Sunday, February 25, 2007

Spring Training Continues With Chad Cordero

The African Queen and I have arrived safely back in Alexandria, Virginia. Driving all the way, getting in at 1AM Sunday Morning, we just missed getting caught in the big snow and ice storm that has shut down the DC area most of today. But, that hasn't kept me from thinking sunny thoughts about Washington Nationals Spring Training. Fortunately, I was able to accumulate a lot of material that may well last me a week or two. So, as I begin my second week covering Viera, Florida, this time from Snowy Washington, its time to bring on "THE CHIEF ".

Last Tuesday, Washington Nationals Closer, Chad Cordero traveled to Phoenix, Arizona to appear before Baseball's Arbitrator to settle his 2007 contract number. "The Chief" asked for $4.15 million and Our Washington Nationals offered $3.65 million. After both sides presented their cases, the arbitrator must choose one of the two salaries offered. There is no compromise, once the proceedings begin. The Nationals did offer a two year deal to Cordero, but it was turned down. Some would say the arbitration process is tiring, as most teams tend to bash their players during the process.

Chad, eventually won his case garnering, $4.15 Million Salary for this season. And, this past Thursday, returned to Spring Training in Viera, Florida. The Media had a ton of questions for him. And an impromptu press conference occurred on my one day as fully credentialed press. I recorded the entire session. Cordero is quiet, reserved, but is a stand up guy to answer everything thrown his way. Of course the main subject, was his arbitration win, and those remarks are what the mainstream press mostly used in their stories. The Press see Cordero, up close, each and everyday. I do not. For me, these 15 minutes gave me a good insight into Chad Cordero, the person. He loves his friends, family and wants to keep it that way--No matter how successful his baseball career becomes. He was very refreshing.

So, here is the entire question and answer session from Thursday, February 22, 2007. I think there is some very good stuff about Chad Cordero included, especially how big of a role The Major League Players Association played in his arbitration decision.

You thought the entire arbitration process would be a bad one. Everyone would be telling bad Chad Cordero Stories? It didn’t go down that way.

“Exactly, I ended up being very happy (with the process). They (The Nationals) did not try to tear? me down, like they do with other players. So, I was very pleased, my agents were very pleased, and so was all the guys in The Players Association. My Dad was very pleased, and glad to with the outcome. It was a good experience. I was very happy to see the business side of it (baseball). I wish I didn’t have to go, but I am very happy to get it all over with.”

Chief, there have been so many questions about this pitching staff, one of the things Manny has consistently said, is that the Bullpen, especially with you there, is a strength?

“Yeah, it is. Last year, we did a good job. We were put into a lot of tough situations, but we handled ourselves very well. Especially, when you have guys like John Rauch, Ryan Wagner, those type of guys who give give it to you each and everyday. And, still do a good job for you. That’s always a plus to have those type of guys on the team.”

What are you original takes on Manny (Acta, as Manager) and how he’s handled things?

“Manny’s great!! I played under him in ’04, my rookie year. He was still with us, as the third base coach, up in Montreal. So, I now a little bit about him. He’s a great guy. He treats everyone fair. That’s the way everyone wants to be treated. He give everyone an equal chance. And, that is what he does. He’s very friendly. He gets along with everyone great. So, I think it’s a great thing to have him as our Head Coach.”

Chad, one of your staples was the Square Brim on the cap. Its not flat. What’s the deal?

“That’s just the way the hats are made right now. I have tried many times to get the hat to go flat. But, I can’t do it (almost dejectedly sounding).”

What are you going to do?

“I don’t know. I guess I am going to have to wait to get my Red hat. The Curly “W”. So, I will just have to wear this one and live with it.”

Chad, I have talked with a lot of players and the expectations of this team. And, they alluded to being close to the (success of the) Florida Marlins of a year ago. Do you see the same type of similarities here?

“Definitely, we have a lot of really good players here. We have a lot of guys we acquired during the off season who just want to get another chance. If we all go out there, play hard, we are going to compete. So, I think we can be like the Marlins. Of course, you never know. But, we just need to go out there, play hard, and see what happens.
Have you heard from any relatives or long lost friends, since you won arbitration?

(Laughing)”Not any new ones. Just all the ones I normally talk to. No knew ones yet. Maybe today or tomorrow.” (still chuckling).

Did you and Jim (Bowden-General Manager), have a big hugfest after the (arbitration) hearing was over? ‘I still love you man, but I had to do this as part of my job.’

“Yeah, that just the business part of it. We shook each others hand. He said. ‘We’ll see you tomorrow. That’s just the way it is. That’s the business side of it. There is no hard feelings on either end, even if I had lost (in arbitration). That’s just a part of the game. That’s the business side of it. We have to go out there and treat each other like we have the past couple of years. There are really no hard feelings at all.”

What the first thing you are going to buy?

(Chuckling) “Nothing right now. Nah, I am going to try to save it (the money). Put it all in the bank and just let it sit there for a while, until I figure out what to do with it.”

