Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Hate is a harsh word to use. DC had an apparent solid 5-1 lead early this night. But The Florida Marlins surely give The African Queen and I the ability to dislike them ever so greatly. Does any one team or one player, outside of Ryan Howard of The Philadelphia Phillies, crush Our Washington Nationals more than The Florida Marlins and Hanley Ramirez? No lead is EVER SAFE against The Fish. Ramirez is such fine hitter, he golfed a Craig Stammen pitch so low and on the outside corner of home plate in the bottom of the 6th for a two run homer--you just had to give Hanley credit for his talent. The same skill Ramirez used to sock another outside pitch from Joe Beimel for the game winning two run single tonight before The SKIES unloaded with rain in the 7th frame tonight at Land Shark Stadium.

What is it with The Marlins?

The New York Mets have always dominated Our Washington Nationals. Yet, of late, The Florida Marlins OWN US!! The 8th straight victory over DC's Team in as many games scheduled in 2009.

Craig Stammen was beaten by a professional hitter known as Hanley Ramirez during the 6th frame tonight at Land Shark Stadium. He was also hurt by three key errors by Ryan Zimmerman and another by Josh Willingham with the bases loaded in the key final frame with Joe Beimel on the mound in the bottom of the 7th. Washington most always needs to play perfect baseball to win. And this evening--this rain shorted game epitomized Our Nats shortcomings. Not only is no lead ever safe, but our young pitching is inexperienced and needs to learn from their mistakes. Stammen was good, but just not good enough. Our Number 35 needs to take a lesson from tonight. Craig needs to understand how to pitch WITH THE LEAD--minimize the damage--take the control back in every frame. Pitch as if you are behind.

Another advantage which Our Washington Nationals let get away again this evening in wet and humid South Florida.

Adam Dunn's 20th Homer and eventual three RBI's didn't matter. An early four run lead didn't matter. A Rookie Starter in Stammen that could control most every Florida Batter not named Hanley Ramirez didn't matter. And the rains that eventually stopped this game probably didn't matter as well. We found another way to lose--this time to an All-Star.

Our Washington Nationals were again defeated tonight for the 53'rd time in 75 games because they couldn't minimize a great player in Hanley Ramirez. And they let what certainly has become a mental block--The Florida Marlins--get the best of them even when The Fish were down early--and big.

Final Score from that ridiculously named Land Shark Stadium where the very day The Marlins move into their retractable roof new ballpark at The Old Orange Bowl Site in Little Havana--MLB will have truly arrived in Miami--The Florida (soon to be, and thankfully, Miami) Marlins 7 and Our Washington Nationals 5 in another rain shortened game.

Yes, hate is a harsh word. So for these purposes, The African Queen and I will call The Fish--Irritants.

They really are pests.

Tonight's InGame Photos--Lynne Sladky (AP)

Trade Reaction

When Sohna called me this afternoon at work to let me know Our Washington Nationals had made a trade, anxiously I waited to hear the details. After she told me Washington traded Lastings Milledge and Joel Hanrahan to The Pittsburgh Pirates for Centerfielder Nyjer Morgan and southpaw reliever Sean Burnett--I had virtually no reaction.


Either way, this four player swap didn't excite me. The reasons behind the transaction are clear. Interim GM Mike Rizzo is sending out all those players he feels don't fit in the near or long term future in The Nation's Capital. And when it comes to the present day, the current product displayed on the field needs to be addressed right now--not next year--or with players declared as having so-called potential. Even the very fact that both Milledge and Hanrahan were touted as fixtures in the future of DC Baseball didn't matter anymore.

For 2009, both Milledge and Hanrahan were not helping Our Washington Nationals. And whether Lastings would ever become a quality everyday Major League Player in DC--we will never know now. But of all the players involved in this deal today--I actually found myself feeling sorry for Milledge. I don't why. He's far from our favorite player. Maybe it's because he does have talent. Skill neglected by his, at times, wavering attitude and a seeming unwillingness to improve himself. His I do it my way comment a few months back--was really bothering.

We've wanted to give Lastings Milledge every chance to succeed. But he wasn't a leadoff hitter. He also wasn't a good centerfielder. And Our Former Number 44 & 85 never grasped any given opportunity here. Only wanting to do it his way, Milledge now finds himself hitting the highway. Frustrating to watch, Lastings failed here, when he really shouldn't have. And no matter what happens in Milledge's future over this swap, I don't want to read any quote from him over the next couple of days that Our Washington Nationals didn't give Lastings a fair chance. If Milledge does state just that, those comments would be more disappointing then his 18 months in a Nats Uniform came to be known.

As for Nyjer Morgan, the soon to be 29-Year Old will be inserted into the leadoff spot in the batting order while manning centerfield. Morgan providing speed and agility to track down deep flies. Defensive capability that can only help our young starters on the mound.

Burnett, a one time top draft pick for The Bucs--will compose another part in an ever revamping bullpen. When you consider that Mike Rizzo was probably pretty close to designating Joel Hanrahan for assignment--getting a decent lefthanded arm to help at this very moment--was pretty shrewd.

But overall--I really don't have much of a reaction to this four-player trade. It's one of those trades where you really have to wait to see the outcome down the line. Each player has their upside, as well as their downsides. Washington is probably a faster team offensively today. A new element at the top of the order has been added. And a better team defensively with Morgan in centerfield. In the bullpen, a more reliable arm for Manny to choose.

But more questions now arise.

Who is next on the trading block? Nick Johnson? Cristian Guzman? Or, Adam Dunn? Or, all three?

Who get's DFA'd when the one roster moves takes place before Wednesday's Game against The Florida Marlins? Ronnie Belliard? Jesus Colome?

There are a tremendous amount of personnel decisions to be made over the next month before the July 31st Trading Deadline. Why do I have a feeling this is just the beginning of many moves to come? As stated before, Interim GM doesn't look back--only forward. Today proves just that fact.

PS--Sohna's response. "So you are telling me we traded Brian Schneider, Ryan Church, Lastings Milledge & Joel Hanrahan for Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett?" Yeah, in a roundabout way.

6:35PM Friday Start At Nationals Park

Good thing The African Queen and I are paying attention to Charlie Slowes & Dave Jageler on WFED. Both last night and this evening, they reminded us that this friday night's game at Nationals Park versus The Atlanta Braves begins at 6:35PM--not 7:05PM. Honestly, we would have not noticed the time change on our season tickets. And as far as we can recall--Our Washington Nationals did not make any specific statement about this 6:35PM Start on July 3rd. At least some word that stood out among the usual releases.

Odd Time. We would love to know why?

Thanks Charlie & Dave!! We owe you two!!

Adam Dunn To Blog

"I don't even know what a blog is." Then asking The African Queen: "Is it like Facebook?"

Well, it didn't take long for Adam Dunn to realize the importance of 'social media'. Less than two weeks after declaring he's never heard of blogging--Our Number 44 has agreed to pen his own blog on masnsports.com A monthly written venture including a weekly video segment.

Fast learner, smooth or just plain coy--Adam efforts will be worthwhile--only if he wants to make a serious attempt to interact.

Please Adam--do it well--take it seriously. Fans always have. And so should you.

The African Queen will be watching.

Here is the complete press release from MASN:

MASNsports.com Teams Up with Adam Dunn

Dunn to blog, video blog, appear in wired segments on MASN and MASNsports.com
(Washington D.C.) -- Giving fans unmatched access to the Washington Nationals, MASN announced today that slugger Adam Dunn will host a new blog at MASNsports.com and participate in other interactive features as part of a new partnership with the network. Beginning soon, Dunn will start writing a monthly blog, hosting a weekly video segment, answering fan questions and participating in Wired Wednesdays on MASN for the rest of the 2009 season.

Fans will have the opportunity to interact with Adam during his weekly video blog on MASNsports.com, where he will respond to fan-submitted questions directly. Additionally, Dunn will begin writing a monthly blog discussing self-selected topics, and on selected Wednesdays, he will wear a mic during the MASN game broadcast for special "Wired Wednesday" updates straight from the field and dugout. Dunn will also star in commercial spots during Nationals games on MASN.

Dunn, a Texas native, is the only big leaguer to record 40 or more home runs each of the last five seasons. "A rare combination of imposing physical stature and offensive output," Dunn signed a two year contract with the Nationals on February 12th. Dunn, who will be honored with his own Nationals bobblehead in August, is eager to learn more about blogging and use the opportunity to interact with fans online.

