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Posts Tagged ‘Bryce Harper’

Paplebon’s Notorious Act and the Hubris of the Washington Nationals

September 29, 2015 1 comment

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Remember when we loved the Washington Nationals because we liked them? Back when they were appealing not appalling? They were quirky and funny- they were close, they had each other’s backs and they were winners.

I prefer the photo of Bryce Harper hitting a towering home run into the upper deck in right field to the picture of Jonathan Paplebon strangling his young teammate in the dugout. That horrific and iconic image is part of baseball lore now- for all of time. Nice touch too that this historic bit of notoriousness happened on Fan Appreciation Day.

Pap Harp

The Nationals do understand that much of the adoration for Bryce Harper comes from kids, right? Little 8, 9, 10 year-olds?  We would know these people as children, traditionally a key ingredient to the quintessential family experience that is a day at the ballpark.  Well, those kids were horrified and shaken by that blatant act of violence. Hell, I know ADULTS who had trouble sleeping Sunday night after seeing replays of what would surely be considered felony assault in a court of law. Imagine a Little Leaguer seeing never-ending spools of GIF’s of their hero being attacked by that wide-eyed, psychotic creep.

That Mike Rizzo, based on his news conference today, is even considering keeping Paplebon next year is an insult to the fan base and a display of hubris that is difficult to describe for its breathless arrogance.

Rizzo seems hell-bent on keeping Matt Williams too, excusing the underperforming season on all the injuries the team incurred.  A fine rationalization, I suppose, except that 95% of the lineup was back in place when the Nats were swept home and away by the NL East Division Champion, New York Mets.  That wasn’t injuries.  That was a heaping pile of bullpen that in the closing stretch would also cost the club two games to the Cardinals and two games to the Orioles.

But there is much more here that’s nagging at people’s hearts these days about the Nationals than managerial calls, poorly executed bullpen development and deployment or ill-advised desperation late-inning bunt attempts.

It’s about character.  Character really does matter.  It is an intangible.  But we know it when we see it.  And right now, in the despicable public act Paplebon committed- in the continuing arrogance and inability to admit error displayed now by both Williams and Rizzo- what we see is a disturbing picture, deeply offensive to children of all ages.

Why Bryce Harper is a Hero and Baseball is Just a Game

July 8, 2013 1 comment
(Photo By John McDonnell, Washington Post)

(Photo By John McDonnell, Washington Post)

Baseball players can be jerks. Sometimes they ignore fans or practically snarl at them or walk right by when approached for an autograph or a photo. And talent is not a good indicator one way or the other of what kind of a human being a player is.

Bryce Harper has immense talent that is self-evident. A 20 year-old with the maturity of a 35 year-old in his approach to the game, he has an equal maturity as a just plain-old decent human being.

The picture above taken by Washington Post photographer John McDonnell (who used to work for the Loudoun Times Mirror eons ago) features Bryce shaking hands with Little League player, Gavin Rupp. Gavin has an inoperable tumor in his brain. Prior to his terminal prognosis, he had undergone surgery and other treatments and still kept his starting shortstop position on his youth travel team.

Word of Gavin’s situation reached the Washington Nationals and so it was that last Friday with the San Diego Padres in town, the club invited Gavin, his parents and his siblings to the ballpark. As Gavin’s family watched San Diego take their batting practice swings, Bryce Harper emerged from the dugout. Harper asked if they wanted to go out on the field. And they did. For a full hour, Bryce engaged the young man, took the lead in drawing him out and making him feel welcome and comfortable, gave the kid the cap off his head and treated him with the greatest dignity. Ball players don’t do this sort of thing for sixty minutes. Here’s The Post’s Adam Kilgore with the full story.

And then came July 4th. Bryce Harper lives in a penthouse apartment in my building in Arlington. He’s a rare sight. He drives his white Mercedes with the Bam Bam 34 plates directly into the garage, gets in the elevator to his floor and the only people who ever run into him are those folks who just happened to select the same elevator.

