What I learned at the Washington Nationals #Winterfest

The secret to the Washington Nationals’ success? Sure, they had “Go 1-0 today,” Baby Shark, Calma, solid teamwork, a never-quit attitude, great pitching, clutch hitting, and some luck. But apparently the key to the World Series wins was . . . chocolate caramel clusters from Costco. Read on.

First panel of Winterfest had Mike Rizzo, Bob Henley, Max Scherzer, Sean Doolittle, and Juan Soto. World Series Q & A. Bo Porter as emcee.

When did they each finally believe that the Nationals were going to win the World Series?

Mike Rizzo: When they got the first out of the ninth inning of Game Seven he allowed himself to believe it might actually happen.

Henley: I’m still coaching to the last out. Since I’m responsible for outfield positioning (looks down the row at Soto) I’m in it to the last out.

Max: Last inning. He was praying to the baseball gods, “please be a 1-2-3 inning, please be a 1-2-3 inning.”

Speaking of Max, he’s out there in the bullpen in Game 6, and asks Sean Doolittle, “So how do you get ready? Should I go do some jogging or something?” Doo responds “What‽ You’re asking me? You’re freaking Max Scherzer!  Seriously, you do your warmup routine . . . except faster.” Doo was really impressed with the starters’ ability to switch into “reliever” mode for the playoffs as Patrick Corbin, Stephen Strasburg and Scherzer were keys to winnings it all. Doolittle’s thoughts was getting out of their “I know when I’m starting, I have four days to prepare” mode into the “bullpen phone rings and you need to be ready” mode.

The team just got measured for World Series rings . . . and they have no idea what they look like. But they’ve been promised the rings will be “more impressive than any Superbowl rings.”

Juan Soto says that it’s amazing to be compared to someone like Mickey Mantle who the media has drawn comps to. Going back to the Dominican Republic, he got congratulated and hugged — a lot, even to the point of being a little uncomfortable. In response to a kid’s question about when he started playing baseball, he can’t remember. There are pictures of him throwing a ball when he was 1 year old in 2000.

Max would like lots of crowd noise when he gets to two strikes—the players really feed off the fans. (Okay, I kind of knew that before, but he mentioned it again).

Doo said that the second-best moment of the playoffs was Howie’s grand slam in LA. He was on the bullpen mound, which doesn’t have a view of the whole field, but he could see the plate. He saw the ball take flight and then saw Howie pumping his fist around first and the other bullpen guys run to the fence and start yelling, and he kind of figured out what happened. So then he’s trying to calm himself down because he knows what he’s going into.

Max said his second-best moment of the postseason was Soto’s Wild Card at-bat against Josh Hader. He couldn’t watch it; he was looking at Kurt Suzuki looking at Soto. He sees Andrew Stevenson scoring the tying run, but then Anthony Rendon was right behind him and he sees Bob Henley waving him in from the third base area and can’t believe it (and neither could Tony—per Henley. Tony’s eyes were really big, but Henley was yelling “Run, Tony, run” which he demonstrated by jumping up and windmilling on stage). Henley said he got “that look” from baserunners a lot. Told everyone to expect a lot of stolen bases this year since he’s so used to waving people around the bases. Max said that it was the first time all year that no one cared that someone made a baserunning mistake (looking at Soto) who was tagged between second and third base after Rendon scored the winning run.

Soto said his second-best moment was that WC at-bat as well.

Henley was asked about who slaps his hand the hardest after a home run. He said that after a couple of games his hand was numb. Howie Kendrick hits the hardest . . . you might have noticed he’s really strong.

Biggest laugh of the morning was when someone asked if anyone had contacted Bryce Harper to thank him for the encouragement of “Bring a Championship to DC” quote.

They started talking about the parade: Doo said that seeing a million people really puts the victory in context for what it meant to the city. Max said how awesome it was (and Rizzo interrupted and said “Max, get down” referencing when Max was on top of the bus with the trophy) that people where throwing beers to you to drink (I’m sure that made Rizzo feel great about Max on the bus, even though Max tried to reassure Rizzo “it was only going, what, five miles an hour?”).

Bo Porter chimed in to say “Hey, when else do you see people hanging off the Smithsonian and not getting arrested?” He was hoarse for a week from all the yelling.

Second panel:

Alumni panel: Chad Cordero, Brian Schneider, Justin Maxwell and Adam LaRoche.

Memories of the Nationals:

Brian Schneider: The packed house at the first game in the first game ever for the Washington Nationals in RFK in April 2005. 3 years at RFK, and then traded before he could enjoy the upgrade to Nationals Park. Oh, and catching the first pitch in 2005 from President Bush.

Chad: So many memories, including the bad ones (like no hot water at RFK for the first exhibition game). Keeps in touch with old teammates. He loved the bouncy stadium at RFK: reminded him of California earthquakes [author note: NO THANKS].  His best Nats moment was the first game in 2005, to bring baseball back to DC. Chad was more nervous doing the first pitch for the WS game than he ever was when he closed. He was saying to himself “don’t be a doofus” (i.e. bounce the pitch in the dirt). The 2005 uniforms they were wearing were the real thing — their dads had kept them!