"To talk to fans directly, answer their questions and be able to explain what we do out here every night -- that's a pretty unique opportunity." said Adam Dunn. "I'm obviously new to blogging, but I think it's going to be a lot of fun."

Off to a great start in 2009, Dunn has already launched 19 home runs in a Nationals uniform, including a Eutaw Street bomb at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Sunday. He's just three shy of his 300th career homer.

"MASN is proud to be the home of Adam's new blog, which will surely showcase his energy, enthusiasm, humor and humility. It will be a great platform for fans to get to know more about Adam, both on and off the field" said MASN spokesman Todd Webster. "On television and online, MASN continues to implement new features that bring fans closer to the game and the Nationals."

With every available Nationals game, an All-Star talent team, 105 high definition broadcasts and pre and post game shows before and after every game, MASN provides maximum access to the Washington Nationals. MASNSports.com provides extensive online coverage with Phil Wood, Pete McElroy, as well as talent blogs featuring Bob Carpenter, Rob Dibble, Debbi Taylor, Ray Knight, Johnny Holliday, Byron Kerr, and Manny Acta. MASNSports.com also features a fan-centered Nationals Buzz blog, up to the minute video clips in MASN's Media Lounge, series previews, live game blogs and more. MASN is currently carried on 23 cable and satellite providers throughout a seven-state region.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Almost Comical

The water/perspiration free flowing over and down Scott Olsen's cap on the mound tonight at recently renamed (AGAIN!!) Land Shark Stadium (and if there was ever a good reason to dislike Naming Rights--this is the ballpark to use as Exhibit A) was funny to watch--almost comical. It reminded me of those cartoons or comic pages where the artist drew drips of water running off a face to best describe a hearty effort taking place. Someone trying as hard as they possibly could to succeed.

Our Starting Pitcher this evening in South Florida was drenched thanks to a misting rain and sweat. The water so heavy on the brim of his Blue Curly "W" Cap you could clearly see the various shades of Navy Blue soaking wet near his hat's edge. Rings of water drowning the fabric.

Whenever Our Number 19 looked into Wil Nieves for the sign--Scott put his pitching glove directly in front of his face--his customary setup position. And in doing so probably drenched his glove well before Olsen retired from the mound after seven very strong innings. His water logged cap very funny and entertaining to watch--just like the amusing performance Olsen demonstrated on the mound against The Fish. Clearly, after giving up two runs on six hits and walking no one--this southpaw went to Washington's Clubhouse tonight knowing he pitched his finest game of 2009. One in which was his first start in The Big Leagues after six full weeks spent on the disabled list.

Scott Olsen dominated at times--at one point retiring 12 in row before allowing a two out single in the 7th.

Too bad his counterpart tonight, former Florida Marlins' teammate Ricky Nolasco, was equally as hot while throwing one inning better. A full eight frames, allowing just two runs, on just four hits and also walking no one. Nolasco retiring the final 13 Washington Batters he faced. Together, both pitchers had combined to retire 25 of the final 26 consecutive batters faced.

Scott Olsen & Ricky Nolasco were no laughing matters this evening.

Too bad the comic relief soon followed.

As has happened most all season, Our Manager Manny Acta hands Scott's game over to our struggling bullpen. A tie ball game that was soon no fun to watch at all. Just three batters into the bottom of the 8th, The Florida Marlins scored what turned out to be the game winning run off Ron Villone. Four batters after that not too amusing moment, Julian Tavarez walked in The Marlins' insurance run.

Another excellent start by a Washington pitcher wasted. The African Queen and I chuckling over the consistency.

As quickly as this game was turned over to Our Bullpen, Our Washington Nationals had been defeated again for the 7th consecutive time this season by The Fish. And Emilio Bonificio was once again a catalyst. Mediocre against most every other team in baseball, Our Former 2nd Baseman Of The Future--plays like a Hall Of Famer against DC. A triple which became the game tying run in the bottom of the 3rd, followed by the game winning sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 8th.

Final Score from that stadium where The Miami Dolphins play NFL Football now on it's 6th Name Change--The Florida Marlins 4 and Our Washington Nationals 2 in an affair rained delayed by 37 minutes. Another defeat so similar to the many others that have come before this night in 2009. Strong starting pitching giving way to a weak bullpen. And our offense struggling to score runs with the game on the line. Only Ryan Zimmerman's 13th Home Run Of The Season and Josh Willingham's continued hot bat (two hits, one run scored) doing any real damage this evening in hot & humid, and sometimes raining, South Florida.

The very sight of Scott Olsen's Cap Brim streaming water--almost comical.

Watching a game from a ballpark named Land Shark Stadium--almost comical.

Being beaten by Emilio Bonifacio again--almost comical.

Losing for the 52 time in 74 Games--not funny at all.

PS--Land Shark Stadium previous titles: Joe Robbie Stadium, Pro Player Park, Pro Player Stadium, Dolphins Stadium, Dolphin (note no "s") Stadium and now Land Shark Stadium (partnership between Miami Dolphins New Owner Stephen Ross with Jimmy Buffett Margaritaville & Land Shark Lager Beer).

PPS--Official Attendance Tonight, 10,623. If there were actually 2000 folks on hand, that would be a comical surprise.

Tonight's InGame Photos--Lynne Sladky

Sunday, June 28, 2009


Interim GM Mike Rizzo seems to have a good idea what he is doing.

From the get-go of taking charge of the day-to-day baseball operations of Our Washington Nationals, he's certainly been decisive. Whether or not, Sohna and I agree with everything Mr. Rizzo's done--we've appreciated his boldness. He's continually revamped Our Bullpen under duress by effectively salvaging the junk pile of Free Agency. No, it's not been a perfect solution--but "Riz" (as Team President Stan Kasten likes to call him) has done a solid job of stabilizing some horrific early season relief work. Just look at Mike MacDougal, he may well be a keeper.

That work; Rizzo's propensity for hoarding ground ball pitchers; and a 2009 Draft--whether or not you liked all the picks chosen--had not just rhyme but reason behind each of the choices--giving more stability to an ever fluctuating organization. Recall, in a reported pitching heavy draft--it made sense to take as many hurlers as you could. If you get fortunate enough to find a few goodies--you might be able to package some of those, or a few in your current system--to pickup the everyday players well needed later to fill out a successful team down the line.

This so-called plan has merit. The thought process solid. Mike Rizzo has admitted he doesn't have a lot of faith in "Toolsy"" players as his first choice. They have their place, he recently stated. Instead, Our Interim GM wants solid talent to maneuver in whatever way he can to improve the product on the field.

Take today's two roster moves as a good example of making the most of your parts.

As much as some liked to dismiss what Ryan Langerhans could do on the field--he is an excellent defensive outfielder, with solid speed and the ability to get on base (patience at the plate)--although his path back to The Major Leagues was clearly blocked by younger or more veteran players--who NEED to play in The Big Leagues right now. The showcasing part of the game.

And with most all odds mostly against Langerhans returning--Mike Rizzo still understood Ryan had value. Today, trading Langerhans to The Seattle Mariners for a utility player with some pop in his bat--Mike Morse. It's a solid move for both teams. Ryan Langerhans will now have a better of chance of returning to The Major Leagues. And Mike Morse will be next in line to be the all-around utility guy every franchise needs in their dugout. Seven years younger than Ronnie Belliard--you have figure that Our Number 10's days as A Washington National might well be numbered (as much as that pains The African Queen).

Then, Rizzo's final roster decision this Sunday--after the conclusion of a solid 5-3 Victory over The Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards--was to NOT lose any one player just yet of that 25-Man Roster. Instead why not bide time, look at other favorable circumstances possibly coming, while giving a young 22-year old the opportunity to win back his confidence in The Minor Leagues. Mike Rizzo understood who was the one with a true future here in The Nation's Capital that needed to be protected. All the while--recalling to the starting rotation--a veteran lefthander acquired this past winter from Florida who supposedly was set to be a staple in the lineup.

Raise your hand if you thought Shairon Martis was going to be sent down today to AAA Syracuse when Scott Olsen was removed from The Disabled List?


I really didn't think so. The solid money was bet on either Joel Hanrahan or Jesus Colome being Designated For Assignment.

When you look at the entirety of the decision, it makes sense right now. Martis has struggled of late. He's hasn't pitched with confidence--too many ahead in the count hits or home runs. We (as fans) have not seen that same Shairon Martis witnessed at Nationals Park on May 3rd against The St. Louis Cardinals. The complete game 6-1 Masterpiece by Shairon. Our Number 39 needs to find himself again. And Our Interim GM understood that.