Every 4th of July, the management of the apartment building holds a little party for the tenants in the common ground with music and cotton candy, popcorn, burgers and dogs. And there he was this year, in a t-shirt, shorts and red sneakers, holding his sister’s brand new baby in his arms, hanging out with his girlfriend, family and a couple of other friends while his chocolate Labrador retriever, Swag, rolled in the grass. There were about 300 people at this event. Everyone knew Bryce was there. And everyone left him alone. Bryce, after the Nats had played the traditional July4th 11am game, felt comfortable enough to hang out with the residents and the residents minded their own business and just let him be.

Finally, Harper and girlfriend left the common ground, walking to a nearby restaurant and it was there he was finally approached- not by a resident, but by a casual fan walking down the street who happened to be wearing a Harper #34 uniform shirt. I overheard the exchange. “Oh my God- you’re Bryce Harper!” Bryce stopped and smiled. He immediately posed for a cell phone camera shot and shook the fan’s hand before moving on. He really does love the fans. At the player’s parking lot at National’s ball park, they’ll yell to him as he’s making his way to the white Mercedes and he waves and calls back at them with an ear-to-ear grin.

I’ve had heroes in my life. Mickey Mantle was one of them. He was Bryce’s hero too. Bryce wears #34 because the numbers 3 and 4 add up to 7- Mantle’s number. But my Mickey was deeply flawed. The first one, late in his life, to confess he had squandered one of the great baseball careers of all time, drinking and partying with the likes of Whitey Ford and Billy Martin. We all loved Mickey for his raw skill and seeming humility but in the end it turned out the bright lights were too much for the kid from Oklahoma. Too much pressure. Too much fear he would die young like many of the men in his family including his father. Too much, too soon.

Harper has none of this baggage. He has a large and supportive and healthy family. He is the definition of clean living. And he wears all that fame and talent with a great humility off the field, a great arrogance on it- the way it should be.

It is so nice to have a hero again. A guy you can look up to not just for his stats or hall-of-fame potential- but for his decency and kindness and understanding that while damned important, baseball, is part of life, not all of it.

The 10 Memorable Moments of the Nats 2012 Regular Season

They’ve clinched the National League East.  God only knows what’s ahead.  But we sure know what’s behind.  One of the most interesting, historic, crazy-insane regular seasons you could imagine.   Here now, the ten most significant or just plain weird moments of the 2012 Washington Nationals most excellent campaign.  In chronological order and all in the written word:   

Bryce Harper’s 1st Game in the Big Leagues, 4/28/2012, Los Angeles, California

The One, The Kid, the Run-Until-He’s-Tagged-Measure-Testing, Laser-Throwing, Eyeblack-Oozing Baseball Cyborg* makes his 1st appearance in a major league baseball game.   The injury-racked, sputtering offense had forced Davey Johnson and Mike Rizzo to call up the 19 year-old after just a brief stay in Triple A.  The teenager takes his position in Left field, looking all around the ballpark at Chavez Ravine, visibly drinking in the entire scene.  He goes 1 for 3 with a booming double, a tie-breaking sacrifice fly in the 9th and fires a throw from left field so wicked and powerful it nails the runner while the disbelieving umpire, unable to accept what his eyes have just seen, calls him safe.

*Incredibly long Bryce Harper nickname, courtesy Federal Baseball.com

Cole Hamels Hits Harper, Rookie Steals Home, 5/6/2012, Washington, D.C.

Sunday Night Baseball.  The national spotlight shines on Philadelphia Phillies lefty ace, Cole Hamels, as he faces the teenage phenom and promptly smacks him in the middle of the back with his first pitch.  Jayson Werth singles to left and Harper never stops running.  Nobody goes from 1st to 3rd with a ball hit to left.  Harper does and is now 90 feet from home.  He’d been told earlier in the game that Hamels has a slow throw to 1st when he checks runners.  He sees his opportunity.  Hamels throws lazily to 1st base for a second time.  The TV camera catches a stunned, wide-eyed look on Werth’s face.

