Well, it's been almost an entire year between blog posts. Miss me? (Don't answer that).
I was quite excited a year ago when the new stadium was opening and I thought for certain that the 2008 Washington Nationals would be more competitive than the 2007 squad, if for no other reason that the smaller dimensions of the new park would allow for more offense than the canyon of R.F.K. ever could.
Then came the collapse.
Sometime around July 4th, I even stopped going to the games, as real life interfered which necessitated a move and all of the expenses that entails, not to mention the time involved. The Nationals didn't make it too tough on me to miss their home games, they obliged me by losing and giving me little reason to regret my stadium non-attendance.
The other problem was the ballpark itself. Oh, it's beautiful and clean and has plenty of food and drink and fun opportunities for families, and the Metro system makes it pretty easy to get to. The scoreboard is terrific and as far as I'm concerned the only "bad" seats are ones where you cannot view the scoreboard. Volumes were written last year by more patient bloggers than myself, as well as the working press, about the virtues and vices of Nationals Park, but my single biggest problem with it was that it isolated me from a lot of the people I enjoyed seeing, and because there are no large parking lots which bring in most of the fans, I couldn't really bump into friends on my way out of the games the way that I could at R.F.K. So that took away a lot of the fun for me. I do like the new ballpark - really, at the end of the day, what's not to like if you're an average (or even above-average) fan?
With the way things went in 2008, I didn't feel much like blogging about the team. Honestly, who really wants to read a litany of losing? It just gets tiresome, and I was completely uninspired. There's also been an increase in the number of baseball blogs which are either devoted to the Nationals or include them often enough in their content. I salute them for their efforts. They must not just have the time, which has to be considerable to do any justice, but also the passion and inspiration to do it.
It also didn't help that the Nationals traded away two of my favorite players (Ryan Church and Brian Schneider) for Lastings Milledge, who has been lauded up and down for having such promise, yet he has struggled so mightily since joining the club that seven games into this season, they've already sent him down to minor-league Syracuse. That really hurt me as a fan, I loved both of those players, and miss them terribly. I'm just happy, for their sakes, that they went to a more successful organization, the New York Mets.
What people must never forget about the 2008 Nationals as they marched to 122 loses and became the worst team in MLB is the plague of injuries that they suffered. The squad which took the field on Opening Day was completely devastated by injuries and if I remember this correctly, every player who was on the field on Opening Day went to the D/L at least once by the All-Star break. The only bit of pleasantry was seeing SS Cristian Guzman become the team representative to the All-Star game, after suffering such terrible campaigns in 2005 and 2006.
So many players have come and gone. The only ones left from Opening Day of the inaugural 2005 season are 1B Nick Johnson (finally healthy again? Fingers crossed!) and Guzman. I realize that cuts and trades are the nature of the game, but it would be nice to have a little more stability and continuity.
The post 2008 off-season of moves was interesting, all the way up through spring training. The Lerner family attempted to land free agent Mark Texeira, who decided that the allure of New York Yankee pinstripes and more-likely post-season glory was more valuable to him than the money that the Lerners offered as well as closer proximity to his family in Maryland. They did succeed in signing slugger Adam Dunn which promises to add excitement at the plate and veteran leadership in the locker room. They traded for Josh Willingham and Scott Olsen from the Florida Marlins. There are far too many other personnel changes to list, (including the coaching staff) but those were the major acquisitions.
To the surprise of few (and the delight of many, according to many blogs and published comments) the Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden resigned after facts came to light about one of their highly-touted Carribean prospects, who turned out to be older than originally thought and even his name was not what everyone thought that it was. Bowden resigned during the ongoing investigation, and was never actually charged with anything, but after the 122-loss season and allegations of misconduct in the club's Carribean operations, Bowden claimed to resign so as not to be a distraction to the team. Some of his assistants, including José Rijo, the head of their Carribean operation, also resigned or were let go. No immediate successor has been named, but assistant General Manager Mike Rizzo has taken on some General Manager duties and team President Stan Kasten is, essentially, also the General Manager for the time being.
The Nats had a good Spring Training and their minor leaguers are showing promise. All signs have pointed to a better 2009 season that 2008 was.
Well, that remains to be seen. As of today, Wednesday, April 15th, the Nats are 0-7. They've definitely had more offensive production, but they've also been stranding far too many baserunners. They definitely need some tweaking and tinkering and Manager Manny Acta has his hands full.
The Nats home opener, two days ago, was somewhat more sedate due to the 0-6 record, the overcast sky and cool weather, and the decision by President Obama not to honor one of D.C.'s oldest professional baseball traditions, the throwing-out of the honorary first pitch by the current President. Many fans were disappointed by that.