A solid roster move.

Also, Craig Stammen may be a little more polished--being three years older means a lot more here. This is Craig Stammen's Time to find out whether he can succeed on Baseball's Biggest Stage. Shairon Martis will get another chance. Realize, Martis hasn't lost face. He's exceeded expectations and now has hit a bump in the road. He's only temporarily lost his Major League Starting Rotation Position.

In the meantime, Our Number 35 needs to find out whether he belongs for sure.

That status--which Scott Olsen will have to work hard to resurrect his once promising career. Olsen may well have his personal confidence back, but Washington needs to find out whether they can trust this southpaw that has struggled to reach 90 MPH on his fastball over the past year. Will his heater return? And if it hasn't, has Our Number 19 the wherewithal to become a pitcher--not just a thrower.

This is how you build a team--for the future--making the tough decisions without being forced.

Four players and their positions in The Big League Game of Baseball were directly affected today. And in each case, Mike Rizzo gave each and every one of them another chance to succeed in The Major Leagues--even if that meant Ryan Langerhans now plays for The Seattle Mariners. Under Our Interim GM's reign--forward movement is being accomplish. The proper judgement of the talent currently on hand is taking place. What's needed for the short-term and long-term success of Our Washington Nationals is being discussed.

Joel Hanrahan and Jesus Colome may well feel like they received a reprieve from Mike Rizzo today--both are still on the active roster. But what Mr. Rizzo really did this afternoon was serve notice. No one is lucky to be on a Major League 25-Man Roster. And once someone better comes along or becomes available--you will be replaced. No one is safe--even if you have survived for another day in The Big Leagues.

Clearly, no one is going to force Mike Rizzo's hand. When the time comes and any move can be properly and reasonably made--then and only then--will Our Washington Nationals make a final decision. Clutter hasn't affected Our Interim GM's thoughts. Ill-fitting parts have not forced rushed judgement. A losing record has not brought on panic.

Although not yet given The Permanent Title, Mike Rizzo has steadied Our Washington Nationals and brought professional opinion to every single one of his moves. He's raised the awareness that not all judgements involving DC Baseball are performed at random. There really is a plan with this guy. And in doing so, Mr. Rizzo has raised the spirit of The African Queen and I. Being 30 games below .500 has taken its toll on us, but knowing "Riz" has brought a sound philosophy to his work--has given us even more confidence that Our Washington Nationals are really moving in the right direction--even if he scares Sohna at some times.

You may recall, he told Sohna: "I scare myself sometimes too!"

Now, let's just remove that "Interim" title while we are at it.

PS--Although having Club Level Tickets today at Camden Yards, Sohna and I couldn't make the final game of the three game set in Baltimore between Our Washington Nationals and The Orioles--personal business took priority beginning late last night. But, we would have loved to see Adam Dunn's Blast that bounced on Eutaw Street and then off a 2nd floor window of The B & O Warehouse. And we would have enjoyed seeing John Lannan continue to make himself a solid Major League Starter. Lannan's quickly becoming the stopper of losing streaks in the rotation. Curly "W" Number 22 was a well played game by DC's Team. We believe Our Franchise has some parts--just not enough of them yet. But with Mike Rizzo calling the shots--we are more confident than ever that Our Washington Nationals are turning the corner back to respectability.

PPS--Finally, Sohna and I wish Shari & Ryan Langerhans well. We've never been ashamed of cheering for good people like them to be successful. Like The Schneider's, The Church's and Chad Cordero before them, The Langerhans' always appreciated our efforts, and fandom, here at Nats320. They respected our hard work and were always available to chat with us if we happened to come across them at the park or team events. It's still the hardest part of being a fan of any Major League Team when the business side always takes priority. We've come to understand--the personal side is always fleeting. But we are happy and pleased that we came to know Shari & Ryan Langerhans, ever so slightly, during their time here in Washington, DC. We wished we knew them better, but they considered us friends.

And we will forever be content with that.

All Photos Copyrighted--Nats320--All Rights Reserved

More Quotes From Stan Kasten's National Press Club Appearance

Some of what Team President Stan Kasten spoke about at length this past Thursday at The National Press Club Luncheon--mirrored exactly what Mr. Kasten said during The Blogger Day Get Together at Nationals Park. But there were some other fresh answers beyond the original three comments posted a few days ago.

With that--here are some more quotes from Stan Kasten's National Press Club Appearance:

On Team Development Of Talent

“You can’t buy a pitching staff, you have to grow them. You can buy one pitcher, but you can’t buy a rotation. And so that was our challenge when we got here.”

“Until we see the record on the field (improve), it is easy to be critical. It is easy to be impatient. I totally understand that. But, those of you who aren’t limited to just looking at the standings, who are really looking at the pieces of this franchise and the things you need to be successful—can start to see what those of us on the inside have long suspected and now we are seeing. We now have today a rotation, four of them are rookies, three of them are 22 (years old). This is what we set out to do three years ago. And you can’t snap your fingers and make it happen overnight. It takes time to develop, to scout, to sign and then to develop kids and get them ready for The Major Leagues. But you can start to see just with the five kids today (in the starting rotation)--and between that crop and the crop that is right behind them in Syracuse. And then the dozen, 15 or 20 names you don’t yet know behind them--we are building a franchise that is defined by young pitching—by pitching coming forward.”

“We have been really encouraged by what we have seen so far. But there are going to be dips. There will be some ups and downs until they turn the corner--and until we decide on the five final guys that will comprise our rotation going forward. But that is what it is all going to be about—getting a solid rotation. I said this (past) winter, for me, the 2010 season was dedicated to finding three consistent solid, long-term, major league starters. Because if I got three and I got some help from the draft, then we would be ready to go. And let me tell you—it is clear to me now and I think those of you that are fans will agree—not only are we going to find three solid starters out of this group, but we are going to find more than three starters.”

“I often say when I talk about winning The World Championship in Atlanta in ’95, the most thrilling aspect of that, was that, the pitcher who was standing on the mound, who threw a one hitter for the final game of The World Series and the hitter who hit the home run for the only run of the night—and the pitcher standing on the mound at the end—Mark Wohlers—Tommy Glavine, David Justice and Mark Wohlers—ALL THREE OF THEM, were scouted by us, drafted by us, signed by us. That’s the kind of franchise we are trying to build. That we have set out to build and that we are building. So yes, I know what our record is today. Believe me, it is more frustrating to me than any of the fans could possibly feel. And I still don’t sleep after losses—that is just how I am. But every night, especially the last month or so—I go home encouraged by another quality start. Or, by the stuff I see that is going to develop into a big time starter.”

“There is no question once we establish our rotation. Once our offense settles in. We will need to make sure we have a bullpen that can get these kids, who have given us seven good innings—they need their win. So that is the thing we have to do—either in this season or during this next off-season. And of course, like any changing team, we have to get the best defense that we can.”

On The Economy

“I thought by now it would be better in terms of our neighborhood (surrounding Nationals Park). And the economy, which has hit all of us in so many ways, has certainly hit the business of going out on a massive scale. What we thought we would see right now has not happened yet. We all know it is going to happen. But it has been delayed for a couple of years. And when that happens, that is going to make the evening’s experience—the coming to the ball game—even better than it is now.”

Q & A

It took The Mets seven years from inception to win The World Series, how far along are you in the same process?

“Once we get a consistent, stable, mature, ready to go rotation of pitchers—anything is possible—believe me. Once you get that, you don’t have to wait two years, five years--you are then ready to go. Then you only have to get the bits and pieces to fill in. And I assure you, both I and all my owners are ready to go fill in any missing pieces we need, just as soon as we establish our rotation.”

Are you really following the path of The Atlanta Braves of the ‘90’s?

“I am following exactly that same path. We are not the only team pinning their hopes and succeeding on the backs of their young pitchers. All clubs do the same thing. Cincinnati is doing a good job. Toronto is doing a good job. And let me say that real soon—you are going to see Baltimore do exactly that.”

As President of The Washington Nationals—how much blame do you take for the poor performances?

“Well, I shoulder all of it. As I’ve said, I will take the responsibility until we get it right. It’s not right, and I need to keep working until we do. But, as I’ve said—right now—I am The Village Idiot. I get that and I wear that not proudly, but with resignation. I get that—because we are in the phase where there are no short cuts. There are no short cuts with pitchers. You can’t buy a pitching rotation--you need to develop them. And we’ve done an excellent job so far of doing that.”