The Kid has just stolen home.  WHAT?   He’s called safe, pops up and gives a glance at Hamels as he heads back to the dugout.  Hamels later admits he’d hit the kid on purpose as an old-school welcome to the Bigs.  Harper shows the world what he’s made of.  Don’t get mad. Get even.

Strasburg and Harper Take over Fenway Park, 6/8/2012, Boston, Massachusetts

Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, both students of the game and its history, are amped up, playing their first game at revered Fenway Park.  And the future unfolds before our very eyes.  Strasburg strikes out 13 confused Red Sox hitters.  Red Sox beat-writer, Gordon Edes says it all:

Strasburg, featuring a fastball that touched 100 mph, a changeup that violated the laws of nature and a curveball bereft of compassion, struck out seven Red Sox in a span of eight batters…

But if Strasburg (7-1) is the rainbow, then center fielder Harper is the Transit of Venus, an astronomical phenomenon that appears, oh, once a century or so. Harper homered to the right of the 420-foot triangle in center, doubled and singled, driving in three runs and scoring two, in one of the most precocious performances the 100-year-old edifice has ever seen.

Throw-Back Day and the Dancing Deer, 7/5/2012, Washington, D.C.

The San Francisco Giants and the Nationals are decked out in 1924 uni’s in a celebration of the last time a Washington baseball club won a World Series.  Matt Cain, owner of a perfect game earlier in the season, dominates the Nats taking a 5-1 lead into the 7th inning.  He gets two outs.  Then Ian Desmond homers.  Then Danny Espinosa homers.  Cain is taken out.  Lead cut to 5-3.  And then this happened in the bottom of the 9th inning, duly noted on this blog three months ago:

Three rookies up to bat, all in a row. Pinch-hitter, Tyler Moore, on the verge of striking out opens the frame with a solid double to the gap in center. Steve Lombardozzi bunts and the pitcher botches it and now it’s first and third with nobody out. The stadium is going nuts. Bryce Harper comes to the plate again. As a deafening, spontaneous chant of “Let’s go Harper” reaches its boisterous crescendo, Harper is steeped in the moment and raps a base hit- game tied 5-5.

Ryan Zimmerman is intentionally walked to load the bases and still no outs. The anticipation is as thick as the humid Washington air. Michael Morse is up but he hits a grounder and the Giants get a force at home. One out, game still tied. Adam LaRoche comes to the plate and hits a double-play grounder. They get the out at second but the shortstop sends a low throw to the Giant’s 1st baseman. It glances off his glove and wouldn’t you know it- Bryce Harper, the 19-year-old and the representative of all that is young about baseball, dashes in for the winning run.

As they celebrate LaRoche’s walk-off error, it appears the players surrounding him are running in circles doing deer imitations, waving hands over their heads to simulate antlers.  Turns out Gio Gonzalez had designed a LaRoche walk-off celebration during a long ride on the team plane.  LaRoche, an avid hunter, would launch imaginary arrows at players circling him like ripe deer.  Explaining to reporters after the game, LaRoche says he thought he bagged one just before he was tackled by teammates.

The Houston Astros: And We All Fall Down, 8/6/2012, Houston, Texas

A veritable circus of errors dooms the lowly, loveable Astros:

Nobody out, top of the 11th inning of a 4-4 game.  There’s hardly anyone in the stands because this is the Houston Astros- the worst team in baseball.  There is not a camera angle possible that doesn’t show a sea of empty seats.  It’s so quiet and dead in the stands that everyone in the stadium can hear the wailing cry of a single infant seated with its parents somewhere close to home plate.

Washington National’s centerfielder, Roger Bernadina singles to right.  And now the fun begins.   The Nationals’ new catcher, Kurt Suzuki, attempts a sacrifice bunt to try and get Bernadina to second.  Suzuki screws it up and instead of bunting on the ground, he pops the ball up. A tiny, little, baby pop-up.

