Saturday, February 28, 2009

Aborted Mission

We got stuck on I-95 between exits late this morning. Literally, traffic did not move one inch for over 1 hour. There was a multiple car accident that shut down the interstate. By the time traffic cleared, there was no way to get to Jupiter, Florida for today's exhibition game between Our Washington Nationals and The St.Louis Cardinals within a reasonable time frame.

So--I took The African Queen shopping instead. As you can see, she did OK for herself.

A Few Minutes With Jordan Zimmermann

Funny and humble--two traits The African Queen and I enjoy seeing in others. One of those guys that's easy to root for. Perfect descriptions of Jordan Zimmermann--Our Washington Nationals top pitching prospect now being given the chance to make The Big League rotation coming out of Spring Training 2009. With a fastball that only topped out in the Mid-80's in High School, Jordan developed a mid-90's fastball in college at Division 3 (Non-Scholarship) Wisconsin-Stevens Point when he began to workout more vigorously.

Chosen in the second round of the 2007 draft by Washington--Our New Number 27 is being given a hard look at camp by Baseball Operations. Sohna and I chatted with this nice young man a few days ago after practice.

Unlike Destin Hood, who is here to get a feel of the Major Leagues, you are here with a purpose—to possibly make the team. How are things going so far for you? (SBF)

“It’s actually been a lot of fun. I am really excited to be here working with this group of guys. Certainly, I want to do the best I can, and whatever happens, happens.”

Where you surprised you moved so quickly through Washington’s system last year? (SBF)

“Yeah, kind of. They skipped me through Hagerstown and on to Potomac where I started out pretty good and they moved me up right away. I was excited it. My goal was to make AA (Harrisburg) last year. And I ended up being there for 3/4th of the season. I met my goal early and, of course, I had to switch my goals to making it to The Bigs. But it never happened, so hopefully I will get the chance this year.”

What did you learn coming out of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (Division 3 Baseball) and coming to the pros? (SBF)

“I was really nervous going up to Vermont (Low A Ball). And as soon as I got there, I had three or four guys welcoming me. It relaxed me to be accepted right away. It made it easier going there and playing ball. And it turned out to be a lot of fun and a good entry point into professional ball.”

Everyone changes, adapts, gets better to advance in this game. How have you changed as a pitcher from college to now? (SBF)

“I have been working on my changeup. That is the biggest thing. I have better command. I have the pitch down, but I still have to tweak that and a few other things here and there. But it’s close to being ready to go. Another very important thing is learning how to get hitters out day in and day out. In college, I was throwing in D-3, so I could just throw fastballs past guys. They wouldn't catch up to it. Here, I have to mix all my pitches, otherwise they will blow my pitches past me.”

Speaking of which, we saw you throw batting practice the other day and you did quite well against Ryan Zimmerman and other top hitters on this team? (The African Queen)

“It’s a great experience here facing The Big League guys and knowing how I match up against them. There is no better way to improve and judge yourself. I thought I did well the other day and I can’t wait to get out there in a real game and see how I do. (This chat took place on 2/23—two days before Jordan threw two shutout innings against The Detroit Tigers).”

“They (hitters) are trying to get into the swing of things and I am trying to get into the swing of things. I need to get all my kinks worked out. Everybody is trying to get better.”

But it’s got to be a challenge to face those guys now like Ryan and striking them out like that? (The African Queen)

“Yeah, but I was just working on my stuff—trying to hit the corners. And when you do that it’s tougher for the hitters to get hits.”

When you were playing Division 3 Ball, were you surprised in being drafted so high? (SBF)

“I don’t know. I had an agent. He filled me in and told me to expect to go somewhere in rounds 2 through 5. And when I got picked in the second round—that was good.”

Where you a later bloomer—why you ended up playing at Wisconsin-Stevens Point? (SBF)

“I don’t know if I was a late bloomer, or that I just started to lift weights more, take my training more seriously (laughing) after I got to college.”

You did move quickly through the system last year, and knowing how highly Washington thinks of you—were you surprised to be given this opportunity to win a spot in the 2009 Rotation in DC? (SBF)

“No, in being a top prospect, I expected it. I really did expect to get a chance at Spring Training. I am hoping I can stick through the entire time and not get sent down. We shall see (smiling).”

Randy St.Claire is very high on you (SBF)

“He’s been terrific. He’s told me how to grip my changeup better. And how to slow my body down (in delivery) if I am rushing too fast. He tells me to slow down, relax, be myself.”

Early in camp it’s more about getting baseball ready. What do expect in your early outings on the mound—when you are only going to pitch two innings or less? (SBF)

“Hopefully, not go out there and get shelled!! (Laughing—Zimmermann again showing humility). But, I will work on just getting all my pitches down, hitting the spots and finding a rhythm on the mound.”

What are your new goals now as Spring Training progresses? (SBF)

“My goal right now is to break with the team. That is my main goal right now—I guess.”

Would you be disappointed if you didn’t? (SBF)

“No, if I ended up in Syracuse (AAA ball), I wouldn’t be mad at all. I know I am going to get my chance sometime this year. So, if not now, it’s just a matter of when.”