Is there a limit to how much you can invest in one player (Stephen Strasburg), one that has never played one inning of a professional game?

“I never negotiate in the press and I will not today.”

“What a perfect environment for Stephen Strasburg. He couldn’t have a better place to grow and contribute any quicker than up to our Major League rotation here in Washington. And he will be a very good addition to this crop here. That will be a great environment for him to find himself.”

On Tom Boswell’s story that Ownership is more concerned about making money than winning?

“I assure you and I talked with Tom about this yesterday—that we make a lot more money when we win. Just trust me on that. No matter how you want to run the numbers—we are going to make a lot more money--if we win. So we are trying to do that just as fast as we can.”

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Wil Nieves--ESPN Zone--Part Two

Finishing up and concluding Wil Nieves' Meet & Greet appearance at The ESPN Zone in downtown Washington, DC on Wednesday, June 24th--Radio Broadcaster Charlie Slowes is fielding questions from a very attentive audience of fans of Our Washington Nationals.

With that, here we go with Wil Nieves--ESPN Zone--Part Two:

Question: How do you keep up the energy to play everyday when the team isn’t doing so well?

Wil: “I think its just being positive. We have a good team. We have a good team. Even though the record is not showing, we do have a good team. We showed it against The Yankees and Toronto. When we play good baseball and we put everything together, we don’t make errors. And we do small things like moving the runner and scoring the guys from 3rd with less than two outs. We have a good team. Our Pitching is getting better, it’s getting better. I always said, in the beginning, if we only played seven inning games we would be 40 (wins) and 20 (losses), because we always give up that lead after the 7th into the 8th. But they are coming around; we just have to stay positive. We have got to stay positive because if not, it will drive you crazy. It’s tough to lose every day. It is tough. We love it when we win because we go into the clubhouse and we have music. So when we lose you can hear everything. You can hear everything, there is no music, no nothing—you can hear everybody breathing. So it’s tough. We want to win every day and every night. We go out there and we want to win. But we just have got to stay positive. We have a good team and it’s a long season.”

Charlie: “Speaking of music, if you notice when Wil comes to bat at Nationals Park, he waits in the on deck circle until his batting music starts (‘you noticed that’—Wil). Then he takes a long slow walk, and not many players do this any more. Players used to not want to walk in front of the umpire and the other catcher. So they would walk around—especially from the 1st base dugout. So Wil takes the long way around, walks outside the circle, does a couple practice swings. He gets about 20 to 25 Seconds of his music.”

Wil: (Laughing) “Yes, that is true.”

Question: How hard is it to focus on the batter with runners on base attempting to steal?

Wil: “It’s not too hard, you get used to it to concentrate while calling the games. As a catcher, you see the whole field. You might think that I am concentrating on the pitcher and the hitter, but I can see the guy if he takes off for second base or third base. You just get used to everything surrounding you—concentration is the main key.”

Charlie: “As pitchers have gotten bigger in size, teams have wanted these 6’3” or 6’4” or 6’5” pitchers, when they have the big leg kick and they don’t learn to side-step that timing of the pitch between the pitcher and catcher--that can determine whether someone runs on you. It’s become where catchers have very little opportunity to throw a runner out.”

Wil: “Most of the time when they steal second base, or any base, it is off the pitcher. A pitcher is supposed to be 1.3 (seconds delivery time) to home plate. And we have pitchers that are getting there now in 1.6, 1.7. And even if we get a bazooka throwing to second base, we are not going to throw them out.”

Charlie: “When you release the ball, what is your timing?”

Wil: “1.8 seconds, maybe 1.9. A good time is 2.0 flat. Big League time is 2.0 flat. But like you said, if the pitcher is 1.6 or 1.7, then even if I did 1.6 on my release, I am still not going to throw him out. You are right, the pitchers have got to be a little bit quicker to home plate to give us the chance to throw out the runner.”

Charlie: “And that’s if it’s a pitch that’s in the right spot so you don’t have to bring the ball all the way across your body—so you can shoot forward.”

Question: How has technology changed how well you prepare for not just the hitters, but as a catcher and scouting opponents?

Wil: “It’s unbelievable. We have a room full of computers that lets us know what the hitters have done against any pitch--whether it’s a curveball, slider, changeup, fastballs—outside, inside. It’s pretty good. We have real good technology. You can type a name into the computer and it will show you every single At-Bat you have had against that pitcher. So, the technology is there. We just have got to use it and it’s pretty impressive. Before, we didn’t have all that. We used to just go out there and just pitch. Now, we have all this type of stuff to help us to make a better plan. When we are in a key situation with a runner on 2nd and 3rd, we know what we need to do get to the pitcher. Maybe, he doesn’t throw a good breaking ball. The technology is really helpful in that regard.”

Charlie: “They even have a computer room that is right off the dugout, in most of the parks, particularly at home, where as a hitter, if you want to see how you swung at a certain pitch or how a pitcher threw to you or how close was it—in between at-bats while the team is up and not your turn—you can run in and take a look at that.”

Wil: “Yes, it is right there. When your At-Bat is over and you felt like you had a bad swing or they called a strike that wasn’t—the computer is right there to check out. And hopefully, you can fix your swing for your next At-Bat. I was telling someone else recently--our stadium is the best when it comes to just this. The technology really works for us here.”

Question: When do you believe The Nationals might be ready to challenge The Phillies, The Mets and teams like that?

Wil: “I think next year we are going to have a really good team. You look at our lineup and you compare our lineup to others—you see that we are right there. The difference is not too much. Our pitching is the part that needs to get sharper for us to compete with those teams like The Mets or The Phillies, The Braves or Florida (Marlins). If we stay healthy, next year when the guys get more experience, I am hoping—PLEASE GOD—next year. I don’t want to wait too much longer.”

Charlie: “Me too, Wil.”

Question: Your manager Manny Acta really seems to follow your philosophy about positive thinking and looking at things positively. Myself and many other Nationals Fans admire him a lot for the way he conducts himself and the way he emphasizes the positive. How is he doing? We see the public side. Is he sort of a little down? As he taken all these criticisms and speculations in the newspaper about his last days---does he take it to heart or does he concentrate on doing his job and continues to motivate the team?

Wil: “That is exactly what he is doing. He doesn’t show it, if he is feeling that pressure from the media. We see him out there every day—the same. He keeps being positive. We see Manny every day being the same. Like I said, he is always positive. I am pretty sure he is thinking whatever is going to happen, he cannot control it. So whatever he can control, he will. He can control his attitude and the way he acts. And that is what I think he is doing right now. If you see Manny in the clubhouse, during BP, whatever—he is the same guy from when we started in Spring Training.” (Applause)

Question: Does your hard hurt when Joel Hanrahan pitches?

Wil: “If I catch the ball wrong—yes it hurts. But if I catch it right, it doesn’t. That is why I don’t use a batting glove (on his catching hand) when I catch. I learned that if you catch it wrong—it would hurt. And if you don’t---it’s not going to hurt. There are some guys that when their ball moves and I catch it a little bit in the middle (of the glove pocket) it will sting—but I am used to it. I am used to it. I play with pain. I am a catcher.”

Charlie: “A lot of pain. A lot of pitches in the dirt, wild pitches, foul balls. There was one point earlier in the year where both you and Jesus Flores, before he got hurt, you could have played connect-a-dot among the bruises you guys had over your arms and legs.”

Wil: “Yes, I’ve said that one of my favorite parts in blocking (pitches). But I think they (our pitchers) are taking it too seriously.” (Laughter)

Question: Is it better to be taller or shorter as a catcher?

Wil: “Shorter, easy. Shorter!! The best thing about me being 5’10”, 5’11” or whatever I am (chuckles). I don’t have knee problems or back problems. If you are short and you are a catcher, I think it is better because you don’t have to bend over that much. And your knees are not going to suffer that much and your lower back. I think just being short and not heavy (in weight)—that helps me. I have played every year and I have never been hurt. Thank God. But I know it is because I am not a big guy.”

Charlie: “I think it is harder for a bigger catcher to come up to throw. It takes more of a toll on blocking balls and popping back up.”

Wil: “Short is better. (‘And quick’---Charlie) Oh yes.”

Question: How excited are you about this year’s draft class with Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen?

Wil; “I am real excited. That guy (Strasburg) that can throw 100-Miles Per Hour. We have good pitching right now. And if you bring those two guys to our team—it’s going to help. I am real excited about those picks we had. If they stay healthy, and hopefully they will, we are going to have a pretty good starting rotation.”