Houston 1st baseman, Steve Pearce, moves toward the ball at the same time as the pitcher, Wilton Lopez.  The ball eludes them both and drops softly to the ground.  Lopez can’t seem to locate it between his legs.  Pearce literally pushes his own pitcher out of the way like a linebacker and picks up the ball.

Inexplicably, Astros 3rd baseman, Matt Downs, seemingly thinking maybe he has a play on the ball, dives over the fallen pitcher and succeeds in partially interfering with the 1st baseman’s desperate throw to 1st base.  The ball flies over the head of Houston 2nd baseman, Jose Altuve and well into right field.

Bernadina sees all the madness and takes off, easily passing 2nd base and headed to 3rd.  Houston right fielder, Brian Bogusevic sees Bernadina completely ignoring his own 3rd base coach’s pleas to stop and sprints for home.  Bogusevic’s throw is airmailed over the catcher’s head, Bernadina scores and Suzuki, who had moments ago tried to make an out by bunting the ball in the infield, is now securely at 3rd.

The Shark’s Amazing Two-out, Extra-Innings  Catch , 8/7/2012, Houston, Texas

The Nationals and the Astros had battled all night.  The Astros enter the bottom of the 12th, trailing 3-2.  MLB.com takes it from there:

Roger Bernadina glided back toward the fence, trying to make a play on a ball that would decide the game one way or the other.

Washington held a one-run lead over Houston with two runners on and two outs in the bottom of the 12th. If Bernadina catches Brett Wallace’s line drive, the Nationals win. If he can’t get there or he drops the ball, both runners could have scored and the Astros would have walked off.

He kept striding back to the corner between the bullpen fence and one of two big, green pylons. Reliever Craig Stammen stood right behind the fence, where the ball was headed, screaming, “You’ve got room! You’ve got room!”

Bernadina didn’t have much room, but he jumped toward the corner, disappearing from the sight of everyone in the Nationals’ dugout. He nabbed the ball, collapsed to the ground and held his glove high. He made the catch and saved the game, preserving Washington’s 3-2 win over Houston at Minute Maid Park on Tuesday night — the second straight four-hour, extra-inning game between these clubs.

Dancing in the Rain, 9/8/2012, Washington, D.C.

It’s the day Washington decides Stephen Strasburg is done for the season.  The Nats play a sloppy, unfocused, error-filled game. The Miami Marlins lead 6-5 as Washington goes to the bottom of the 9th.  The Baseball Gods decide it’s time for rain.  Lots and lots of rain.  After a 2-hour and 33 minute delay, Jason Werth comes to the plate and promptly launches a game-tying homerun.  In the bottom of the 10th, the Marlins use five infielders to try and escape a bases-loaded jam.  Corey Brown lofts a soft single that just eludes Miami right fielder, Giancarlo Stanton, scoring Ian Desmond with the winning run.

Gio Wins 20th Game, Celebrates with a Face Plant, 9/22/2012, Washington, D.C.

Cy Young award-contending Washington ace, Gio Gonzalez, reaches the pitching milestone but not before tripping on the mound in the middle of a pitch in the 7th inning.  The baseball flies to the backstop.  Gio lands on his face, spread-eagle on the ground, motionless for several long seconds while trainer, manager and players convene to see if he’s alright.  Turned out to be mortification not injury.  Gio gets up, his teammates laugh and he doffs his cap to the adoring crowd.  Later, Ian Desmond remarks, “A perfect 10.  I’m just glad he didn’t mess up his hair.”

Werth Gets His Philadelphia Revenge, 9/26/2012, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

From the Washington Post’s Dan Steinberg:

So now we’re in the top of the ninth. The Phillies have closed within one run. The crowd is back into the game. A Nats loss here would lower their division lead to just three games. What fun for the Philadelphia crowd. The Philadelphia television broadcast is filled with audio of fans heckling Jayson Werth, especially after he walks into the on-deck circle. So he fields a foul ball, and pretends to toss it to the crowd, then thinks better of it and gives the ball to the Nats dugout.