With that answer our chat with Jordan Zimmermann ended. He is very affable and enjoyable in person. And from his work on the mound so far early in camp--a serious competitor against opposing hitters.

Friday, February 27, 2009

In Search Of Major Nelson & Jeannie

During each of the our past three visits to Spring Training for Our Washington Nationals, time is always set aside for whatever The African Queen wishes to do--outside of baseball. On Wednesday, we headed over to The Kennedy Space Center for a personal tour. Today, we headed to the beaches. Melbourne Beach and Cocoa Beach to be exact. Of course nothing was finer than to come across "I Dream Of Jeannie Lane" in Cocoa Beach.

No, Major Nelson and Jeannie never lived there. Major Healey didn't stop by. In fact, none of those fictitious characters from the 1960's ever popular television show lived in Cocoa Beach. But The City of Cocoa Beach understands tourist dollars as well as anyone. "I Dream Of Jeannie Lane" is home to a public park that leads out to The Atlantic Ocean. As Sohna and I were standing there having fun taking pictures--we wondered how many of the locals thought we must be a little crazy. In the five minutes or so we we there, car after car honked at us acknowledging our presence. Locals though, must be use to it.

Much like when it comes to Sohna and a Beach. Growing up in The Gambia--West Africa, The Beach was a part of her everyday life. Today. she needed to step into The Atlantic Ocean knowing that virtually directly across the waters from Florida lies her home country. She stood there for some time feeling good about having her feet in warm sand again, hearing the waves pounding and thinking about her parents and all those relatives and friends in The Gambia & Senegal across the Atlantic Ocean. Although she missed her native country today, Sohna was like a child again.

The African Queen enjoys doing this every year we visit The Spring Training Home Of Our Washington Nationals.

Yes, today was again Sohna's Day. Baseball returns tomorrow.

All Photos Copyrighted--Nats320--All Rights Reserved

Dark Horse Candidate

Many seem to have forgotten about Ryan Wagner. When you haven't pitched a Major League Game in 18 months, that tends to happen. Yet this former First Round Pick out of The University Of Houston says he's ready to go again. In fact, he has not been this excited about baseball for a while. You could see it in his face, in his expressions and in his ability shown on the mound. Whether throwing his fastball, sinker or slider--Ryan says he's got his command and control back. Fully recovered from a labrum tear in his right shoulder, Ryan Wagner wants everyone to know that he looking to be an integral part of Our Washington Nationals 2009 Bullpen.

I know your recovery has been long and there have been some ups and down. How is everything going these days? (SBF)

“Absolutely outstanding. I am 100% ready to go!”

Really? Last year, when you first came back, you seemed to have lost your velocity? SBF

“Yes, that’s true but that’s pretty normal. I was trying to build back arm strength. My velocity is back. All my pitches are back; even the movements on all those pitches are back. I am feeling really confident.”

How tough was it for you sitting on the side for the last two years? (SBF)

“Extremely tough, sometimes you wonder whether you should keep trying when the recovery is not going as fast as you would like. You want to get out there, and not only just earn a paycheck, but help the team. I was unable to help the team and that became frustrating.”

Did you get to the point where you thought maybe you would never comeback? (SBF)

“Yes, of course. Anytime you go through a major surgery, especially shoulder surgery, there is always that chance, even if it’s in the back of your mind, not only just getting back to your old self, but pitching again.”

I remember reading that your operation was fairly long—a couple of hours because the damage was so bad? (SBF)

“Yeah, it was. It was longer then we (Ryan & his Doctor) expected. But that was the start of recovery and this is now—the finish and I feel good. I am 100% ready to throw in games. In fact, I am ready for the season right now. I can’t wait to go (to the mound).”

When we first met two years ago—I mentioned to you that you appear to deliver your pitches with increased pressure on your elbow and you told me that’s the way you have always pitched. Then a short time later you were injured and I felt I sort of jinxed you? (SBF)

“No, my injury was some time coming. I really had not felt good the last couple of years. It had got to the point where I really could not do my job anymore and perform the way I wanted to. When we had it checked out, we knew surgery was needed and I just went ahead and got it done so I could move forward again. God Willing, everything turned out great.”

You seem really confident that you are not only ready, but can be a solid contributor to this Major League Team—this year? (SBF)

“I have no doubt that I am 100% recovered.”

This team does need bullpen help. (SBF)

“Yes, we do. Getting me back to the old me is the key. I still trust my stuff--what I can do and what I have done in the past.”

Did you change your delivery at all in your recovery? (SBF)

“No. Absolutely not. If you start changing who you are, you start changing your pitches or start changing what you use to be and how you got to where you were in The Big Leagues—then you will never be that same person again. If I had to change who I was—then I would have never comeback. That would not be worth all the time and effort.

That’s really encouraging to hear—especially since you are sort of flying under the radar right now? (SBF)

“Well, I have been out for the last year and a half. Sometimes people forget who you are and what you could do before. I am flying under the radar, but I think I like that.”