Justin Maxwell: he’s now in dental school, following in his dad’s footsteps. He loved playing in front of more fans than there were in Montreal. And by the way, he didn’t leave the Mets comeback game . . . if for no other reason than that he was doing the postgame show! Best moment was a grand slam back in 2009.

Adam LaRoche: To have been part of DC becoming a baseball town — which did happen gradually. Speaking of baseball, he doesn’t watch the games: His son Drake keeps him up to date. He wouldn’t say that Jayson Werth’s walkoff in Game 4 was the greatest Nats moment he was there for if Werth were in the room because JW’s head’s is already big enough. Adam and Drake came for one WS game here, still felt like part of the team [author note: we saw him on the field]. Drake refused to go back home after the weekend, and headed to Houston after Game 5. Fine . . . except that when he got there he still needed a ticket. So, back to dad, who came through after a few phone calls.

All the players felt like the WS win was a “proud dad” moment — joy and pride in what had been accomplished. Chad mentioned seeing Ryan Zimmerman go to the World Series was so great, since he was there at the beginning.

Third session (Players vs. Hosts playing What’s in the Box (Score)).

I learned that you should not play poker with Max Scherzer. The rules of this game involve describing the contents of a box (either lying or telling the truth) and then the other person has to decide whether the speaker is telling the truth about the description. Max managed to convince MASN’s Dan Kolko that this box contained leftover spaghetti with a Stephen Strasburg bobblehead stuck in it. In case you can’t see it in the picture below, it actually contained a pan of jello with a plastic baseball. Also Max has a wild imagination . . . But I suspect we knew that already.

In the photo, you can see the back of Doo’s head where he’s sitting on the floor sitting with the kids. I’m sure that made their day.

In an odd coincidence, one of the boxes that Kolko selected had his own photo in it . . . sitting on a dog food sandwich (I am not making this up). And that wasn’t the oddest thing in the boxes: there was a Teddy with mermaid hands being clutched by a Hulk hand (I couldn’t make that up—my imagination doesn’t go that far!) and sour gummy worm tacos.

Fourth session (Coaches Q & A)

The coaches were Tim Bogar, Bob Henley, Kevin Long, Pat Roessler and Chip Hale.

FP Santangelo, who was hosting, asked a familiar question: what was your favorite post-season moment (other than Daniel Hudson’s last pitch)?

Tim: Howie’s grand slam in LA.

Bob: Wild Card game: Juan Soto’s hit.

Kevin: When we got two home runs off Kershaw, given the number of times he’s [bad language] us, that was really enjoyable.

Chip: Last out of each series: the relief and joy. And the parade.

Pat and Kevin go back to their time together with the Yankees. Kevin specialized in bunting drills at Pat’s All-Star Hitting Camp. [author’s note—I will be watching for bunting drills in FL. I didn’t think Matt Williams’ drill sergeant approach was necessary, but I do think some bunting drills might be in order].

One very important fact emerged from this discussion. There were no caramel chocolate clusters by the batting cages in DC for games 3-4-5 (apparently there were none to be had in DC) unlike all prior playoff games. Juan Soto is one of the major consumers of these candies. SO, for games 6 and 7 in Houston, someone’s brother-in-law in Phoenix tracked down the correct brand at a Costco and had them FedEx’d to Houston . . . and the rest is history!

Bob Henley wanted to make a point about Victor Robles and Juan Soto. He says he’s never seen players work that hard to become the best versions of themselves. Instead of laying back in August, they pushed themselves. Robles will design his own drills, sometimes Bob hitting fungos, sometimes setting up the pitching machine at home plate to send balls in a particular direction so Robles can practice the fielding.

Max has already checked in with Bob about base-stealing. [Author’s note: I am zero percent surprised.]

Kevin Long: He’s had enough of Baby Shark, but the team needs a new theme to jell around.

Fifth session: Scorebook Bob Carpenter.

Probably the biggest takeaway from this is that he’s still learning, still adding features to his scorebook technique.  He’s always comparing notes as he travels.

They had a camera set up that could focus down on his scorebook so the audience could see the details.

His most exciting play to call is probably an inside-the-park home run. The Austin Kearns inside-the-park home run back in 2006 or 2007 stands out because, well, Kearns was not known for his speed.

Bob always scores following the official call, even if he’s pretty sure it’s wrong and will be changed later (white-out is your friend). FP, on the other hand, goes with what he thinks the call should be, whether it’s changed later or not.

[Sidebar conversation with the stadium emcee Mike Ploger: no one will discuss how the trophy got damaged. Not clear whether no one can recall, or whether there’s a code of silence. The answers are always very vague “stuff happens during the celebration.”]

[Sidebar conversation with one of the bartenders. Enchant will be back for three years. The staff had the opportunity to work Enchant, but it was 10 hours with no breaks and no heaters. They were wearing 5 or 6 layers of clothing trying to keep warm on the below-freezing days. Also, working Enchant made it difficult to get a three-month job until Opening Day.]