The boos rain down. Philadelphia fans have their target for the unfairness of life’s charade, and they fill their role with gusto, in the form of saying “BOOOOO” really loud.

Werth’s take: “I was going to flip the ball. There was a group of kids. Behind the kids there were these unruly middle-aged men that to me appeared to be snarling. It’s the ninth. Who knows. I kind of got the sense that maybe they were intoxicated. I was going to flip it to the kids, and then I thought, maybe I shouldn’t, because of the people right behind the innocent little children there.”

There were only two possible things that could happen next. Werth could strike out, and the fans could celebrate, and wave their arms in triumph, and be filled with genuine feelings of joy and elation that this hairy man had been shown, had been defeated, had been denied. Or Werth could single in two runs, filling the Nats fans watching at home with similar feelings of joy and elation, that this hairy man had made up for so much past frustration and pain, had transferred those feelings to the enemy.

Werth singled.

Nats ended up winning 8-4.

Best Baseball Headline Ever: National’s Morse Hits Invisible Homerun, 9/29/2012, St. Louis, Missouri

It’s the very 1st inning in a pressure-packed game at Busch Stadium.  The bases are loaded and Michael Morse smacks a shot to Right field.  The Washington Post’s DC Sports Blog again offers a hilarious take on the MASN broadcast of the bizarre events that unfolded:

 …on Saturday night Michael Morse hit a grand slam that was called a single and then changed to a grand slam, but the umpires weren’t satisfied, so they sent everyone back to their original places, and after running the bases in reverse Morse then fake swung and hit a fake home run which Bob Carpenter fake called in his real voice.

There it goes!!” he said, as nothing happened.

“Are you kidding me?” F.P. Santangelo asked.

”Right field, it is deep!!” Carpenter continued, as no ball went into no outfield where it was not watched by any outfielder and no fans threw their hands up in frustration. “SEE. YOU. LATER. Grand Slam, the Nationals are on top by four.”

RGIII Joins Strasburg and Harper as Once in a Lifetime Talents

September 10, 2012 1 comment

It was the football version of Stephen Strasburg striking out 14 in his major league debut.  Of watching a 19 year-old eclipse just about all records for any teenager in baseball history.

Those who wondered if the Washington Redskins had lost their marbles by trading away three 1st round draft picks for Robert Griffin III are wondering no more.

While several other rookie quarterbacks looked very much like rookies in the first Sunday of football action this season (including #1 pick, Andrew Luck, who threw three interceptions and fumbled once), RGIII left a dizzying legacy after just his first game.

He completed his first 8 passes in a row, including an 88-yard touchdown.  He finished the first half with a perfect passer rating- a feat never before accomplished by any first-year player in the history of the NFL.  He is one of only four rookies to debut with more than 300 yards passing.  And his team won in a huge upset.

He accomplished this on foreign turf, against a New Orleans Saints team that didn’t lose a single regular-season home game last year.  RGIII managed to outplay Drew Brees, who set an all-time NFL record for passing yards in 2011.

Beyond the stats, RGIII was cool, calm and collected- displaying a maturity way beyond his 22 years.  This kid is the real deal.  And he makes those around him play better.

History is replete with Heisman Trophy winners who are total busts in the NFL.  Traditionally, it takes a young quarterback about three years to get into the groove of things.  And again, history shows the teams they play for take awhile to get in gear too.

But this Washington team may be different.

For one thing, in Mike Shanahan they have a coach who is famous for his work with quarterbacks.  He certainly did pretty well with one John Elway.  His son Kyle, who when he had some talent to work with in Houston, became one of the top offensive coordinators in the league.  The father-son duo are known for their x’s and o’s offensive savvy.  They just haven’t had any talent to work with in Washington over their first couple of years.