Dark Horse Candidate. (SBF)

“Yeah. I like that too.” (Smiling Broadly)

Ryan Wagner--officially now--Dark Horse Candidate, confidently looking to be an integral part of Our Washington Nationals 2009 Bullpen. He is a very good developing story--worth following.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Few Minutes With Collin Balester

For his first starting assignment of Spring 2009--Collin Balester pitched an excellent two innings today against The Detroit Tigers. No hits, one walk and one strikeout facing just seven hitters. His chance to get his feet wet to begin his sophomore season of Major League Baseball. Last year, Balester was handed the opportunity to pitch at The Big League Level for the first time in his young career. Like many rookies--that adjustment can be difficult and he finished 2008 with a 3-7 Won/Loss Record and 5.51 ERA. Over 80 innings pitched--he allowed 12 home runs.

Collin Balester understood he needed to get better. So, this 22 Year Old spent much of his time this off-season working on improving his performances on the pitching mound. That and writing his increasingly popular Bally's Blog.

Collin and I talked two days ago after practice in Viera, Florida. Here is that brief chat:

Your blog is very entertaining to read. (SBF)

“I try. I try, but so is yours.”

We have a lot of fun and you seem to be having fun also. (SBF)

“It is fun, very fun.”

You’ve come a long way since last year. You now have half a season of Major League Baseball under your belt and you are considered to be in line for a starting rotation position? (SBF)

“Well despite all of that, I still have to work hard. Nothing is guaranteed. I am having fun with all the competition going on. And this is nice; it’s a new feel this camp. There is a better attitude. Everyone is forgetting about last year and hopefully moving on and up.”

But despite the team’s record, were you happy with your rookie campaign in The Majors? (SBF)

“It was awesome. It was great to get up here, pitch here in that type of atmosphere. I had never pitch there before. To get up here and get my name thrown around—get my feet wet—was a wonderful experience—and I learned a lot from it.”

And you were happy with how it all turned out—looking back? (SBF)

“Yes, definitely. When I first got called up I really didn’t know how I was going to relax. I needed to feel comfortable—trying to do my best to give them—every five days a quality start. And I thought I did pretty well. Now, after looking at tape, I know I needed to work on a lot of things this off-season and this spring moving forward.”

Isn’t it amazing how as you are growing up—at most every juncture you feel like you know it all—but you really are just beginning to learn? (SBF)

“That is so very true. No matter what level you go to, there is a change, a big step up. There are so many things you have to learn along the way. And in The Big Leagues you need to change again, adapt. I learned a lot last year and I need to use that to my advantage this year.”

Give me some specifics please? (SBF)

“This off-season I worked on my change up. A thousand times I day—it felt like (Laughing). That’s just a huge pitch for me to learn so I can set up the hitters better. And I worked on my two seamer (fastball) a little bit just in trying to get my command better in the zone. Also, my workouts this off-season were a lot better—knowing what’s ahead for me. I feel like I am a lot stronger now and ready to go.”

I remember your first game down here in Miami at Dolphin Stadium and seeing your Dad so excited over seeing you pitch that day. I thought that was great seeing him excited enough to tell others—‘That’s My Son!! That’s My Son!!’ (SBF)

“Oh I know. He was having a great time. (laughing) He was having a terrific time and he had a blast being there. It was nice to be able to do that with my parents there enjoying every moment. They have done so much for me. And I would love to keep doing this for 15 to 20 more years.”

As for the 2009 Team—your thoughts? (SBF)

“I think we have some power now. There is a completely different feel right now. We brought in some top guys like Olsen and Cabrera and Dunn—obviously—and Willingham. They all have good clubhouse presence. They are leaders and it’s a lot of fun to be around these guys. In fact, I am learning a lot from these guys. They are out to help teach you. So, I am trying to feed off those guys and learn whatever I can from them.”

With that A Few Minutes With Collin Balester ended. What is really striking about Balester is how he has grown up. I am not talking physically, but how he handles himself now--more assured, confident. He's not the shy Southern California teenager Sohna and I first met in Viera, Florida two years ago. Collin Balester is maturing well.

Now Back To Baseball

Sohna and I took in our very first Pre-Season Game at Space Coast Stadium today. Last year we watched a couple of innings of an exhibition tune up between Our Washington Nationals and Georgetown University--but that doesn't count. First thoughts--wear Sun Screen--plenty of it. Except for a few rows of seats that sit high up behind 1st Base and 3rd Base--there is NO PROTECTION from the sun. Like Zero. And the very fact that we purchased seats in The Batters Box, right behind The Visiting Detroit Tigers On-Deck circle put us directly facing into the bright sun. This also made it difficult to get decent pictures with my little digital camera--especially being so close to the screen.

But nevertheless, Our Washington Nationals were playing baseball again and the sight of Collin Balester and Jordan Zimmermann pitching quite well in their respective two innings of work made the day worthwhile. Although Washington pulled this one out 2-1, the final score really didn't matter before 2,931 Sun Drenched Fans at Space Coast Stadium.