[Sidebar conversation with one of the Nats staff. If you have an iPhone, delete the Ballpark App and reinstall it before Opening Day. One of the upgrades last fall didn’t go well. Oh, and we might need to prepare for another tough year with the app — the reason the parking wasn’t in the app when the tickets appeared was that they have a new person and he forgot to turn on the parking until people started calling to complain. BTW, all mass fan communications for all teams are approved by MLB before they are sent.]

Day 2 First session: MASN’s Dan Kolko hosting Rizzo, Hale, Trea, Stras, and Aníbal Sánchez World Series Q & A.

The session opened with Anibal Sanchez hugging Stras. Stras turned a little pink (not totally red like that IcyHot incident).

Rizzo talked about the phone call with his dad after Game 7, how his dad was the one to choke up on the call. There were a lot of family moments during the playoffs, when players looked into the stands, or got the family out on the field after a game for photos. Trea Turner’s comments on his family is that they always stay in touch: his Mom (Donna) is brutally honest about his performance each day.

Rizzo said that the Mets comeback game was the moment he thought “Hey, this might be something special going on here.” Trea said “I’m staying quiet, since I’m the reason that we were in that mess in the first place.”

Stras said that the team didn’t quit: he’s seen that with other teams that had losing records, where guys just started playing for individual stats. None of that happened with the Nats [this “stuck together, teamwork, team as family” theme was threaded throughout the Q & A’s]. Pitchers would watch each other’s bullpen sessions.

There was a lot of discussion about Game Six. Chip Hale said he was exhausted that night from wrestling with manager Dave Martinez after he “lost his mind”: he knew Davey would be ejected, but didn’t want to lose him for Game Seven, so had to avoid letting him touch an umpire which would have been a suspension. Rizzo also commented on that: he went from agitated to angry because he was also worried about losing Davey for Game Seven. Rizzo said that everyone was so fired up after that . . . except that one guy in the dugout who just yawned and then went out and hit a home run. Trea said he had not heard anything back about his Joe Torre comment: apparently he went just far enough and not too far.

Aníbal was asked “what was it that Gerardo Parra brought?” (remember, he’s sitting next to Stras). “We needed to get Stras in a better mood so his spin rate would improve. Nothing worked until Parra came in LA and brought the fun. People wanted to win just to find out what the post-game celebration would be. Oh, and Stras and Rizzo can get a private plane and fly Parra back for the ring ceremony. Now, no one hugs like Stras, now that he can dance!”

Asked about Spring Training and the Astros, they reiterated that they don’t really run into Astros players unless they’re actually playing (although Hale is friends with Hinch, so they might go out to dinner once or twice during ST). [Author’s note: NOPE. Not happening this year.]

The versatile Erick Fedde helps out with the curling.

Kid’s Press Conference: Aaron Barrett, Juan Soto and Aníbal Sánchez.

When the conference started, Barrett sat in a beanbag on the floor with the kids, only getting up when Soto arrived. Then Aníbal showed up, and there wasn’t a third chair. First he tried to sit on Soto’s lap, then settled for a beanbag (which he eventually figured out).  Here are their answers (I think you can figure out the questions).

Barrett hopes to hit one home run in his career, but since he’s only had one at bat, may not get a chance. He discussed his technique and grip. He likes the action of pitching, loves to compete. Would be a shortstop or center fielder if he didn’t pitch, because they get the most action (not like left field—friendly nudge to Soto). Talked about the USO tour:  this is the first time the trophy has gone overseas.

In responding to the question about “how does it feel to win the WS?” 1000 times better than Christmas morning.

What about Astros and the trash cans? None of them would comment: they suddenly got all mumbly.

Juan got up and did a dugout dance in response to the kids’ request. He got them started clapping to give him the rhythm.

Aníbal started playing at age 7 because his older brother played. Aaron started at age 4, again, with his family. Soto same as yesterday (before he can remember). Soto is only lefty when playing baseball.

Sánchez: the best part of playing baseball is the teammates.

Aaron made the point that when Soto was in FL with him when he was rehabbing, Soto worked harder than anyone he’d ever seen on learning English. Soto said that he would always ask his teammates to correct anything he said incorrectly.

Aníbal’s favorite player was Andrés Galarraga. Aníbal is happy for Parra’s opportunity, but he will be missed.

Aaron’s top moment was Howie’s homer off the pole. There was stunned silence in the dugout, but that clank was when he knew they’d win.

From a later kid’s press conference: In response to the question about what was their favorite dugout dance, Turner and Stevenson said that it almost got to the point where they didn’t want to hit homers because they’d have to dance.

The TV vs. the radio broadcasters trivia contest was won by the radio team. One of the contests was a photo identification contest: the photo started out blurry and gradually focused. The first team to identify the player got a point. Bob Carpenter realized that there was a larger screen in the back of the room, and asked “if you guys back there figure it out, bang on a trash can!”

Next up is the Nats Hot Stove event next weekend!

This entry was posted in Feature. Bookmark the permalink.