But boy, do they now.  And they are smart enough to build their offense around RGIII’s considerable skills.  Watching what the Kid can do with his canon arm, his speed and agility and his smarts and composure- the Shanihan’s may be in for a whole lot of redemption in the years ahead after two disappointing seasons in Washington.

The Redskins are also now in their 3rd year of their 3-4 defense and finally have the personnel to pull it off.  They way they handled the Saint’s high-powered offense and future hall-of-fame  quarterback was truly impressive.

The team’s success is not all about RGIII.   But no matter what side of the ball you play on, it is impossible not to feel good about yourself and your team, when you know you have a guy like that calling the signals and leading your club.

Three 1st round draft picks for Robert Griffin III?  A friggin’ bargain.   Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper for the Nationals.  And RGIII for the Skins.  Can we handle all this lightening in a bottle here in the nation’s capital?

Uh, Yes We Can.

Aw-His First Ejection: Bryce Harper and the Art of Emotional Containment

The Kid’s an adventure, alright.  Two homers and an ejection on the same night indicate there’s a still a bit to go on the emotional IQ front.   But let’s not forget, he also almost single-handedly lifted the Nationals out of a scary 5-game losing streak that had pretty much all of Washington wondering if this magical season had just been a cruel mirage.

His first homer last night put the Nats on the board for the first time in 13 innings.  And if that weren’t enough, he hit his 2nd homerun ridiculously further- way into the top deck in right field at the cavernous ball park in Miami, the longest shot this season in the Marlin’s new stadium.  He also made at least two beautiful defensive plays and, at a key moment, with the Marlins rallying with men on 2nd and 3rd and less than two-out, threw a laser to home plate to keep Florida from scoring.

He also dropped a ball that hit his mitt early in the game and later got himself ejected in the 9th  when he hit into a double play and, frustrated with himself, tossed his helmet rather violently on the ground, just a little too close to the 1st base umpire.

On the emotional front, in addition to last night’s ejection, Bryce so far this season has:

–         Smashed a bat in the hallway off the dugout early in the season, causing a laceration dangerously close to his left eye and taking the field with blood dripping down his cheek.

–         Smashed a bat at home plate after a strike-out, so hard that it broke up into a hundred little splinters for which he later apologized to both the opposing team’s catcher and the ump.

–         Repeated the scene a few weeks later, sending bat shards flying into the infield.

–         Was replaced in an innocent double-switch situation this week and according to manager, Davey Johnson, busted up several batting helmets.

Davey points out Bryce is a “100 percenter,” but that he just can’t keep acting like this.  Following the ejection, Harper’s response was an instant classic:

I just need to stop getting [angry] and just live with it and there’s nothing you can change. I just need to grow up in that mentality a little bit. Try not to bash stuff in and things like that I’ve always done my whole life and those need to change.

Yes, a moratorium on “bashing stuff in” would probably be appropriate.

He is, you know, a teenager.  But a damn good one.  Only Ken Griffey Jr., Mel Ott and Tony Conigliaro have ever hit more homers in the majors under the age of 20.  And we haven’t hit September yet.

To my eye, Bryce is like a big ‘ol Great Dane puppy, romping around, smashing baseballs, bats, helmets, careening into walls.  At least he doesn’t chew on electrical cords.

In a sport where failure happens about 70% of the time, he might want to chill just a tiny little bit.  It’s a pretty tough sport for a perfectionist.

Welcome to the Nats Bandwagon!

It’s just a baby bandwagon right now, but we’re building a much bigger one.

Young, fresh and amazing, the Washington Nationals are now recognized as being the real deal.  And they are getting admiration from some unusual places.  And not just because of media hype.  They are the 2nd best team in all of baseball.

First off, I’ve posted twice on the Nats in the last few weeks.  One of these was a statistical analysis comparing Bryce Harper’s rookie season projected from his first 100 at-bats, to the first full seasons of 15 hall-of-famers.  It was a gushing, almost sickeningly enthusiastic piece that naively compared the kid favorably to some of the greatest names in the history of the sport.  Since that was published, Harper’s only gotten better- hitting for better average and showing more power.