Charlie: “Maybe, we will have more pitchers than spots in the rotation this year. Craig Stammen, Ross Detwiler—who made the jump from AA after just six starts at Harrisburg—how impressed are you with those guys?”

Wil: “Detwiler was only supposed to have just one start here (in Washington). And he’s still here. I am impressed that they are kids that listen to you. They listen to you and they are not afraid. Stammen has a real good sinker, good stuff. All of them are not afraid. When you are young—like those kids—including Shairon Martis—you don’t care if you are facing The Mets, Boston, The Yankees—they just pitch. They have real big hearts and they don’t care who they are facing—it’s just another team to them. Forget about their names, they’re great teams, but you just got to forget about that and just pitch your best stuff against them. It’s just not being afraid.”

Charlie: “Of course Jordan Zimmermann.”

Wil: “Yes, and then we have (John) Lannan who is in his second year—he’s still young too. We have great young pitching and guys with a lot of heart.”

Charlie: “Yep. We tease Lannan that he is the old man at 25 (years old). And (Scott) Olsen is going to come back and try to push one of these guys out to get a spot back. And that’s all good though (competition).”

Wil: “It’s always good to have that problem.”

Question: It is often described that catching is an art. Is there any one catcher in The Major Leagues that you particularly enjoy watching?

Wil: “A guy I enjoy watching and really think is a great catcher is Yadier Molina (St. Louis Cardinals). I think he is a great catcher. The way he calls the game and I enjoy watching him. He is just a great catcher. He is one of the guys that I admire the most when I watch him play.”

Question: “When you were growing up, was Pudge Rodriguez (fellow Puerto Rican) the guy for you?”

Wil: “Oh, yeah. When I started catching, Ivan Rodriguez was the guy that I followed the most. And they (coaches and scouts) compared me to him the most---because of both of us being 5’10” (‘Maybe? —Charlie). Hey, hey, hey!! (Laughter). That’s a guy that I used to follow because he was one of the biggest names back then. We had Benito Santiago and Ivan Rodriguez when I was growing up. But he (Pudge) was the one.”

With that final answer, The ESPN Zone Q & A Session with Wil Nieves concluded. Fans then lined up to receive autographs from Our Number 23 and take pictures. The next ESPN Zone Lunch Time Get Together is scheduled for Tuesday, July 21st--player to be announced.

There Really Wasn't Much To Cheer About

Even Ryan Zimmerman probably appreciated the effort. There wasn't much else to cheer about this evening.

The latest re-incarnation of "Roy Hobbs" slammed out the longest hit baseball I have ever witnessed at Camden Yards. Too bad it was foul. The Baltimore Orioles Matt Wieters unloaded on a Joel Hanrahan 94 MPH Fastball that went so deep off his powerful bat, the screaming baseball was out of Orioles Park in a split second. Over the packed crowd, past the right field pavilion, onto Eutaw Street while scattering fans. And maybe, just maybe--bouncing off the bottom of The B & O Warehouse. But from The African Queen's and my vantage point on the first base side at the pitcher's mound--we lost sight on the baseball's downward flight streaking past the stands.

45,024 were in absolute awe over the display. But when First Base Umpire Doug Eddings signaled FOUL!! by raising both his arms, then ruling the ball went to the right of the yellow foul pole--Not A Home Run, Just Another Strike--it was the only time all evening when I would have accepted The Orioles Scoring ANY RUN. Couldn't stand the other eleven scores plated by Baltimore against Washington tonight. But this game was SO OUT OF HAND, I could appreciate Matt Wieters' accomplishing a feat I have personally never seen in Baltimore.

"The Natural" showed all his potential on that one swing of the bat. What a pretty swing from a 23-Year Old Rookie!!

Too bad Our Washington Nationals effort tonight was not so beautiful. This game got so bad in the bottom of the 6th inning that I turned to Sohna and mentioned--If Melvin Mora hits a home run right here (for Baltimore), it will be the first time that I can remember being at a game when ANY TEAM has scored more than 10 runs in one inning? Do we really want to see that too?

Thankfully, that awful scenario didn't happen. Baltimore scored just eight.

But a whole lot of bad baseball was on display this evening--especially in the pitching and fielding department. Ross Detwiler was really shaky, struggling all night. And we were really surprised when Our Manager Manny Acta sent Our Number 48 back out to the mound down 3-1 for bottom of the 6th. Ross didn't look sharp. And when he gave up two quick hits to the first two batters he faced--the floodgates opened--thanks to Joel Hanrahan and Ron Villone pitching their worst baseball of the year. And defended by Cristian Guzman making a silly error extending this awful frame.

There is really not much to say about this game--other than the fact that Camden Yards still looks as nice as the very first day it opened on April 6th, 1992. Sohna and I spent the final three innings of this lopsided affair chatting with these three ladies sitting directly behind us. They had never been to Nationals Park. And we have convinced them to check it out personally over the July 4th Weekend when The Atlanta Braves visit The Nation's Capital.

Score One For Us For Ticket Sales.

Final Score from Orioles Park where despite a near sellout crowd there were not many folks sporting The Curly "W"--The Baltimore Orioles 11 and Our Washington Nationals 1. Loss Number 50 in 71 Games was basically a blowout and a No Show effort on the part of Our DC Fans. A Scattering of Red & Blue throughout Camden Yards--but nothing like a few years ago when seemingly 10,000 Washington Fans traveled up The Parkway to see DC's Team. One group of college age Nats Fans running into us after the game stating that between us and them: "We were about the only six folks here tonight rooting for Washington."

There were more than not--but certainly not many.

No DC Fan probably missed anything anyway. There really wasn't much to cheer about for fans of Our Washington Nationals.

Except for that potential Gigantic Homer off the bat of Young Matt Wieters--that was really pretty.

By the way--WE LOVED The Orioles Friday Night Fireworks. A terrific performance. Lasting more than 10 minutes, choreographed with music and being set off right in front of everyone from just over the Centerfield Wall at Camden Yards--the backdrop of The B & O Warehouse and Baltimore Skyline is accentuated by the display. And being able to actually watch the streamers fire off and soar into the air--makes it all the more special. We understand that at Nationals Park the fireworks are set off near The Anacostia River outside the stadium. And there is probably nothing that can be done to change that. But watching the pyrotecnics take off, not just explode in the sky above--really makes a difference. We really enjoyed The Fireworks Show at Oriole Park.

As every Nationals Fan probably knows, you can purchase your Curly "W" Pretzel at Noah's Pretzels at Nationals Park. A staple that has become well received on South Capitol Street. Well, you can also now purchase a Noah's "O" Pretzel at Camden Yards. Noah's Pretzels' Owner, Dwayne Herndon, took over exclusive Pretzel Sales at Baltimore's Baseball Park this season. And Sohna and I went to visit them tonight. It's funny seeing virtually the exact same employees, like Seth (shown above wearing the orange & black) selling pretzels for fans of Our Washington Nationals, and doing the same for fans of The Baltimore Orioles.

Sales so good for Dwayne's personal efforts to promote education and funding for those with Autism--during the bottom of the 6th inning at Camden Yards--The Fan Of The Game in Baltimore is brought to you by Noah's Pretzels. We all chatted for some time, before and after tonight's game.

Finally, before the game, Sohna receiving the love from three Navy Midshipman Football Hunks promoting their upcoming fall season at Marine Corp Stadium in Annapolis. They were pretty cool and into the spirit of it all.

PS--Sohna and I have never experienced worse traffic getting to any game in Baltimore--like ever. We left our house at 2:45PM--hoping to eat an early dinner at a certain sushi bar we enjoy in The Inner Harbor. 2 Hours and 45 Minutes later we finally made it to the parking lot two blocks from Camden Yards (5:30PM for a usual 65 minute drive). Friday afternoon traffic is usually bad, but never this horrible. From 295 in The District to The Baltimore-Washington Parkway, all the way to The Baltimore Beltway (I-695), nothing was moving. I-95 north wasn't any better. We crawled along at 10 miles per hour most of the way--if that--hundreds of complete stops. Like I told Sohna while sitting in traffic--it makes you appreciate just having to go to Nationals Park most of the time anymore--not having to worry about getting to and from a city 40 miles away--especially on a work day--to enjoy Major League Baseball.

Of course going home after the game--we cruised in the normal 65 minutes. No problems whatsover.