No new wheels (car)?

(Chuckling) “Nah, I just bought a new car in November. So, nothing yet, maybe a house next year, but nothing right now—that’s about it.”

Chad, coming into this season, you have John (Patterson) as the ace of the staff, then you have you as the ace of the Bullpen, what do you think your two roles will be, both you and Patterson?

“We both have to be leaders on the pitching staff. He takes charge of the starters. He’s one guys that’s been out there for a couple of years. Every closer has that leader role. Its placed on me. So, I have to fill that (role). Especially, with all the young guys we have right now. Some of whom, are not that experienced. I need to go out there and help them in anyway I can.”

In Stan’s (Kasten spoke to the team Thursday) speech to the team this morning, was there added emphasis to next season (2008). That he wants to see the team a winner, when that new stadium opens up?

“Yeah, he knows we all want to be a part of it. In addition, he said that this year (2007) was going to be kind of tough. But, we still need to go out there and play hard. And, we are trying to build for that next year. That’s basically, what he told us. Just go out there (on the field), do your very best you can this year. And, go out there next year and compete for a playoff spot.”

As your career progresses, and you see a lot of guys (hitters) over and over again, do you find that they adjust to you and you counter that. How does it evolve, as a pitcher?

“Yes, first of all, you do what you were successful with the year before and try to get them out. If they have made an adjustment, then you go out there, the next time you face them (that hitter), whether that be the next game, or next series, I make an adjustment, then see how they react. Of course, those hitters are up here (in the Big Leagues) for a reason. So, of course, they are trying to make an adjustment. I have to do the same thing, whether that means throwing more off speed pitches, or more fastball, or working them inside and out. I have to adjust like that.”

How has your life changed in the four years since you have been drafted?

“It really hasn’t changed too much. I am still the same person I was before. I still live a mile away from where I went to school (Cal State-Fullerton). I still live with six of my former college teammates. So, it really hasn’t changed much. And, I treat everyone else the same way I always have been. I really don’t talk a lot, like before. I keep to myself, and just try not to change.”

But, your place in The Clubhouse has changed. There are fewer veterans and you are more accomplished. Just professionally, how has that changed?

Before when I first got called up, I didn’t say a word. I would never talk, keep to myself. I would let the veterans go out and do what they need to do, to be the leaders. And, I just stayed within myself and focus on just what I needed to do. Now, with everybody gone now, my role is bigger than the bullpen. Now, I got to talk a lot more. Just help all the younger guys out when they needs it” (Remember Chief is only 25 Years old—SBF)

Do your accomplishments give you the confidence to do that naturally (lead). Or is it still kind of a forced thing?

“ Its not a forced thing. Now, I really want to, because as a closer, that is your job. I am suppose to be a leader in the Bullpen, and because of that, I am put on that pedestal. But, its not a forced thing. I am willing to do it. I always tried not to bother the guys (in the past), and last year too. But, this year, I have to do it. Get involved even more.”

I heard you cut down on your Slurpees? (Chad has a daily penchant for drinking the ice favored drink from 7-11)

(Laughing) “A little bit, but not too much.” (So not daily anymore?) “Not daily. We are not close enough to a 7-11 here (in Viera) to make the trip. (Everyone laughing)”

This house you want to buy in the future, are your six roommates invited to it? Or, will this finally be your own place?

“I don’t know. We shall just have to see how big it is. If I have room for them, way not. I love living with those guys. They are a lot of fun. My brother lives there too. Its a lot of fun. Besides, they all played baseball, too. So, I always have someone to play catch with. You know, I don’t know whether I will kick them out or not. I just don’t know. We shall have to see what happens.”

What’s a day in the off season like for you?

“It all depends. When I first get back home from the season, I just want to relax, play some XBOX, some Halo with all the guys. We built a little fire pit. So, we roast marshmallows all the time, stuff like that. We just hang out and have a good time. When I start working out, I work out in the mornings, come back and do the same things as I did before. My buddies and I play Halo for four hours at a time per day, when I first got back (from the season), either online or with each other.”

Manny mentioned your first big league appearance. Pudge Rodriguez at the plate (2004). Does that seem a million years ago now?

“Its does now, yeah. I started out here, (In Viera) and I took a van down to Miami, to face The Marlins. It does seem a long time ago. Its been about four years now. Its still seems like yesterday, too, at the same time. I still have the same feelings as I did before. I still remember what happened.” (Pudge would hit a screamer down the third base line that was snagged for an out).

The scenario you were thrown into is something you have faced many times along the way. Out there on the mound, are you still thinking the same way now, as to how to get out of the situation, as the first time?

“No, the first time out, I was kind of awestruck. Oh Wow!! I am here (in the Big Leagues). I can’t believe it. Now, I just go out there and not worry about it. I worry about who I am facing, just pitch and do the best I can. As before, when I faced Pudge, I had to take a step back as grew up knowing his face and watching him. Now, I can’t do that anymore. Now, I need to go out there, just pitch, do the best I can.”