What mattered most where the first two hurlers Our Manager Manny Acta sent to the mound.

Pitching with confidence--Our Number 49 was solid. He allowed one walk in his seven hitters faced and handed the ball over to Zimmermann who was simply OUTSTANDING. Facing the heart of The Tigers order at one point--Zimmermann whistled right through them--striking out Carlos Guillen and Magglio Ordonez. And finishing off Miguel Cabrera on a routine grounder in his final inning of work. Detroit may have never seen The J-ZMann yet, but Jordan overpowered them with three strikeouts. He even pulled off a terrific double play when Ramon Santiago drilled a one bouncer right back to his face in the top of the 3rd Inning. A reactionary move by Our Number 27 that found the ball land in his glove whereupon he pivoted, threw to Ian Desmond covering the bag at second who fired to Nick Johnson at first for a very nice inning ending double play.

After the game had ended--Sohna and I actually ran into Jordan Zimmermann and asked him about that play: "If I don't put the glove up, that ball smashes me in the face. Luckily, it went right into my glove and we were able to turn two."

You were pretty overpowering today, very solid. (SBF)

"It's early, but I felt good and loose. And I didn't feel any pressure to perform. I was very happy with the work. (Smiling and in a very good mood)."

Pete Orr scored both runs for Washington after successive hits. His first run on an absolutely HAMMERED shot to centerfield by Wil Nieves off Nate Robertson in the bottom of the 3rd. Orr's final tally coming on a drilled opposite field shot--off the rightfield wall--by the very trim looking Chris Marerro in the 5th.

Mike O'Connor worked his way out of one serious base loaded jam in the 5th--while allowing one run. But that was all the scoring for this rather typically mundane Spring Game. Rule V Pick Terrell Young threw two fairly solid innings. And Wil Ledezma set up Bling-Bling!! for the save. Jesus Colome closing out the 9th with a One-Two-Three finish for Our Washington Nationals first win of the 2009 Pre-Season.

No--there wasn't a whole lot of action. Most folks don't even seem into watching the game. But there were a few Notes & Highlights to mention:

How would you like to be hit by a 100 MPH Fastball off the arm of Detroit's Joel Zumaya? That man can HUM THE BALL--he just can't seem to control his tosses. And when he DRILLED Dmitri Young in the back shoulder blade in the 6th--that HAD TO HURT. The impact so loud--it could clearly be heard from our seats--and probably a good 10 rows back. To Young's Credit--he shook it off and trotted to first base. Although you had wonder how he was really feeling?

Adam Dunn collided with Miguel Cabrera at first base in the bottom of the 2nd inning. Cabrera--not the most deft player with his footwork around the bag--was in the wrong position while recording the out at first base. Dunn was looking for an apology--and didn't get one for some time. Until finally--while Adam kept standing near the first base coaching box asking if "EVERYTHING ALL RIGHT?" Cabrera finally turned around and almost curtly nodded his head up and waved his glove hand at Adam in saying "Sorry". This interesting moment had the brief feeling of little tussle breaking out at the Spring Home Opener. Thankfully that was averted.

Speaking of Cabrera--he looks to have lost about 20 Pounds--far thinner than his playing weight over the past few years. That man can CRUSH the baseball and it would have been sad to see his talent wasted by just not staying in shape.

Sitting right behind Home Plate in rows 3 through 8--Baseball Operations, Management, Scouts and Staff--including Team President Stan Kasten, Our General Manager Jim Bowden, Assistant GM/Baseball Operations Bob Boone, Director of Player Development Bobby Williams and Special Assistant Moose Stubbing. Just reporting what we saw there, but with The Speed Guns timing, The Scouts writing, JimBo watching closely--making notes--and Mr. Kasten commenting along the way. Sure looked liked the business of baseball on the field is moving forward.

As for Space Coast Stadium itself--Mojo Sauced Chicken Skewers--well worth the $7. Plenty of chicken, well cooked and can actually serve two hungry souls. The BEST VALUE on concessions in the ballpark. For $10, the premium beers (All Tall Boys) included Presidente's from The Dominican Republic, Jamaican Red Stripe, Japanese Kirinichibahn and Guinness Extra Stout. Pretty Decent choices for a Minor League Ballpark. Grilled Sausages with Peppers, Burger Baskets and Chicken Fingers--nothing costing more than $8.50. And of course--Ice Cream served in Red Curly "W" Plastic Helmets.

The Rites Of Spring--Detroit Tiger Fans waiting outside the visiting clubhouse waiting for their players to head to the bus. Nothing like the proximity of Spring Training.

We also loved the Eraser Board Starting Lineups posted in the tunnel behind home plate.

After the game concluded--most every player for Our Washington Nationals headed over to a special tent area to meet and greet and have Carrabba's Dinner with all Full Pre-Season Ticket Holders. Fans also given a Red Goodie Bag that included a Red Curly "W" License Plate and Cap.