Then last Saturday, I posted about the remarkable performances by both Harper and Stephen Strasburg in the first of a three-game series at fabled Fenway Park.  It was yet another love poem to the Nats, quoting from some of the best baseball writers in the nation.  And the Nats  have only gotten better.  In fact, they haven’t lost since.  They swept Boston then went on to sweep the Toronto Blue Jays, their first 6-0 road stretch since baseball returned to Washington in 2005.

So now, on the eve of a three-game series against the New York Yankees, I know this good fortune cannot continue.  Both the Yanks and the Nats enter this series on 6-game win streaks.  Somebody has got to lose.  It’s youth against grizzled veterans.  It’s baseball’s most storied team against the sport’s perennial losers.  It’s the past against the future.  I have a feeling the Yanks are going to take at least two out of three.

I might add I also thought the Nats would get swept in Boston.

————————————-

And now to the converts.  Wasn’t it just last April that the Nats made such a big deal about the Philadelphia Phillies coming to town?  The great “Take Back the Park” promotion?   The defending NL East champs?  As of this morning, the Phillies are 10 games behind the Nationals.

And there is this.  It’s from a Philadelphia sports blog and you’d think that with a headline like Nationals Aren’t Going Anywhere– it might be a column about the team’s impending collapse.

You would be wrong.  Here are some of the more amazing excerpts:

 The Nationals, of course, are the Nationals. We are trained not to take them seriously.

My advice to Phillies fans is to start.

The only thing that can derail Washington now are injuries. In Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg, they have two of the best players in baseball. From top to bottom, theirs is the best rotation in the league, with a strong bullpen and defense backing them. All together, there is just enough pop in their lineup to propel the club to 38 wins, the second-highest total in baseball.

What part of this equation do you envision falling apart? The Nationals have dealt with their share of adversity, like losing catcher Wilson Ramos for the year, or Jayson Werth for 60 days to a broken wrist. Still they are on top, their confidence building.

And they are only getting better, I’m afraid.    

Many of us watching this Nationals phenomena have been rooting for Washington for many years.  A lot of folks easily go back to baseball’s return to the nation’s capital in 2005.  Some, like me, date back to the 1960’s when as youngsters we cut our baseball teeth sitting in RFK stadium watching Frank Howard, Mike Epstein, Del Unser, Joe Coleman, Eddie Brinkman and Bernie Allen.  And there are those Washington fans who remember Griffith stadium, a place better known in baseball lore as the location of Mickey Mantle’s 565 foot homerun more than anything the Senators ever did there.

When you go back that long and see what’s happening now and watch the sudden hype in all the coverage from every corner of the media world…when you see curly W’s on the hats of hundreds of people—in Boston..when you read stuff like the post above from the Philly sports blog- there’s a tendency to say to yourself:  “Hey wait a doggone minute…I was there at the creation!  Everyone else is just a front runner!”

To my long-time and long-suffering Washington baseball buddies- resist that temptation, my friends. Welcome the converts to our fun and ever-expanding tent.  Open your arms wide for the refugees suddenly washing up on the shores of the Potomac.  Finally,Washington has something to offer the world besides debt and gridlock.  

Behold, world- in Strasburg and Harper and even with rookies you’ve never heard of like Lomdardozzi and Moore, there is the spirit and brashness of youth.  In Davey Johnson, there is the wisdom, good humor and steely determination of a lifetime in baseball winning World Series titles as a player and a manager.  In Mike Rizzo, you have the general manager who is suddenly now being recognized as the architect of one of the most interesting ball clubs in the history of the game.

Welcome one and all!  Hitch yourselves to the bandwagon but be prepared for a long, long ride through this season and into the next four or five.  Do not doubt.  Do not fear.  And for crying out loud, do not ask any Clown questions, bro’s.