Tonight's InGame Photos--Gail Burton (AP)
All Other Photos--Nats320--All Rights Reserved

Friday, June 26, 2009

Wil Nieves--ESPN Zone--Part One

His infectious smile always draws attention to him. And whether or not Wil Nieves was a Major League Baseball player for Our Washington Nationals--he would be the same outgoing and friendly fellow. This past Wednesday afternoon, June 23rd, before the second game of the three game set between Washington and The Boston Red Sox at Nationals Park, Nieves joined Radio Broadcaster Charlie Slowes at The ESPN Zone in downtown Washington, DC as the guest of honor for the monthly in-season lunch time Meet & Greet.

For nearly 50 minutes--Wil and Charlie entertained a rather large gathering--telling stories, sharing information and showing some fine humor. The transcript is so long--I am breaking it into two parts. Wil Nieves is quite the interesting fellow. And his Mom has been a big influence in his life.

With that--here we go with Part One of Wil Nieves at The ESPN Zone.

Charlie: “Hi everybody. We see some familiar faces today. And we see some new faces and that’s good. A lot of folks with school out, so we will see some more youngsters here. This is number two of our five lunchtime Q & A’s this season here at the ESPN Zone. And our special guest today is Nationals Catcher Wil Nieves!! (Applause) Come on up Wil. This is sometimes known as the hot seat. But it’s never too hot here. We are also going to be giving away tickets to the Friday July 3rd game against The Atlanta Braves. Well Wil, good game last night (Tuesday June 22nd) for a while there into the 8th inning, huh?”

Wil: “Yeah, it was. It was a real good game. We are playing a great team (Boston). So, hopefully we can come back tonight and beat them.”

Charlie: “What was the reaction with the players to see Nationals Park filled with the largest crowd in the history of the ballpark going back to last year?”

Wil: “I think we have some of the best fans in baseball. Even though we are not playing too good, they keep following us. And just seeing the ballpark last night like it was—it was great. Every time there are fans in the stands—even if we are tired—the adrenaline gets us going and we play with a lot of energy. But we appreciate your support and every time we see you guys in the stadium—that is our motivation to play with a lot of energy.”

Charlie: “I will say our fans tonight may need to do a little bit more to drown out the cheers of those Red Sox Fans. There are far too many of them.”

Wil: “Yeah, we got to get loud tonight. We have got to get louder than them.”

Charlie: “They travel (Red Sox Fans) and you know from your time with The Yankees it’s pretty much the same thing. They have the following that travels all over the country. The fans have the long history in all the cities. You were a part of that during your time with The Yankees against The Red Sox. And know what it likes when The Yankees travel all over the country—fans camped out at the hotels. It’s a crazy scene.”

Wil: “When I was with The Yankees, it was weird. Even those days when we were playing on the road, you felt like we were at home. So many fans that follow The Yankees and it always feels good when you are playing and you see a lot of fans supporting you (on the road).”

Charlie: “I was talking last night before the game with Rocco Baldelli, now with The Red Sox. He had previously played his entire career with Tampa Bay and is, of course, from Rhode Island and grew up a Red Sox Fans. I said to him: ‘What’s it like now? Everything being a member of The Red Sox is so over the top.’ He said that if he is introduced to somebody, they get to meet him, the reaction of the fan is: ‘This is the greatest moment of my life!!’ It’s crazy, that‘s what it is.”

Question: What is you favorite thing to do when you are not playing baseball?

Wil: “My favorite thing to do is—I love to eat. (laughter). I love to eat. So, I am always looking for different restaurants. And I just like to try everything. That is what I do in my free time. I go out and try to find a new restaurant where I can try their food.”

Question: Can you talk a little bit about the game plan that you do with pitchers—like how much input you have? What the pitching coach says? And how does that relate to the new pitching coach (Steve McCatty)?

Wil: “First game of every series, we sit down with all the pitchers and the catchers and the pitching coach and we talk about the guy going against us. We got stats. We have videos—a bunch of stuff that helps us make the pitching plan. We usually combine that pitching plan with what (our) pitcher has. Sometimes, you might have a guy that can’t hit a breaking ball, a curveball. But our pitcher doesn’t have one. It’s hard. When we are playing good teams, we just try to follow the plan. And if it doesn’t work, we try to change it later on. But we just try to combine what our pitcher, their stuff, with the plan (of the opposing batter). We combine those things and hopefully we call a good game off of that.

Charlie: “I know that when you are calling a game that plan is to just start the game. And then you see what types of swings and misses hitters are taking. Or, what pitch is most effective for your starter. And I know in the last couple of weeks, with the success of all of the young starters with dominate pitches—the fastball, the sinking fastball—keeping the ball down—is that the success level they have reached or a combination of what Steve McCatty, the new Pitching Coach has wanted to see—guys throwing their fastball more?”

Wil: “I think he (McCatty) has been the guy to give them a little bit more freedom in pitching. But it’s a combination. You can have a good plan, but if the pitcher cannot follow that plan, you have got to go with their strengths. Whatever is working better that day—maybe a guy can’t get his fastball outside—but that day he is—so we have to make adjustments during the game because if we do it the next day it will be too late and we end up losing that game. It’s a feeling when you see their swing. You have got to adjust with the hitters.”

Charlie: “Now, when you work with a relief pitcher. They come into a game. They don’t have the luxury the starter has to maybe work it out if they are a little off in the first inning. Or has a spot where he loses command or concentration in a situation like that. In maybe five pitches, the whole game can change if a relief pitcher doesn’t have their best stuff.”

Wil: “Relievers need to concentrate from the beginning. They have got to come into the game throwing strikes. We’ve had a lot of problems this year with the bullpen coming in and just falling behind the hitters. Then, they end up throwing a fastball, or breaking ball, up in the strike zone and we get hurt. As a reliever, you have got to concentrate from the beginning and make good pitches. Like you said, you are probably going to have one hitter and you have got to do your job.”

Question: What’s your impression of seeing all the starting pitchers being so young this year? And then with the relief pitchers—why are we having so much trouble with the experienced relievers? What the problem there?

Wil: “This pitching staff reminds me of The Tampa Bay (Rays) pitching staff two years ago. They were young. They lost a lot of games and they came back last year and had the season they did (AL Champs). We have a great group of starters. They have great stuff and I know they are going to be good. If they stay healthy, you guys are going to see a good pitching staff next year. I think that is a good thing. And the relievers—in the beginning we hit a bump. We were giving up so many runs. It was because we were falling behind and we were afraid of being hit. I don’t know. We have veteran guys that were probably trying to do too much. And they were getting hit. So, they are humans and I think that was the big key. We are doing a better job now. We are getting ahead (of the hitters) and making out pitches. And that was the key, in the beginning (of the season) we were not doing.”

Question: What is a typical game day for you—getting to the ballpark, pitchers meetings, etc.?

Wil: “Actually, I try to get to the ballpark early and work out.”

Charlie: “What is early for you?”

Wil: “1:30PM (for a night game). So I try to work out. At 4pm, we have got to be outside taking batting practice, stretching and doing our stuff. Then, after batting practice, we go to the pitchers meeting. After the pitchers meeting, we have our hitters meeting—talking about their pitching. And then we have an hour, hour and one-half just to get ready for the game. I have got to be out at least one-half hour before the game to start to get ready with the (starting pitcher). And whenever we don’t have the meetings, same thing, get there at 1:30PM—workout, play some cards. I like to get there early to the ballpark. I don’t like to rush.”

Charlie: “And extra early Batting Practice is?”

Wil: “3 O’clock.”

Charlie: 3 O’clock on the road too, right?”

Wil: “Yes, but 1:45PM or 2PM sometimes also. When we are on the road and you want to be there early, we are there about 1PM. So we spend almost the whole day at the ballpark.”

Charlie: “And then some guys are even hitting after BP in the cage?”

Wil: “Yes. But I have a wife that waits for me. So I try to hurry up after the game.”

Charlie: “I am talking about before the game after BP.”

Wil: “Yes, they do. Then, after the game too. Sometimes after the game they do stay and do flips (underhand tosses from a coach behind a screen 10 feet away). But after BP if you don’t feel good, you stay a little longer in the cages—so you can feel right for the game.”

Charlie: “If you are not starting behind the plate, is you routine a little different than what you might do between that time from the end of BP and the start of the game?”

Wil: “Yes, it gives me a little bit more time. But I have to be outside for The National Anthem (a team rule that all players, coaches and staff in the game dugout must be present for the presentation of the colors). So after BP, I go inside and rest.”

Charlie: “And that’s when you eat too, correct?”