While on his way to visit with those fans--Adam Dunn with The Quote of The Day: Noticing The African Queen and I walking down the ramp from The Home Plate Stadium Exit--Dunn looks up at us and shouts: "Thanks for coming out again. We appreciate it--come back and see us again soon!!" Sohna and I bust out laughing--"You will be seeing us a lot," replies The African Queen. "We come to every home game in Washington." Dunn: "Really?" Nick Johnson and Austin Kearns walking next to Dunn start chuckling. "Fill him in would ya" says SBF to Nick & Austin. NJ & Kearns chuckling even more. Dunn waving--"See you later!"

During the game, it was announced twice that some lucky purchaser of The Game Program had won a Free Gift Certificate to Uno Pizzeria in Melbourne if Jordan Zimmermann's autograph was signed on a certain page in the program. We never looked as we purchased the game program outside the stadium and immediately placed it in our car. Sure enough, Sohna and I had the lucky program and Guest Services was nice enough to give Sohna the voucher when she headed back over to Guest Services after the game ended. Guest Services actually telling us there were 4 other winners of various prizes--but none of those people claimed their prizes.

Finally--while heading toward our car--former Fairfax County resident John Gill and his girlfriend, Summer--stopped us to say hello. John says he and his brother are big fans of Nats320. They live in Orlando now--but have followed the team closely since Baseball Returned to The Nation's Capital in 2005. Also--thanks to another Nats320 reader Gale Sterling--saying hello to us at the ballpark today.

All Photos Copyrighted--Nats320--All Rights Reserved

Spreading Wildfire

A Nats320 Editorial

The reports that Special Assistant to Our General Manager--Jose Rijo--will be fired should come as no surprise. The Esmailyn Gonzalez revelation has embarrassed Our Washington Nationals and they have no choice but to distance themselves from Rijo's Academy in The Dominican Republic. Washington needs to start over in recruiting Latin Prospects as the reviving of their reputation could never heal by standing pat.

But some have to remember that the Gonzalez/Lugo situation is completely different from The Federal Investigation involving the skimming of money in signing young latin players. Everyone knows Our General Manager Jim Bowden has been publicly mentioned as a target of The FBI. Listen, if Jim Bowden is ever directly linked to any association in these money skimming operations--then clearly he should be gone. But right now The Winds Of Fire being spread calling for his ouster are being fueled by those that have little, if any, probably no inside information whatsover--as to what is truly going on with this investigation.

A healthy give and take over whether Jim Bowden should remain with Our Washington Nationals is worth discussing. But the sharks, vultures and just plain haters that have wanted to see JimBo kicked out of his job in Washington for some time have been piling it on--fueling a Wildfire getting so far out of control--Our Washington Nationals may be forced into doing something drastic--like revamping their entire Baseball Operations--without regard to the long term future of Our Franchise.

Sometimes when people play with matches--they can actually torch far more than expected. At the rate these allegations are spreading rampant--that house called Our Washington Nationals might just catch fire as well. Please--let the investigation play out--before this Spreading Wildfire burns Our Washington Nationals to the ground.

Only after those smoldering ashes are being sifted through--will some realize the irrecoverable damage caused.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Visiting With A Hall Of Famer

While others were more interested in whether JimBo will be staying or going--pumped up over the latest rumors--The African Queen and I spent part of our day with A Hall Of Famer. A Space Mission Pilot, Commander & Astronaut that was kind enough to give us some personal time at The Kennedy Space Center this Wednesday. Exploring Outer Space comes in a close second to Major League Baseball with Our Washington Nationals for me. Over the years, I have personally covered 25 launches from Pads 39A and 39B at Cape Canaveral. Growing up in the late 60's, I wanted to be an Astronaut--just like most every other child at that time--after Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon.

And when Sohna and I were offered the unique opportunity to visit with 2008 Inductee to The Astronaut Hall of Fame--John Blaha--there was NO WAY we were going to pass up a Golden Gift. From The Vehicle Assembly Building to the Launch Pad--from Launch Control to The Media Press Site (my home away from home for all those launches)--we saw it all today--up close and personal. Although she had visited before, The African Queen had NEVER been so close. Space Shuttle Discovery was even in place on Pad 39A waiting for the final decision whether STS-119 will be a go--by the end of the now ticking launch window in Mid-March.

We learned some fresh stuff about The U.S. Space Program. Sohna just AMAZED at the size of The Vehicle Assembly Building which houses Our Space Shuttles. The largest single story building in the world is large enough to put Yankee Stadium on it's roof top and still have one acre of parking space left. The VAB so tall--three Statues Of Liberty can be put inside with room to spare. The only building in America which can have its own atmosphere. Whenever rain clouds move in--NASA employees must shut all doors. If they don't and the storm clouds get inside--it can actually rain and thunder inside The Vehicle Assembly Building. As dangerous as that could be--could you imagine actually seeing that? Wow.

Yeah--we had a great time and will get back to baseball with Our Washington Nationals and Spring Training in Viera, Florida tomorrow. But for today--spending a part of our day with A Hall Of Famer--An Astronaut Hall Of Famer was far more important than the latest rumor concerning Our General Manager Jim Bowden and Our Washington Nationals.