The Night the Kids Took Over Fenway Park

June 9, 2012 1 comment

Oh my.  There was a baseball game played in Boston last night that was one for the ages.  Washington’s two young phenoms put on a clinic as Stephen Strasburg struck out 13 and Bryce Harper pounded three hits including a mighty 420 foot blast to the deepest part of one of the most revered places in the game- Fenway Park.

Sometimes, words are completely inadequate in capturing the history and drama of a given event.  But the promise of the future and the remarkable nature of what occurred last night seemed to bring out the poet in members of baseball’s writing community.   Besides history, the game produced two of the best written articles you’ll ever read that captured every bit of it.

The Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore really outdid himself.   Here’s the piece in its entirety and worth every second of your investment.  This is but a taste.

A century’s worth of players have passed through Fenway Park, where history seeps through the emerald walls. Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper graced the cathedral for the first time on Friday night, and they did not dissolve into its annals. They made them richer, more complete: The old yard can say it bore witness to Strasburg and Harper at their unbridled beginning, the moment in time when the Washington Nationals became something fresh and different.

Two of the most arresting players in baseball spearheaded the Nationals’ assault on the Boston Red Sox in a 7-4 victory. Harper, the 19-year-old without an off switch, went 3 for 5 with a double, three RBI and a 420-foot, two-run home run. Strasburg, pitching on the two-year anniversary of his masterful debut, threw his first 100-mph fastball of the season, struck out 13 over six innings of four-hit ball and escaped a bases-loaded jam by throwing a 3-2 fastball with his 119th and final pitch.

It was their first visit to Fenway.  And as evidence of how much trouble is brewing for the rest of baseball with these two kids- the bigger the moment, the better they play.  They seize the spotlight with flair and greatness.  They both have a deep understanding and appreciation of the history of the game.  Harper said he was awestruck thinking he was hitting from the same batter’s box as Ted Williams.  Strasburg pitched his second best game ever, surpassed only by his major league debut, another one of those moments he seized two years ago to the day.

ESPNBoston.com’s Gordon Edes is also in fine voice this morning.  Impressive to me on a number of different levels, is that this is a Boston Red Sox beat writer waxing poetic about a visiting team.  But history is history, and a good reporter and a good writer knows when sublime drama eclipses such mundane things as rooting interests.

Strasburg, featuring a fastball that touched 100 mph, a changeup that violated the laws of nature and a curveball bereft of compassion, struck out seven Red Sox in a span of eight batters. There’s no telling how many strikeouts he might have finished with if his pitch count hadn’t climbed to 119 with nine outs to go.

“I knew I was up there, but I had so much adrenaline being at Fenway for the first time, it didn’t really matter,” Strasburg said.

But if Strasburg (7-1) is the rainbow, then center fielder Harper is the Transit of Venus, an astronomical phenomenon that appears, oh, once a century or so. Harper homered to the right of the 420-foot triangle in center, doubled and singled, driving in three runs and scoring two, in one of the most precocious performances the 100-year-old edifice has ever seen.

Both Kilgore and Edes point out that the only other 19-year olds to hit homers in Fenway Park were Mickey Mantle, Al Kaline and Robin Yount- all hall-of-famers.  The only 19 year-olds to collect three hits at Fenway were Kaline and Ken Griffey Jr.

There are not enough superlatives to describe the sheer wonder of what we are seeing with this baseball team from the nation’s capital.  The last time they were this good was in the 1920’s when they won their only World Series behind the arm of the Big Train, Walter Johnson.

But this squad has two players for the ages.  And I might add, in Davey Johnson, one of the greatest managers and baseball men the game has ever seen.  I am astounded I have actually lived long enough to witness something so pure and amazing and rare.  May we all savor and treasure it and appreciate the incredible good fortune the fates have conspired to give us.   Some of the greatest players in the greatest game ever devised have somehow managed to land on our doorstep, in a town that has seen nothing but baseball futility for well over 80 years.