Wil: “Yes, we eat and stretch and just get ready for the game.”

Charlie: “And the routine is a little bit different on the road because you guys hit last—you don’t have a lot of time between BP as you almost turn around in 30 minutes to play.”

Wil: “Tampa was kind of hard. In BP (there), the last group we only had a half-hour to get ready. It was tough. It was a little bit hard for us to get ready for the games. So it is a little bit more rushed.”

Question: Wil, when you hit your walk off (home run) against The Cubs, what was going through you head?

Wil: “That was a great feeling. That was a great feeling. When I hit it out, I didn’t know it was gone. (Applause) Thank you. Thank you. I have got to do it again this year. I am trying.”

Charlie: “You nearly had one to right field at the fence recently.”

Wil “Two actually. I know. But, I will get them. But it was a great feeling like I said. I didn’t know it was gone until I stepped on first base and I looked into our bullpen and they were jumping up and down and clapping. And I got all excited. It really was a great feeling. And being a walk-off (game winner) rounding third base, seeing your teammates at home plate just waiting for you. I just took my helmet off because I knew they would hit me hard if I kept it on (laughter). It was a great feeling. Thank you.”

Charlie: “I got a question for you. You just hit this walk-off home run that has won the game. Are you thinking that you just won the game or that it was your first big league home run?”

Wil: “At the moment, it was that we won. I wasn’t thinking that that was my first home run in The Big Leagues. After that, I did, it was my first one and a walk off. But, in the moment, we won. We were playing a team (The Chicago Cubs) that was hot. They had a great year last year. But in that moment, I was just thinking that we had just won the game.”

Question: What made you want to play catcher?

“When I was younger, I used to play every single position but catcher. When I was 14 years old our catchers were all hurt on our team. And they (the coaches) told me ‘you got a good arm and you are going to be tall’—but the tall part they missed it (laughter). And you should catch.’ I started to catch. In the beginning, I hated it. I was afraid of the ball. But God has his plan and I became a catcher and I love it. I am real quick behind the plate because I was a shortstop and I am not a tall guy or heavy guy. That’s the main reason—we ran out of catchers and they told me to do it and I did.”

Charlie: “Now before you signed with The Nationals, you had the chance to go back to The Yankees. I think you were vacationing in Hawaii when the phone call came. Tell us about that?”

Wil “Last year I was a free agent. The year before (2007-2008 off season) I was a free agent. I kept talking to my agent asking him what were the teams that were interested in signing me. He kept telling me The Yankees. And I told him I was not going to go back to The Yankees. They have Jorge Posada. They have Jose Molina—both with guaranteed contracts. And I told him, I was not going back. Every time I talked to him he said Yankees, Yankees, Yankees. And I said No, No, No!! So, I went to Hawaii with Carlos Pena. He is my best friend. The 1st Baseman for Tampa Bay (Rays). We went on a cruise and when I was there a call came from The Dominican Republic. That is where Manny Acta was coaching Winter Ball. They (DR) needed a catcher (in winter ball)--someone who has been around for a while.”

“And when I came back from the cruise—I went to The Dominican Republic. I hit .300 and that is where Manny Acta saw me. Manny and Jose Rijo. They saw me and brought me here. In the beginning, when I arrived with The Nationals, they only had Paul LoDuca and Jesus Flores. So, I said—you know what—I have a chance. Then, LoDuca got hurt. They signed (Johnny) Estrada. And it was tough. I said, I should have signed with The Yankees. But God has his plan. I was only in the Minor Leagues for a week and a half, two weeks. And you guys saw the year in which I had last year. So whenever you see me—I am a real positive guy. I don’t care what I see around me. I am always thinking positive. I am a big believer if you think positive, positive things are going to come to you. If you think negative things, negative things are going to come to you. I am real positive. If something else happens—it’s not because I brought it into my life. So, I am here now and thankful for the opportunity given by The Washington Nationals.”

Charlie: “You say how things can happen in a strange way. The Nationals open with three catchers again this year with Josh Bard and Jesus Flores. And during the first few weeks of the season when Jesus didn’t play—Josh Bard was getting most of the starts. I think you went two to three weeks between starts. And on the day you were on the lineup card, I happened to be standing there copying it down and you said: ‘I hope I remember how to do that!!’ (Laughter)”

Wil: “It’s always tough. It’s always tough. I had never been in that position. But that helped me appreciate what I have. I am in The Big Leagues and I appreciate every day. I don’t take it for granted. And like I said, it’s always tough. It’s always tough. But you try to do your work and hopefully they (coaches/management) see something in you and keep you around.”

Question: What was your favorite team as a kid?

Wil: “I didn’t follow baseball that much. But I remember The Mets when Gary Carter was their catcher. Keith Hernandez was the first baseman—Darryl Strawberry. I remember that team—so I have got to say The Mets with those guys. But I loved the game, but I never followed it. My Mom was the one who took me to every single game. I didn’t grow up with my Dad. She is the one who took me to every practice, every game. She didn’t know anything about baseball. She knows about boxing.”

“My Mom, (Dommys Delgado) is the first lady in the world to be President of a Boxing Commission (Puerto Rico Professional Boxing Commission). So, she is The President of The Boxing Commission in Puerto Rico. So she knows about boxing. But when I was young, I used to take a stick and swing at everything. So she took me to a therapist to see if there was something wrong with me (laughter). And he said there was nothing wrong with (me). Just put him in a sport where he can do that. And that’s when she took me to a baseball stadium.”

Charlie: “Were you around boxers a lot when you were young?”

Wil: “All my life. I know Felix Trinidad before he was the champion. Miguel Cotto—all those guys. I met Don King (famous promoter). I met Don King and Oscar De La Hoya—all those guys because of my mom.”

Charlie: “That had to be pretty exciting?”

Wil: “It was. It was exciting. I went to The Trinidad/De La Hoya fight in Las Vegas—I think in ’99. And I am real proud of my mom. She is tough. It is a man’s sport and to have a woman in a man’s sport is very impressive. And they respect her.”

Charlie: “You would have been a middleweight—right?”

Wil: “I would have been a champion because they would have put some bad boxers against me so I could be a champion!! (Joking—but cracking everybody up).”

With that answer--Part One of Wil Nieves at The ESPN Zone in Washington, DC comes to an end. Part Two coming later.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Signature Moment

Those Boston Red Sox Fans on hand, once again, for the largest crowd to attend any game at Nationals Park's short history for the third consecutive night--were finally up and cheering. For over five innings on South Capitol Street tonight, Jordan Zimmermann had SHUTDOWN one of the best hitting teams in baseball. In fact, a serious World Series Contender. But now--Red Sox Nation sensed a comeback--maybe--even the kill. Our Washington Nationals were up Five-Zip, but that margin didn't seem near enough runs.

With only one recorded out so far in this game deciding 6th frame, Boston had placed runners on 1st and 3rd. J.D Drew had softly slapped a broken bat single to left. And Jason Bay had followed with a first pitch single to the exact same spot. Just the kind of situation in which Our Washington Nationals tend to let things get out of hand--make things worse--do something that causes pain. Of course, with Big Papi stepping to the plate, who among that largest crowd of 41,985 didn't believe The Red Sox were going to inflict some serious damage? Last night, David Ortiz slugged out a three run game breaking homer off Washington Rookie Craig Stammen. A full-count situation in which Our Number 35 didn't trust his instincts--which was to throw his fastball.

Resetting the stage:

For over the first five innings, this third game of the most anticipated series of 2009 in The Nation's Capital had been all Washington. John Smoltz was making his very first start EVER for The BoSox--facing a DC Team in which he had mixed results while spending his entire career with The Atlanta Braves. Recovering from shoulder surgery, this sure-fire Hall Of Famer, has only recently recovered. And during the very first inning he's pitched all season on The Big League Level this year--Our Washington Nationals jumped all over him. Four runs scored before Smoltz retired his counterpart Zimmermann to end the largest 1st inning at home since that April 18th five run rally against The Marlins. A big advantage that was pushed to five in the 3rd on a Josh Willingham double following by a Josh Bard Single--again off Smoltz (Both Willingham and Bard major players in tonight's game--but more on them later).

An early lead for The Home Side that Our Number 27 protected by hammering the strike zone. No one from Boston's Potent Lineup was standing in his way. Jordan Zimmermann was earning respect. Not even a terrible decision by Anderson Hernandez and Cristian Guzman to NOT call for a routine infield popup that dropped for a single off the bat of Jacoby Ellsbury--kept JZ down. He was on top of his game. But now--as the top of the 6th unfolded--Zimmermann needed to settle down.