I'm not certain how many fans thought that the Nats had a real chance against the visiting Philadelphia Phillies, the reigning World Series Champions, but considering that the Nationals made three errors and starting pitcher Daniel Cabrera had a weak outing, they may have been lucky to only have lost 9-8. Adam Dunn, Elijah Dukes and Ryan Zimmerman all had home runs, which made things exciting, and Cristian Guzman went 5 for 5 at the plate, but pulled his hamstring running to first base.
Before the game began, the team had a moment of silence for Los Angeles Angels pitcher Nick Adenhardt, who perished with two others in a car crash last week after Opening Day. Adenhardt had many local connections, having been a Maryland native. A further sad pall was cast over the day's festivities by the sudden death of Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas, in the Nationals press booth, less than three hours before the start of the game. Kalas, a broadcasting legend both in MLB and the NFL, had been ill, but no one suspected that he wasn't well enough to travel. I have to believe that his sudden death gave the Phillies players added incentive to win that day's game on his behalf.
After a day off, the Nationals were to resume their 3-game series with the Phillies, but the game was postponed due to the day's continued rainfall. Perhaps it was a mercy, in that it gave Guzman and other players more time to rest.
So that's the "Reader's Digest condensed-version" of recent and near-recent events surrounding the Nationals. For my part, I've had to scale down from a full-season ticket plan to a 40-game plan due to economic reasons. I am already missing knowing that I can attend any game that I wish to (or not). I've moved over from the 1B side to the 3B side to be in the shade during the day games. Really, in relation to the field, I'm about where I was at R.F.K. Stadium, perhaps a tad bit closer to home plate. I have no complaints.
So far, I've seen usher Tim Harris and beer vending legend Neal. Nice to catch up with old friends. There are still many people who I'm anxious to see though. I hope to catch up with many more people at the ballpark before the end of the month.
I didn't get to the ballpark as early as I would have liked, so I missed some of the Opening Day ceremonies, but I bought a beer from Neal. I haven't tried any of the new food offerings yet from the new food vendor, but I look forward to some of my favorites: Five Guys burgers, Ben's half-smokes and some chili and cheese nachoes.
Many comments have been made about the new bronze statues in the Centerfield Plaza area, of D.C baseball legends Walter Johnson, Josh Gibson, and Frank Howard. None of the comments have been positive. I have to agree. Sadly, I think that those statues are as ugly as sin and they do not do dignified justice to their subjects. A tremendous opportunity for truly majestic and dignified statues has been squandered. Such a pity. Those men deserve better. If I get to see Frank Howard again soon, I will offer him my regrets that his statue wasn't nicer.
I had a really nice chat with a couple of Phillies fans sitting near me. They were greatly outnumbered by Nationals fans on Opening Day, but I really detected an improved attitude by them over recent years. I think that because they won the World Series last October, after a 28-year drought, their fans have less of a chip on their shoulders. I could be wrong, though. Perhaps by mid-season their frustrations will return and they'll be back to their old selves again. There was one Philly fan nearby me who made a couple of rude comments, but perhaps winning gives them license to make such comments. Hopefully, I'll find out the answer to that question myself some day.
I'm not a "fair weather" fan, but for me the simple facts are that I go to the Nationals games to have fun and enjoy myself, and when they are losing so badly and not putting a team on the field that I really want to watch, I lose a lot of incentive to go and have even less incentive to want to share my thoughts about it. They don't have to win 120 games to satisfy me as long as they are a COMPETATIVE team playing baseball worth watching. They don't have to win the division to keep me interested, just keep my hopes up, that's all I ask. The Nationals aren't "loveable losers", they are a young team trying to find itself, but it gets rough when you have to listen to a constant barrage of criticism and bragging from Orioles fans, Mets fans, Phillies fans, Braves fans, et. al. And blogging isn't my job, it is something that I do to share the joys of Nationals baseball with my family and friends and whomever else cares to read these miscellaneous ramblings of mine. But the Nationals have to give me something joyful to write about first.
Despite all of their troubles and loses, Nationals baseball is STILL better than no baseball at all to me. I love meeting other fans, even fans of other teams and just having nice discussions about baseball. At it's best, it's completely wonderful.
I remain hopeful, if guarded, about their prospects for this season.
Look for me in section #112, row HH. I'll be the guy in the red Nats cap. Say "hello" if you have the time.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Well, it's been almost an entire year between blog posts. Miss me? (Don't answer that).