Off To Cape Canaveral

With Our Washington Nationals playing their first spring game in Kissimmee, Florida this afternoon--Sohna and I are heading over to The Kennedy Space Center for a special tour. The STS-119 March 5th Launch Date to The International Space Station has been delayed--but there should be plenty of activity at Cape Canaveral to enjoy.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Ryan Langerhans

I have never made any qualms about this. Ryan Langerhans is pretty good Major League Player. A defensive wizard and excellent complimentary player. One of those 4th outfielder type of guys that many organizations tend to over look. A good on-base percentage hitter--that as the 2008 season played out--found Our Number 29 becoming more and more comfortable with his utility and backup role with Our Washington Nationals.

As a free agent over the winter--Ryan Langerhans could have chosen to play for whatever Major League Team that was willing to sign him. He decided to stay in The Nation's Capital. A decision that know finds him battling for a roster spot thanks to a very deep group of outfielders also looking to impress Baseball Operations.

Always friendly and willing to chat--Sohna and I caught up with him in Viera to discuss Ryan's chances of making the final cut.

Here is that chat with Ryan Langerhans:

This is a far different team than last year? (SBF)

“It is. It really is. A lot more excitement. Everybody is always excited to get down here and get ready to go and prove themselves again. And I believe the addition of Adam (Dunn) is going to be huge—not only from what he brings in the power department—but he keeps everybody loose. I wouldn’t say he is really a joker. He just has this way of getting everyone to feel relaxed out there.”

So he has changed the atmosphere? (SBF)

“Exactly. He is going to talk to everybody and keep everybody loose. Having a guy with a presence like that will be really beneficial.”

So where does that leave you in this congested outfield? (SBF)

“It is a congested outfield. There are a ton of guys out there and hopefully that stuff will kind of work it’s way out. My viewpoint on it is that I feel good about it. I have kept working hard on my swing—working with (Rick) Eckstein. And I just need to go do what I CAN DO—and let the people that makes the decision make them known.”

How good is Rick Eckstein?

“He is excellent. He is as good as any hitting instructor as I have ever worked with. He is a tireless worker. I think that might be the biggest compliment that I can give him. He is going to put in his time. I was talking to Josh Willingham after he got traded here—Eck called him and was talking to him about how he had already watched a bunch of video on him to try to find out what was going to work for him. I think that’s something special he is going to bring to the table that can help everybody. I really believe everyone has the chance to have big years this season—because of him (Eckstein).”

From what I have gathered so far—the personal trainers, the coaching staff, everything that needed to be enhanced to improve the product on the field—has been improved? (SBF)

“It has. They (Our Washington Nationals) have done a great job in bringing in some top-notch people. I have enjoyed working with all of the new coaches on the field. As well as, some of the training, strength and condition staff. Everybody seems to be hard workers—some really good people.”

How about the players? Everybody seems to be bigger? (The African Queen)

“Yeah. Pete Orr and I were joking around. He said (to Ryan): ‘You are a big guy. But on this team you are just an average size guy out here on this team—this year.' (laughter all around). So, I don’t know what it is—but we seem to have a lot of big, athletic type guys out here.”

Adam Dunn towers over Wily Mo and Pena is a pretty big guy? (SBF)

“Exactly.” (Chuckling) “There are not too many guys that are going to dwarf Dunn (good round of laughter)”.

As honest as that statement is—do you get nervous knowing the competition for you is difficult? (SBF)

“I don’t look at it as nervousness. I enjoy the competition. I want to enjoy coming out here and playing. I definitely think I can help the team win. Whether that is defense or coming off the bench—or whatever role I can play—I just want to show them (management) I am a piece for them.”

In your opinion—have teams forgotten the importance of defense—something you excel at—especially late in the game? It seems to me that your skills are less valued in the game today? (SBF)

“Well, this is a little different era of baseball. But I think that Manny (Acta) wants to see us playing better defense this year. He stressed that early on. So hopefully I can contribute to that, as well as, continuing to improve with the bat. I started to get a little more comfortable in the pinch-hitting role last year. And I have started to figure out how to get better prepared for that opportunity a little better.”

What do you think of the new coaches? (The African Queen)

“I like all of them. They all are bringing some really different knowledge to the table. Marquis Grissom—I really like. He seems like he is going to help us in the outfield quite a bit—especially with some of the young guys. And I think he is going to help us from the base-stealing standpoint too. He was a very good base stealer in his days. Having guys like him and Devon White around are really going to help the guys that can really run quite a bit (Langerhans can run well). And as I have already said—I have nothing but praise for Eckstein. Pat Listach seems good. I haven’t had the chance to work with Jim Riggleman yet, but he seems like a good guy.”

All of whom you feel can make you a better player? (SBF)

“Of course. I want to make the team in whatever way they see I fit.”