Beloved in Boston--probably forever--David Ortiz may be on the downside of his illustrious career--but he's still a dangerous slugger. One that's not going to miss a rookie mistake. Stammen didn't trust his fastball on Wednesday Night and instead threw his weaker pitch--the change up. Big Papi deposited that pitch over the centerfield wall for a 3-1 Boston Advantage. A shot that sent Red Sox Nation into a tizzy at Nationals Park. Tonight, Jordan found himself in a similar situation. Pitching well, with the lead, and the opportunity for failure knocking on fortune's doorstep. If Boston's Fabled Number 34 takes him out of the park--The Red Sox are back into this game down by just two.

New Ball Game--a completely different outcome in the works.

But from the very first day Jordan Zimmermann stepped on the Major League Mound at Nationals Park back on April 20th--he hasn't been afraid. Even challenging Albert Pujols on May 1st on South Capitol Street when he simply didn't want to give up a walk to The St. Louis Cardinals Slugger. Instead, JZ gave up a titanic home run to the best slugger in the game. A learning experience taken to heart--now to be used against David Ortiz.

As The BoSox Faithful roared with delight--anticipating the big drive--Our Number 27 just kept pounding the strike zone. What Jordan came to understand was that the soon to be 34-Year Old Dominican Slugger couldn't get his bat around on J-Zimm's 94 Mile Per Hour Heater. Don't give Ortiz something off-speed. Don't give David the chance to play Goliath. And on the 4th pitch of this pivotal At-Bat, Jordan Zimmermann WON THIS GAME--by allowing a sacrifice fly.

Yes--by letting a run to score.

Big Papi weakly flying to Josh Willingham in left field--just deep enough to score Boston's first run of the evening while quieting The Red Sox Fans and settling down a nervous Washington Fan Base anticipating the worse. And when Mike Lowell followed with a wicked liner just above Ryan Zimmerman's head that Our Number 11 snared for the inning ending out by seemingly climbing that extra few inches needed to catch the baseball--after already leaving the ground (really it was amazing how Our Number 11 was able to STRETCH HIMSELF at a split seconds notice)--that other "Z"--the real star of the evening--Jordan Zimmerman--had over come a top hitting lineup. He had quieted two fearsome batters. He had shut up Red Sox Nation. And turned some heads and earned respect from those sitting in the Boston Red Sox Dugout. A nod of appreciation for a job well done.

The Signature Moment for a rookie looking for validation on The Big Stage.

Jordan Zimmmermann would complete 7 strong innings this night at Nationals Park. He dominated at times, and didn't give in to anybody. The Heart Of A Lion this young man possesses. And when JZ slowly walked off the mound to the home dugout at end of his valiant seven innings, Our Fans gave their hearts over to him. A Rousing Standing Ovation in appreciation of a job well done. A respect earning outing that even had Red Sox Nation--educated baseball fans as they are--respectfully joining into the appreciation.

Final Score from Nationals Park where Our Fans were treated to a coming out party by Jordan Zimmermann--Our Washington Nationals 9 and The Boston Red Sox 3. Certainly, Our Offense gave Our Number 27 his lead. Our Defense protected it. But JZ was the story tonight. And The Bang!! Zoom!! Of The Fireworks!! signaled that a young pitcher from a small school in Wisconsin (Stevens Point)--can compete against the finest in the game. And Curly "W" Number 21 solidified the very fact that Our Washington Nationals have some good, young and very talented Starting Pitching.

Remember, no matter the score, there is a moment in every game in which everything hangs in the balance. And tonight's signature rested on the bat of David Ortiz in the top of the 6th. Unafraid, his greatest attribute, Jordan Zimmermann went right after Big Papi to retire him.

The Defining Moment In This Game.

Game Notes & Highlights

Jordan Zimmermann would leave after seven complete allowing just one run. He struck out six, walked JUST ONE, and allowed seven hits. Over his last four starts he's posted a 1.90 ERA in 23.2 innings pitched--striking out 22 batters. He really is so impressive to watch on the mound and tonight earned his 3rd career Major League Victory.

Tyler Clippard was less so. Making his first Major League appearance of 2009, Our New Number 36 looked rather shaky. Given work in a blow out--Tyler allowed a double to Mark Kotsay in the 8th and a two run homer to Rocco Baldelli in the 9th. Apparently, The Boston Red Sox ran out of position players and were forced to bat Pitcher Ramon Ramirez with two outs in the final frame. A big advantage that Clippard used to strike out the Boston Pitcher on a high fastball to end this game. But Tyler wasn't strong--in his first on the job training for Washington. Although to his credit, Clippard wins serious points from us for The Cool Shades Worn and The Very Awkward (almost ostrich like) Pitching Delivery.

Washington had early game batting practice against John Smoltz. After Smoltz hit Nick Johnson with one out in the 1st inning (a pitch that eventually forced NJ from the game with what's been called a "shin contusion"), Ryan Zimmerman followed with a drilled double down the leftfield line. Adam Dunn walked to load the bases. Josh Willingham singled to left scoring Johnson. Josh Bard then followed with another single to right scoring Zimmerman. And after Willie Harris lined out to J.D. Drew in right--Anderson Hernandez came up clutch with a two strike bleeder to left field scoring both Dunn and Willingham to give Washington a 4 run early lead. An inning that found John Smoltz's ERA balloon to 54.00 at the completion.

Josh Bard and Josh Willingham big contributors at the plate this evening. Bard--three hits, two rbi and one run scored. Willingham with two hits, one rbi and two runs scored. 11 total hits off Red Sox Pitching tonight for Washington. That sparkplug--also known as Willie Harris--powered out a two run homer off Takashi Saito on the very night he matched his season high of three hits in one game. A game distancing home run into the second deck in right that put Washington up 9-1 in the bottom of the 7th.

Ryan Zimmerman made a series of fine plays at third base this evening. That nice catch on a rising liner off the bat of Mike Lowell in the The Signature Moment 6th inning. The fielding of a high chopper over the bag hit in the 3rd by Jason Bay that Our Number 11 stopped, then quickly turned and jump tossed to Anderson Hernandez at second base to retire J.D. Drew. But his best effort came in the top of the 2nd when Lowell SMASHED a grounder to Ryan's left. The Z-Man dove and when the baseball took a last second hop up and above his sprawling body--he swiftly reacted and caught the baseball. Then got to his feet and threw across his body to retire The Red Sox 3rd Baseman easily at first base for The Defensive Play Of This Game.

This was first time since Our Washington Nationals came into existence--they have beaten The Boston Red Sox in six games played. Boston took all three games at Fenway Park in 2006 and two of the three played this week at Nationals Park.

A relay race was on the agenda for Our Racing Presidents Tonight in the middle of the 4th inning. Abe & George took off on Segways from the left field foul line. Then, Teddy and Tom raced from The Centerfield Gate to right field. Whereupon each needed to hop into a Pedi-Cab and head back to centerfield. While Tom let the Pedi-Cab Driver take him for a ride. Teddy took his driver for a ride. And of course--lost at the last second. Teddy just can't win despite himself.

Despite the latest largest crowd ever of 41,985, tonight's attendance was composed of a significant amount of Washington Faithful. An early lead kept Red Sox Nation quiet, but even when the "Let's Go Red Sox!!" chant began to brew along the first base line at Nationals Park--Washington's fans were able to drown them out with "Let's Go Nats!!" But we got to say, Boston's Fans were really well behaved. They came to cheer on their team, and from what we witnessed, were not jerks making an effort to dismiss and make fun of Washington's Faithful. One of these days when Our Washington Nationals are really good and they are the main draw--that will be a great moment. But for this three game set, The African Queen and I appreciated the energy and excitement Boston's Fan brought to Nationals Park. Our New Ballpark looks TERRIFIC when packed. We can't wait to see that on a more consistent basis.

Of course Sohna was joining into those "Let Go Nats!! chants while still displaying her NatsTown Towel on the glass railing in front of our seats in the front row of Section 218.

And finally--there was this guy sitting in The PNC Diamond Club apparently having his Bachelor's Party. Wearing a Red Boston Jersey--he had pinned to his back the following sign: "Getting Hitched On Saturday!!" We laughed and laughed and laughed. He appeared to be having a good time--whether his Boston Red Sox won or not.

Tonight's InGame Photos--Manuel Balce Ceneta--(AP)
All Other Photos--Nats320--All Rights Reserved