Nationals Winterfest Report (card) Day One
Overall, I give them a C+. Yes, it was nice to be able to tour the clubhouse, bullpen and batting cages. But that was more than offset by the cold, rain, and logistics of having to go in, out, around, up and down to get between venues and get food in the rain. Little chance to run into someone you knew because (1) a lot of folks didn’t show up even if they bought tickets due to the rain/Metro and (2) of necessity the events were in different places so everyone was dashing from point to point in the cold and rain (unlike the Convention Center where you could actually spot people sauntering from place to place.) They did put out radiant heaters by some tables—people were so cold they were standing under the heaters holding up their hands as if they were worshiping the light.
The player attendance was a “B” grade. I spotted Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon, Max Scherzer, Wilmer Difo, Howie Kendrick, Sean Doolittle, Andrew Stevenson, Victor Robles (there were others—apparently I missed Trevor Rosenthal, Justin Miller and Juan Soto). I know we weren’t going to get Yan Gomes — that would have been awesome, but unexpected. But Kyle Barraclough had plenty of time to plan. And what about the rest of our pitchers (i.e. Tanner Roark, Stephen Strasburg, and the bullpen) and catchers (Kurt Suzuki, and Spencer Kieboom [perhaps appearing tomorrow?], Pedro Severino, Raud Read). At least Trea Turner did a Twitter Q & A to apologize for missing it. With Michael A. Taylor and Adam Eaton the subject of occasional trade rumors, I can understand if they weren’t there . . . but when they’re not there and they had been in past years, that just feeds the rumors. And my autograph session was Wil Crowe and coach Joe Dillon. Really, Nats? $25 and 45 minutes in line for a minor league pitcher and the assistant hitting coach? [spoiler alert: I didn’t wait in line. And I already have Crowe. Okay, rant mode off].
State of the Nationals session with Mike Rizzo, Dave Martinez, Valerie Camillo
So, what did I learn? Well, the State of the Nats is “optimistic.” (duh). The session started with a moment of silence for GHW Bush, who loved baseball so much he kept his glove in his desk in the oval office. Charlie Slowes (hosting with Dave Jageler) is growing face fur for the off-season, and Dave is giving him a hard time about it (I’d expect no less).
Of course Rizzo was bragging on his new catchers and bullpen additions, but said his wish list isn’t checked off yet. Best Rizzo quote: “If you’re surprised at a move, that means I’m doing my job right.” He really likes to call the GMs live: when texting, you miss the pauses and intonation that can mean everything in a negotiation. Apparently the Gomes deal started as Gomes/Corey Kluber negotiation weeks ago even before the Suzuki signing, then eventually morphed into the final deal.
Rizzo acknowledged that being in Fresno for Triple-A adds a day to getting a player to DC, so yes, there are certain players who will be at Harrisburg instead of Fresno. He’s still a traditionalist “seven innings from a starter, then the bullpen” kind of guy. Said that our medical staff is good enough that players want to come here to rehab.
Davey said that his biggest challenges last year were the injuries and managing the bullpen. He had Chip Hale (bench coach) go around to some players late in the year and tell them that they would have to “be better, play better” in 2019, starting in Spring Training. They (he and coaches) had a two-hour meeting the day before on analytics.
Valerie Camillo said that the first bobblehead will be Juan Soto. It wasn’t your imagination: 50% of the Nats home games were affected by weather last year (someone suggested a raincoat giveaway). She explained the problem with the radio lanyards: the first shipment was 3-5 seconds behind the live play which drove everyone crazy. So they had to do the whole thing over with a new vendor. [I was able to redeem my long-held coupons for radios at the team store—right at the front door, no standing in line.]
Coaches Q & A
There was a manager and coaches session. Joe Dillon, the assistant hitting coach, said that the Nats were hitting .172 on a two-strike count. Rendon and Soto are two players who change their approach on two-strike counts, and Tony was one of the most successful in the majors at .259. So that’s an area of focus for 2019.
Tim Bogar, first base coach, said that if you see chatting at first including the umpire, that can be reconnaissance or just friendliness. If he finds out that the umpire doesn’t think much of the hitter, he’ll tell the player, because that can affect the “swing/no swing” decision by the ump (and maybe if an apology is in order—apologize). And if there’s no conversation going on, well, that umpire just may not have any personality. Asked about Joe West, he said “moving right along.” Bogar did promise better baserunning in 2019 [one would hope!].
Quick health updates: Howie starts running on Monday, should start hitting in a month; Robles told Bob Carpenter he’s 200%; Rosenthal said he’s ready to throw 100 (and Davey said “not yet!”). Soto is not tired from all that baseball: Charlie ran into him at the hotel and asked about the time zone transition back from Japan. “No problem. I usually work-out at 5 a.m., so if I wake up at 3 a.m., I just start the work-out at 4.”[Ah, youth!]
Kids’ Press Conference
Zimmerman and Dillon did the kids press conference. Zim says he misses playing third base, but he says that playing over there has made him appreciate the interaction between the first and third baseman more. His best Nats memory is clinching the division in 2012 because they’d been bad for so long. Zim definitely prefers whipped cream to chocolate sauce: after Scherzer started that with Dan Uggla, the Hershey Company sent them an obscene amount of chocolate sauce, so they felt they had to use it.
Someone asked Zim “how many bad throws did Trea make?” (remember, this is from an eight-year-old). Zim said “not many: Trea has spent a lot of time learning how to be a shortstop. He occasionally throws short, but that’s better than over-the-head.”
“Do you miss Dusty?” “Yes, just like I miss the other people who have moved on: you spend so much time together that you really miss them when they leave. Werth used to call Dusty by the nickname of Santa because he gave away so much stuff.” [personally can verify that]
Broadcasters Q & A
Bob Carpenter said that Michael Morse will be a part of the MASN team in some capacity, negotiations are underway. He was really nervous, but Bob coached him. Werth? Well, they’d love to have him do something, but he’s busy with his kids playing baseball and his farming. Bob also confirmed that MASN corporate had never commented on or interfered with their broadcasting.
Of course someone asked about Bryce. Dan Kolko said that Bryce definitely wanted to stay in DC (either that, or he should be an actor instead, because if that interview was an act, he’s in the wrong profession). Thought experiment: if you’re hitting .230 in June, where do you want to be hitting it? Philly? NY? Or DC? I did notice that Harper merchandise is still in the team store, and a few kids wearing his jersey. I did not see any adults wearing a Harper jersey: Doo, Scherzer, Soto seemed to be the top choices.
Interesting comment from Charlie and Dave: the losing years of 2006 and 2007 forced them to keep people interested in the commentary and discussions, since the on-field product wasn’t going to be that good for a while. They think that experience helped develop their on-air relationship.
I did buy a couple of grab bags, and when I got two of the same player (Enny Romero) they let me swap one (I got Stephen Drew). So kudos there to the Dream Foundation folks. And thanks to them for standing out in the cold: the Authentics got to take over one of the stores in the Norfolk Southern Club, but the Dream Foundation was out in the cold with the curling folks, and two of the photo locations. At least no one had to stand out in the rain: they managed to squeeze most everything into the concourse. But I still think “indoors” is a better plan—but nobody died and left me Valerie Camillo’s job.