A lot of roster movement may happen between now and Opening Day--2009. Sometimes the good guys should come out on top. Here's hoping that Ryan Langerhans somehow makes the 25 Man Roster of Our Washington Nationals. He really could be a very valuable addition to our lineup. Unsurprisingly--Our New Batting Coach--Rick Eckstein--feels the same way. Eck telling Sohna and I that Ryan Langerhans has all the tools to be a complete Major League Player.

Randy St.Claire On Daniel Cabrera

He throws as hard as anyone in the game. One of the most gifted pitchers around. And for five years he frustrated The Baltimore Orioles so much--they unequivocally released him this past winter. Gone--Sayonara. A Free Agent for the first time in his professional career, Daniel Cabrera is now a member of Our Washington Nationals. A once promising--now project pitcher that Our Pitching Coach Randy St.Claire has been given the task of straightening out. By some, St.Claire is considered a miracle worker. Can he again work some magic with Our New Number 40--all 6'9" of him?

It's a good question.

In the four days in which The African Queen and I have been in Viera for Spring Training--no one has attracted the attention of Baseball Management like Daniel Cabrera. Every time he pitches--Our Team President Stan Kasten, Our General Manager Jim Bowden--Assistant GM's Mike Rizzo and Bob Boone and Director of Player Development--Bobby Williams--have all been on site to witness his work. Today, even Our Director of Scouting--Dana Brown--a pitching expert like no other--watched Cabrera throw.

More than any other signing this past winter--Daniel Cabrera has the highest ceiling of any of them. And it's Randy St.Claire's job to correct this big Dominican from his flaws from the past and harness his God Given talent into the quality pitcher so many envisioned 8 to 9 years ago coming out of the D.R.

Every day Cabrera has thrown--St.Claire has been right by his side--commenting, encouraging, changing and hopefully having his knowledge sink in to Daniel. Randy St.Claire realizes more than ANYONE out there--that Cabrera really could be GREAT. And he doesn't want to see that talent wasted.

This afternoon after practice had ended--Randy St.Claire stopped by to talk with Sohna and I--specifically about Daniel Cabrera. Here is that conversation with Our Number 46 about Our Number 40.

The other day you seemed to be trying to get Cabrera to extend himself out while throwing? (SBF)

“I am trying to get him into a better rhythm. For pitchers, especially really tall pitchers, they have a tendency to have a really tough time with their timing. They are tall in stature. They are long in their deliveries. And in pitching you have to have perfect timing. If you watch (John) Smoltz, (Roger) Clemens, these guys that are really good like (Tommy) Glavine—they repeat their delivery every single time. It’s like watching art performing right in front of you in the form of their deliveries because it never changes. Their delivery is always the same for each pitch. It’s absolutely amazing. And that is why they are so good.”

“When you are really big like that (Cabrera), if you work in parts, it’s tough to re-sync everything. I see him like someone who has been trying to throw strikes but has had command issues in the past. It’s almost as if he has become a little too methodical. He gets too slow (in his delivery) and now he’s trying to throw the ball 98MPH. So that makes it hard for him to start up from a slow standstill into a really fast delivery. He's not consistent."

“So, he always gets a little bit out of whack. His timing gets off. When you release a pitch—here—here—here (raising his right arm and showing three different release points). You end up being fractions of an inch from being belt high and knee high. So I am trying to get him to have a little more rhythm. A better flow in his delivery.”

Cabrera seemed to have a good side session warming up with you, but when he went in to pitch batting practice—you were standing there rotating your right hand telling him to pick up the pace—pick up the pace? (SBF)

“Because he wanted to revert back to his old self. He started to get a little slow. So I yelled at him to pick up the rhythm a little bit. He and I have been talking about it and everything. He likes it (Randy’s Ideas). In fact, he threw the ball well today. I got to see about five minutes of it and he looked good. I am happy with him right now. I am very pleased with him. He looks good.”

You also said to him today that his body was going in one direction and the ball was going in another? (SBF)

“Yeah, it’s his lines. He got upset on a couple of his pitches where--in his line--he is stepping toward that down and away fastball---but he's trying to go arm over the side with it. So, that makes him hard to step here (Randy stepping slightly toward his left center) and placing the ball here (toward the inside corner). His arm is coming through in the wrong slot and he needs to correct that. He was getting mad (at himself) for not being able to execute that pitch down and in. Or down and away to that left-handed batter.”

“I really just need to show him what I am talking about." (in person and on tape)

Over the years, I am sure you have seen many talented guys like him. Some make it, others don’t—even with all their talents. Where does he stand right now? (SBF)

“You really don’t get a lot of talented guys like him. There are not a lot of guys that throw 98 MPH!! Now there are a lot of guys that throw 90 MPH OK? But not that can throw 95, 97, 98—there are very few like him. He's gifted and special."

He does seem to have the ability to be exceptional if he could ever put it all together? (SBF)

“He does. He has all the ability in the world and we need to harness that. He hasn't done it so far and it would be sad if we could not work him out. But I am very pleased with not only Daniel's work, but everyone so far. This has been a great camp thus far. Really, really happy with what we have to work with. There is some talent here that really was not here in the past.”

