Then, when I started playing in college, every player that plays baseball wants to play in The Major Leagues and get a chance to play professional baseball. And as my college career was going along and I was doing really well, I started to get some attention from some Major League Scouts. That’s when I knew I might have that chance to fulfill my dreams and play professional baseball. And then, once I got into professional baseball, I just moved up the ladder until I got to The Big Leagues. It was one of those things where I didn’t say at seven years old I was going to play in The Major Leagues--I enjoyed every sport. But once I got up into high school and college, I knew I could probably go after that dream.”

Charlie: “Josh, I know that this has not been a year if you had planned out it would have gone this way, with the trade and not playing right away and the team getting off to a slow start. You look back, a career high in home runs (2009), what has been good for you this year and what you have liked to have gone differently?”

Josh: “That is the thing about a baseball season, it is so long at 162 games, there are so many things that can happen. I started off the year and never dreamed I wouldn’t be playing when I came over here. But that is the way the cards kind of fell until the middle of the year. So, I just had to deal with that in the best way I could and kind of keep myself prepared. I was, maybe, playing once or twice per week. And then, I guess in June, when I started to get a chance to play every day, is when I started to swing the bat really well and have been in the lineup ever since. I am just fortunate to have the opportunity to be playing now. I am happy to have the numbers I have now because I didn’t play for a couple of months. It’s been a pretty good year.”

Question: What is the mood in the clubhouse now since the season is ending? I am really sad the season is ending. How do you guys feel? What are you trying to accomplish for the rest of the year?

Josh: “Unfortunately, we have lost a whole bunch of games this year. But one thing this clubhouse has always been is upbeat. You play so many games that I think every day is a new day. We’ve lost several games this year but not one time when I've come into the clubhouse after losing two, three or four in a row did I not seeing smiles on people's faces—everybody being upbeat. So, that is one thing I have to give these guys and coaches credit for. And this organization is going to get better. We are probably going to get some arms this off-season to help us a little bit. The young players we’ve played this season that are getting their bumps and bruises are going to be a lot better next season. So, I think this organization is heading in the right direction. But this latter part of the year, I think everyone is just trying to win games—like we were in April. It's something that is a goal of a baseball player every single day no matter how many games you lose. You have a chance to win a game that day and that is our mind set.”

Charlie: How did you like playing for Jim Riggleman in the second half of the season?

Josh: “Jim’s been good. He brings a little different mind set to the team. He’s more fundamentally oriented. We worked on a lot of fundamentals early, but Jim’s a great guy and he’s done a good job picking up the team.”

Charlie: “Do you notice the managerial style, the X’s & O’s, the kind of changes a manager will make? That kind of thing?”

Josh: “I would say the biggest difference that I look at is that Jim plays the numbers. Some managers will go with more a feeling of what’s on the field. Jim will look at the numbers. And if a guy has good numbers against a certain pitcher, he will be in there that day. The same thing when he is bringing in a reliever. He will look at what the guy On-Deck has done and go that way—which you can’t say is right or wrong—but he is more of a numbers guy than others who go more on feel.”

Charlie: “As a player, does it matter to you? If you have great numbers against someone, do you expect to be in the lineup?”

Josh: “Absolutely. But also, if you haven’t done so well, and the guy kind of hurts you a little bit, he shouldn’t be in there. But, he (Jim) is doing the best job he can and the players are playing for him (shrugs shoulders). So, both ways can be good.”

Charlie: “Yes, he’s looking for that edge with a game on the line (Riggleman). All right, folks, we thank you for your questions. And we want to thank you for coming out all season and we hope to see all of you again next year here at The ESPN Zone. Josh is now going to sign autographs for you.”

With those final words, The Q & A session with Josh Willingham at The ESPN Zone in downtown Washington, DC ended. Josh then spent the next 25 minutes signing autographs and taking pictures with the many fans in attendance.

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