Was that first pitch (to Rodriguez) a fastball?

“Yeah, I think it almost took Jamey Carroll’s hand off!! (Everyone laughing) “I don’t see how he caught it, as I didn’t even see the ball.” (More laughs)

In terms of your stuff, we have asked you over the past couple of years, anytime you get beat, it seems to be, did you throw the change up or something else. What do you feel is your second pitch? Will changed your approach this season? Manny says. ‘What you see, is what you get.’

“I am going to go out there (to the mound) and be the same guy. I don’t have the most overpowering stuff. But, I got to work with what I have. And, try to get them (hitters) out. I know my change up is not the best. My slider is not the best. I don’t have the fastest, fastball. But, I spot them well. So, that is the thing. When I get beat, I leave my fastball up. The same for my slider or change up. When I throw them where I want them, which I do most of the time, I am fine. Its doesn’t matter, if I hang it.”

Was there a guy when you were coming up, growing up, a closer in baseball that you looked at that you said I want to be like him?

“I always looked up to Trevor Hoffman. Just because of everything he’s accomplished. In High School, I was a starter, so I never thought I would be a closer until I got to the college level. Once I got to college, I really started to focus on him (Hoffman). I looked at everything he does. How he goes about his business.”

Hoffman’s not the type of guy who throws incredibly hard?

“Exactly, He just goes out there and competes hard. That’s exactly the way I want to do it, too.”

Are you worried at all, that this could be a situation (in 2007) where you are not going to have a lot of save situations? Are you worried that might happen?

“It’s a tough thing to handle, but you never know. Even if you don’t have a lot of wins, you can still have a lot of close victories. So, I might still get all the chances I am expecting to get, if we are doing well. You just never know.”

Chad, your Dad always seems to play a role in your career and life. Did he play a role in your arbitration?

“He sat in on the hearing (in Phoenix). He wanted to see how it all worked. My agent said he could, if he wanted to. So, he took that opportunity. He told me ‘to do whatever you want to do. Just do it, if you want to (deciding whether to go to arbitration or settle beforehand). If you feel you want to sign, sign. Do what you need to do.’ He just left it in my hands. He didn’t try to step in, in anyway. He left that decision up to me. My Dad will advise me, but he is not going to tell me to do this or do that. He just tries to help me out whenever he can in whatever decision I have to make. He doesn’t push me in either direction.”

Is he still working?

“Yep, he still works (proudly). He still works at Wonder Bread, driving the truck. Doing the same thing he did before.”

He didn’t walk in and quit after you won arbitration?

(Laughing) “No, he wouldn’t do that. He will not let me give him anything.”

When you started to meet with Jim (Bowden) and the talk of a multi-year contract was discussed, is it hard to turn that down?
“Its very hard. Anyone would probably want to take the deal, because its guaranteed. With me, don’t know why I didn’t do it. I wanted to, just that me, my agent and The Players Association thought we had a good case (in arbitration). We went in to see what would happen. I wasn’t going to come out a loser, either way. Even if I lost in arbitration, I wasn’t going to lose. It was still a lot of money. More money than I ever would have thought.’

I assume that the two year total would have been higher, the first year total would have been lower?

“Yes, that is correct. It would have been lower. But, that wasn’t the whole thing. The Players Association thought I had a good case and they wanted to see how it would turn out.”

If it was three years would you have had to think more about it?

“Yes, anyone would. That would guarantee I would be in DC for three years for sure. That would have been great!!”

I am assuming there is no two year deal on the mound right now?

“No, nothing right now, but you never know. Something might happen towards the middle of the year. Just not right now, but again, you never really know.”

Your name has been bandied about this off season. Did they (The Nationals, give you any indication that you could be traded, still?

“No, not at all. They haven’t told me anything like that. I am just hearing stuff, and that’s about it.”

When you first heard your name come up (in trade talks), do you get worried or flattering that a team like The Red Sox are?

“I was surprised, but its flattering. When someone else wants you and you can do just as good of a job with them, especially the Red Sox, always competing for a playoff spot too, that would have been great to go up there. So, it is flattering, but I hope and wish I can stay here (in Washington). We shall see, but it’s a part of the game. If I get traded, then I get traded.”

You just said a three year contract would guarantee you staying in Washington. Do you think you are now more tradable?

“It could happen anytime. I am still elgible for a second year of arbitration again next year. If I don’t get an multi year deal or something, anything could happen. I could get traded tomorrow. I could get traded next week, it’s a life of its own.”

That concluded the Press Conference. As I was writing this post, I was told, unexpectantly, that I must leave on an assignment to New York City, Monday Morning at 5AM for two days. Since we are going by train, I will attempt to write my next two Spring Training Posts on the train, and Post them from NYC. I apologize if there is any delay. Unfortunately, sometimes, the real world gets in the way of my love of Our Washington Nationals.

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