With that Randy St.Claire had to head back to the clubhouse for more meetings. As frustrating as Daniel Cabrera has been to The Baltimore Orioles--if he ever turns it around--Our Washington Nationals would reap some very serious benefits. I am betting on Mr. St.Claire to succeed--when others have not.

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"Bling-Bling!!", shouted Our Pitching Coach Randy St.Claire. "Where's Bling-Bling!! It's time for him to warm up!!"

"Right Here!!", replied Jesus Colome sitting in the 3rd Base Dugout of Field Number 3.

"Bling-Bling"? said The African Queen looking puzzled over at me. "The Human Rain Delay"--Sure--but "Bling-Bling"?

Well, inquiring minds wanted to know. And not long after Sohna went right to the source--Jesus Colome himself.

"Hey Baby!! How you doing?" exclaimed Our Number 43 upon seeing The African Queen near the practice fields.

"Why does Randy St.Claire call you Bling-Bling? Is it because of your flashy car?" asked Sohna.

"No it's because of the Cha-Cha-Cha!!" (pointing to where he wears his fancy jewelry around his neck), replied Jesus. "And I like it."

Jesus Colome was in a very playful mood today. Dancing between wind sprints and even showing off his batting skills to The African Queen. Just the thought of Jesus Colome with a bat in his hands was shuttering enough. But from here on out--"The Human Rain Delay" will be known as "Bling-Bling!!" on Nats320--a moniker that is just too good to pass up.

In fact, Jesus Colome had made our day up to that point. At least until Our General Manager Jim Bowden came by to chat. JimBo may not be talking much to the media these days, but he couldn't pass up the opportunity to pose for a picture with The African Queen and then chat briefly. JimBo seemed to be in a good mood.

As for Our 4th Day of Spring Training, Our Washington Nationals spent most of the practice day working on defensive positioning--with just one day before the 35 Game Grapefruit League Season begins. Outfield Coach Marquis Grissom drilling his players on how to take better routes to hit balls--especially those hit over one's head or into the gap.

Our Manager Manny Acta telling his infielders: "You need to be thinking out there--all the time. Understand the situation at hand. How many outs? How many baserunners and what is the score of the game? Don't rush--just get it right." Even the Sliding Pads were brought out onto Field Number 1 today. Manny standing by watching his catchers work on getting down properly. At one point--walking all over Jesus Flores for doing it wrong.

Yes, attempting to get it right--by enhancing those learned skills with top conditioning. Strength & Conditioning Coach John Philbin continues to put everyone through some serious paces. Shuttle runs, wind sprints, foul pole to foul pole runs over distance. And even some little games that require a baseball be chased down quickly--players running side-to-side, back and forth, even up and down. Despite the agility drills--a tremendous amount of laughter during the hard workouts. Players seemingly enjoying these little games while putting themselves in better physical condition.

"The physical training has really been notched up a level or two this year," Joel Hanrahan told us. "There are guys getting into better baseball shape than they have been in a long time. I can feel the difference. My legs feel tired now--but it's really helping me."

"Getting It Right" was the theme for today because tomorrow the competition begins for real. And it will have little to do with Wins & Losses. The countdown to make the 25 Man Roster is officially now on. Yeah, Jesus Colome's got the Bling-Bling!!, but who will shine the most over the next six weeks. Time for everyone to give it their best shot--no turning back because--for some, the hard work will be rewarded with a Major League Roster Spot. For those disappointed others--only heartbreak over being left behind.

Other Notes & Highlights:

I don't think we've ever seen Manny move so quickly out of his Golf Cart after practice to take a picture with two guys before. Robert & Phil wore their impACTA Kids Foundation Tee-Shirts to practice today in hopes of Our Manager taking a picture with them. Manny had no problem with that--proudly grinning from ear to ear.

What has become a regular sight during batting practice on Field Number 1. A handful of fans stand over the outfield walls waiting for Adam Dunn, Wily Mo Pena and other sluggers to launch a baseball over the fence. Two days ago--Wily Mo torched a rocket shot, not only over the fence, but over the gravel walkway in left field and OVER THE INDOOR/OUTDOOR Batting Cages onto the rooftop. No idea what the distance might be, but it's easily over 450 Feet. What a shot that was--everyone was talking about it.

And finally--Darlene & David are here from Manassas, Virginia. Big Fans of Our Washington Nationals. They are enjoying the close proximity DC's team allows their fans to get to their players. Apparently, that is actually quite remarkable compared to other Spring Facilities. Fans from The Mets, Red Sox, Yankees, Astros and Tigers all have shown up in Viera and rave about player access for pictures and autographs. A far cry from many of the more established teams. Let's hope this never changes when it comes to Our Players and Our Fans at Washington Nationals Spring Training.

PS--With Cesar Cedeno signing a baseball card from his younger days with The Houston Astros--Manny looks over at the card and says: "Man--you were pretty handsome back then. What happened?"

Cedeno: "Been so long ago--I can't remember!! But I must have had it going--Huh?"

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